What should you be doing right now? Learning to play the piano? Becoming fluent in Spanish? Nurturing your spirituality? Taking your kids to the park? Rewriting a report for your boss? Making a dentist appointment? Getting your taxes done?
If you put your mind to it, you could probably assemble quite a meaty list of “shoulds.” Things you should have done today, this week, this month, this year, a decade ago. Go ahead. Try it. Should have majored in business administration. Should take up yoga. Should read Anna Karenina. Should volunteer more. Should write the screenplay.
Just for the heck of it, I Google-d the word “should.” Here are some of the highlights of my search: Websites touting opinions you should have, why you should smile, why you should be a vegetarian, when you should kiss, if you should have a pap smear. A book called What Should I Do With My Life? A dance studio called You Should Be Dancing.
As Carrie Bradshaw asked this season on Sex and the City, are we should-ing all over ourselves?
I contend that too often we are. And to what end? Let’s look at an extreme example. Imagine you’re in the midst of an enjoyable sexual encounter and suddenly you think, “I should be sleeping.” Now you feel bad because you’re not getting more sleep and you’ve simultaneously insured you’ll enjoy the sex less. That’s something to strive for, right?
Apply that principle to your other “shoulds.” You’re at the beach on a gorgeous Saturday, but you spend half the time thinking you should have cleaned your house first. You detest your well-paying job, but you should stay because the benefits are good and., hey, who has a job they love anyway? You’re fulfilling a lifelong dream of staying home to raise your child, but you should go back to work so you can buy that new mini-van.
The “shoulds” become debilitating and fill you with regret. But they don’t have to. Be aware of the “s” word in your vocabulary and in others’ language when they’re addressing you. Turn the “should” into “am” or “are” or “will.” Transform “I should take out the garbage” to “I will take out the garbage.” Make “I should take that yoga class” into “I am taking that yoga class.” Read the book. Take the course. Learn the piano. Knit the sweater. Seize your power.
Furthermore, I’m suggesting you turn the “should” into bona fide action or erase it from your life and move on. If you set a goal to become really good at meditation and you do nothing about it week after week, ask yourself if this is a “should” goal. Perhaps you think you want to meditate because lots of people you know derive great benefits from it. But maybe it’s not for you. Make peace with that.
You could change your life.