The Power of Should

Photo taken 1st January 2018

Photo taken 1st January 2018

In my last blog, I spoke about the pressure to have a good time and be joyful at Christmas.  I also pointed out that the new year is an excellent time for new beginnings and that feeling of having a fresh start.  All of that is true but there’s no denying that the new year also brings about a whole load of other pressures starting with the New Years Eve celebrations.  For the first time in as long as I can remember I didn’t go out or have people round on New Years Eve and it was weird.  Lovely, but weird.  When I reflect on what was weird about it, it seems that it was more about the fact that I listened to what I really wanted,  I listened to how I feel as opposed to how I think I should behave.  Yes I had a bit of FOMO but ultimately, I wanted a quiet evening at home because I don’t really like New Years Eve but sticking to my guns and not bowing to pressure was really unfamiliar for me.

So, where does this pressure come from? I certainly didn’t have an army of family and friends telling me I had to go out and it wasn’t as though I believed that any social occasions would fall apart if I wasn’t there. I think it was that I believed I should go out.  It’s New Years Eve, most people are celebrating and if I’m not, what does that say about me? Well, it says nothing about me really other than I pay attention to what feels right for me and I’m not harming anyone else.  But those shoulds are really powerful and they literally impact every single area of my life and from what I hear from my clients, lots of other people’s lives too. 

At this time of year, the media has stopped bombarding us with ways to indulge the Christmas excesses and instead has replaced it with ways to indulge the New Year restraints.  Are you feeling a bit guilty about how much you’ve eaten over the holiday? Boom! Dowload this app that will help you keep fit or why not buy the latest celebrity fitness DVD with guaranteed results or how about the latest healthy eating, low calorie, no sugar, no carb whatever whatever recipe book.  You should really buy into this stuff because you should be thinner/healthier/fitter.  It’s no coincidence that organisations such as Weight Watchers and Slimming World notice a surge in memberships in January not to mention the gyms.  Then there’s the January sales. You know that jumper/sofa/TV/pair of shoes that you don’t need and probably wouldn’t consider buying any other time of the year? Well you really should buy it because it’s in the sale. Honestly, I have been an active participant in every single one of the above and more.  I remember last January when I was absolutely determined NOT to make any new year’s resolutions, I bought a journal that doubled up as a mindfulness book.  Every other page reminded you to take note of your surroundings or breathe or write a list of the things you were grateful for.  These are all good, helpful methods of self care but I filled in that journal and followed the mindfulness instructions because I felt I should not because I felt adopting that approach was right for me.  Ultimately, I was practising my self care in other ways and having an instruction manual to follow and the pressure to fill in the journal every day was simply too much.  I think I got to early March before I shut that journal never to pick it up again. 

The examples above all relate to the new year and the pressure to make resolutions but I could just as easily talk about how I should be a better parent, how I should be a better friend, I should spend less money, I shouldn’t feel jealous, envious, angry or anything negative, I should be more grateful, more gracious, more resilient, I should talk less, be more tenacious, work harder, work less, be a better time manager, delete facebook, read more, watch less TV, do more yoga, be more humble, more generous and .... well, you get the picture.  Writing this down, it seems obviously ridiculous but the point is, it’s real and it causes me and I’m sure many other people a lot of distress when we are relentlessly telling ourselves that what we are and what we feel isn’t enough.  One of the most important things I learned when I was doing my counselling training was that ‘should’ isn’t a feeling.  Again, that probably seems a bit obvious but I remember learning that and it really stopped me in my tracks.  If should isn’t a feeling, what is it?  I’ve come to realise that should is a set of introjected values and ideals that we are taught from our parents, from society, from friends or from our environment.  It’s based on what we have learned is the right way to be and if we’re not living up that ideal then the automatic assumption is that we’re bad or wrong.  The bottom line is what we feel is what we feel and that is never wrong.  It can’t be wrong.  It’s embodied and it’s telling us something.  If we took a step back and became curious about what we’re feeling and what it might be telling us then the should automatically becomes null and void.

It seems such a small thing but I think it can be incredibly impactful if the next time you hear yourself saying ‘I should’ or ‘he/she should’ to maybe have a think about what that should is actually is.  Whose voice is it or where is it from. Give it a try...I'm just off to delete that fitness app.