We live in a world full of 'shoulds'. "I should be successful", "I should have the perfect family", "I should be thin", "I should be fit", "I should have it all". As a coach, I always listen out for "shoulds" as they are alarm bells. When we say "I should", it means "I know there is some merit in doing X- but I don't want to." My question is always, "What do you WANT to do?" 
 
I don't know about you, but the world of social media has added pressure to my life. All over Facebook and Instagram there are people saying how perfect their lives are and how they have achieved a certain ideal. I know that most of these posts are fiction but, none the less, I get sucked in. I think "I should be doing that/ achieving that/ looking like that".  
 
Why do we have 'shoulds'? 
Society tells us there are standards we are expected to achieve. In many ways, these standards are what other people do, or what we think they do. We will often look at these invisible measures and think "do I pass?" You only have to look at adverts for online dating or fitness/diet programmes to see the messages about 'what success looks like'. It is a complicated subject. In addition to the media, there are our own backgrounds. What was expected of us as children? What do our friends and family think is important? How might I be perceived? All of these factor into our own list of 'shoulds'. Before you know it, you have a long list of unconscious life rules. If you are not careful, these can be a big stick to hit yourself with. 
 
The Problem with 'shoulds' 
The are several problems with 'shoulds': 
1) When we say "I should", it often means "I know it might be a good idea, but I don't want to". When we feel like this, it is very unlikely that we will do it (whatever 'it' is). When this happens we feel like we have failed and this impacts how we feel about ourselves. 
2) 'Shoulds' zap our energy as we think about them a lot and obsess about "I should ..." The challenge is, we spend our time saying and not doing. This makes us feel guilty and failing (again!) 
3) We end up living somebody else's version of success. Success is a very personal thing and it is critical to understand what it means to you. Only your version of success matters and no number of 'shoulds' will change that. 
 
Silencing the 'shoulds' 
It's important to take care of our 'shoulds'. Otherwise, they will run riot. It's important to take charge and think: 
 
1) What are my shoulds? 
Do you know what your 'shoulds' are you? Get a piece of paper and write them all down. What 'shoulds' do you keep telling yourself? Sometimes we say, "I need to do X". When we say "need" or "must' they are often 'shoulds' in disguise. It is important to get them out of your head and onto a piece of paper. 
 
2) Ask why? 
When you have listed your 'shoulds' you then need to look at them in turn and ask "Why is that important?", "What will it give me?", "If I don't do it, what are the implications?" In other words, 'why does it matter?' Let's take exercise as an example. If you keep telling yourself, "I should exercise?" you need to ask yourself 'why?' Thinking this through will help you think about the 'so what?' of the situation.  
This makes me think about my father. A few years ago, my Mum, Sister and I were nagging my Dad to stop smoking. He was in his mid 70's and had been diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulminary disease) and yet was still smoking. We were all worried and yet he was still saying "I should quit but I don't want to". A year or so later, he had a lung cancer scare and decided to quit. His 'should' became a have to. Not ideal. He's now- suffering the price. At the age of 83, he is on oxygen 24-hours a day, is very frail and struggles to do the most basic tasks without suffering with exhaustion. This was one 'should' with a lasting legacy - unfortunately. 
 
If you can't explain your 'why', your 'should' will not happen or be prioritised. In this case, think about letting it go. Create some room for something else. If there is a compelling reason, or 'why', then it is time to promote your 'should' to a 'want'. 
 
3) Create wants not shoulds 
As I said earlier, 'shoulds' imply that you don't really feel motivated to do them. There is a barrier to making them happen. There isn't a compelling 'why?' If, on reflection, one or more of your 'shoulds' have a clear and powerful 'why' then, you need to start paying attention - you need to act.  
Turn your important 'shoulds' into wants 
 
Ask yourself: 
- What do I want? 
- How important is it to me? 
- How much time/effort am I prepared to invest in it? 
- When will I get started? 
- What support do I need to ensure I achieve my 'wants'? 
- How do I hold myself accountable? 
 
You know what they say - "Woulda, coulda, shoulda". Life's too short to 'should'. 
 
Thrive over 40 are running 'Your Life, Your Way' starting 26th January 2021. This is a 6-week programme, helping women reflect on their life direction so they can move forward into the positive future they deserve. Please book your free discovery call with Mel Bligh or get in touch via contact@thriveover40.co.uk if you'd like to find out more. 
 
 
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