We all talk to ourselves, right? We have those little voices inside our head. Who are they?! They tell us things like, “you shouldn’t have said that” which can lead to thoughts such as “you’re silly” or “no one likes you”. They shout, “You should’ve gone to the gym today” which can lead to lovely thoughts such as “you’re too fat” or “you’re lazy” or “no one will be attracted to you”. They nag at us, “you should call your mum” which can lead to thoughts like, “Shit. You really should call your mum”.
Okay, now I’m back from calling my mum and mostly out of the doghouse (love you, dearest mother), let’s continue. I’m willing to bet that most of us would be absolutely mortified if people could read our thoughts. Why? Possibly because of thoughts we have about others… that hot guy in the corner of the coffee shop could probably never look me in the eye if he knew what was floating around in my head right now...
Shoulda, woulda, coulda
But also if our thoughts were publicly broadcast, we wouldn’t want people to hear how we talk to ourselves. I don’t think most people are nice to themselves and I think we’d feel shame around that. We’d never speak to our friends the way our inner voices speak to us. Our thoughts are just words that run through our heads, stories we tell ourselves. In the age of Instagram, a lot of those stories, I believe, include the word “should”.
Where did they come from?
Kids have very few “should”s. They’re so much freer. As we get older, the laundry list of “should”s seems to grow and grow. I should do well at school. I should go to uni. I should get a real job. I should meet someone nice and settle down. I should buy a house. I should have 2.5 children. I should look good. I should feel good. I should be well travelled. Think about it. The more ambitious you are, the more “should”s you’re likely to have. Add into the mix a dash of perfection, and I’m guessing this is a key part of your internal monologue.
What are some of your “should”s?
Here are some of mine:
“I should have a life plan” – I’m 23. Ridiculous.
“I should be using my degree” – Oh wow, this is a whole write up of its own. Hands up every time an elderly relative has made you think this. Unfortunately, I’ve only got 2 hands but if I had 500, they’d all be up.
“I should really shave my legs” – Every day throughout Winter. Girls, ya feel me? I’m very single and I don’t mind my own hairy legs and this is me feeling like I “should” justify my winter fluff because societal norms because patriarchy. I’ll stop.
“I should keep these thoughts to myself” – bit late.
Some of them are useful but most of my “should”s aren’t. They used to make me feel guilty but I’d do them begrudgingly just to silence that voice (like cleaning).“Should” insinuates pressure and no one wants to be pressured into things.
So what should will we replace it with?
How about replacing “I should” with “could” or “I want to” or “I will”. Reframing it to “I will” or “I want to” takes away that pressure and questioning. Try saying out loud, “I should [insert something you need or want to do e.g. cleaning]”. Now try, “I want to…[e.g. clean] because… [I want to live in a clean space]”. Finally, “I will…” Notice how you react to each.
If you haven’t read ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck’ By Mark Manson, make it the next book you read. It’s great. One of the gems I took away from it is “if it’s not a heck yes, then it’s a no”. I’m extending that to if it’s a “should”, a perceived obligation, not a want or a need, then it’s a no.
My Challenge To You
So I’m challenging myself to ban the word “should”. I’ve been trying to re-train my brain I know that I probably think, “I should do this” or “I should do that” at least 100 times a day. I’m experimenting to see if I can reframe my thoughts and what impact that has on my mental well-being. So far, so so good!
I should will check back in soon to let you know how my little thought experiment is going! I would absolutely love to hear some of your “should”s. I’d be even more thrilled if other people joined me on this. Let me know how you get on!