September 6, 2020

Stop Guilt Tripping Over a ‘Should’ (Do This Instead)

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When was the last time you used the 'S' word?

I'll tell you when I used it last.

42.15357 minutes ago. 

Or there abouts. Right before writing this.

So I'm standing at the kitchen sink. Scrubbing the shit out of the stainless steel pan I'd almost incinerated. 

(Note to self: trying to cook and work at the same time... not a good idea. Stop this madness Mena.)

As I'm rinsing away the charcoal peppered suds, I glance out the window. That's when the 'S' word slipped out:

"Yikes! Look at the state of my garden. I really should mow it soon."

Although, I had no intention of dealing with that overgrown catastrophe anytime 'soon'.

Not today. Not tomorrow. 

Annnd not the day after that. I had more important stuff to do.... like... earning a living. 

Yet, a twinge of guilt (and shame) crept over me. 

Sprouting a few weeds here and there is one thing. But fricking brambles? Nah brah.

How did my green fingered slackness escalate to THIS? 

should've never let my backyard grow this wild.

via Giphy

Guilt tripping yourself on a should is pure yuck.

But the 'should' word isn't all bad. The problem is we use it in a really jacked up way.

We use it when we:

  1. don't want to do the thing we're shoulding about
  2. kind of want to do the thing, but we're not ready for it
  3. are saddled with OPE (other people's expectations) and feel obligated to come through

Think about it... the last time you bumped into a friend you hadn't seen in a while (let's call her Olga). 

Life got busy, is all, but you panic. You feel guilty for not making the effort to keep in touch. The 'S' word comes tumbling out from anxious lips: 

"We should do lunch some day."

But you secretly don't want to do lunch.

Not because you don't want to spend time with Olga. Chances are you'd have a blast catching up. 

It's just that a lunch date is yet another thing you need to make time for. 

And being honest, it's not on your list of priorities. Not right now. 

Your guilt gets you feeling like a bad friend. 

But hang on. 

You're feeling guilty for prioritising how you choose to spend your time and energy?

That's messed up.

Look, we're never going to banish the shoulds from our lives. But we can re-frame how we use them.

Because there's a good way to use should. And then there's a bad way.

The bad way to should yourself:

  • "I should write a book... [some day]".

Hmm! Framed like that it's little more than a nice non-committal wish that's never gonna happen. 

And the longer we keep restating this wish, the more we're stalling on the decision to start and get it done. 

So the desire to write a book gets buried in the should pile.

The good way to should yourself:

  • "I should stop peeking at my neighbours through my living room window and get my ass back to writing my newsletter"
  • "I should stop wasting time watching prank videos and finish creating my workbook"
  • "I should take a break because I've been sitting in front of the PC for 4 hours straight and I'm getting sciatic pain in my left butt cheek"
  • "I should pull out my diary right this minute, find a day I'm free and firm up a lunch date with my girl Olga. Oh, and while I'm at it, I'll block out 2-3 hours this Saturday and fix up my damn garden"

The bad way smacks of indecision, guilt and shame.

The good way makes it clear where your priorities ought to lie, and what action to focus on next.

So do me a favour. The next time you catch yourself guilt tripping on a should, try re-framing it in a way that takes the pressure off.

Do that. Then let me know how it worked out for you.

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