That fucking word. I swear to Christ.
It haunts us with things left undone. With potential. An endless stream of what-ifs, could-haves, and maybes that meld into a theatrical chorus of “You are not good enough as you are”.
I’m not talking about positive self-improvement. I’m talking about those twisted voices whose only purpose is to torment. We all have them.
They take several forms.
They nag you in the back of your head telling you that you are a bad person:
I should admit I’m a failure. I should be a better at everything. All the time. I should stop fooling myself. I should have this all figured out by now. I should be smarter. I should be strong enough to do this all on my own. I should be more confident. I should be more successful. I should…I should…I should…
My version of The Shoulds spends the majority of their time telling me I’m never working hard enough:
I should work an eleven hour work day. I should have gotten more done today. I should be more successful at this. I should spend 2 hours a day exercising. 4 hours a day practicing. I should take control more. I should WANT to take control more. I should learn to live on 4 hours of sleep a night. 2 hours. People do that. I should do that. I should be able to do everything at once. If I can’t do all of this at once then I should just quit. I should write more. I should have a writing schedule and stick to it religiously. I should cancel my Netflix subscription and stop giving myself any downtime at all. I should have enough energy to never stop. I should not get tired.
When I hit a roadblock they start yelling at me about other peoples expectations:
I should have more money. I should go back to my corporate job. I should be married, have kids, and be on my third house by now. Financial success is the only real success. I should know that. You should want those things. You should re-focus all your energy on those things.
On self-pity days they become the voice of my inner-emo-highschooler:
I should shave my head. I should run away from all this shit and start over under a fake name. I should trade blowjobs for tattoos, live in my car and write symphonies on the ukulele. I should die alone in the woods with my art never understood. Fuck this time and place. I should leave it all behind.
And after that nonsense burns itself out The Shoulds suddenly change into a manic cheerleader preaching militant self-care:
I should stop feeling sorry for myself! I should stop having feelings and just get my fucking job done! I can be amazing at all of this! I should be amazing at all of this! I should be doing yoga every day! I should clean my space! I should go on walks! I should meditate more often! I should get my to-do lists in order! I should do a series of jumping jacks and pushups every hour! I should wash my face every day! I should be more diligent about writing down my dreams! Yay! Go Team! Rah-RAH! I should pump myself up more!!!!!
And when I’m burned out The Shoulds are a simple, demented mantra stuck on repeat:
I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit. I should quit.
I’ve only ever found one way to get rid of them when they get out of control. It was taught to me by a dear friend. You write them all down. All of them. In stream-of-consciousness format until there’s nothing left.
Then burn it.*
The first time I did that exercise 900 years ago I filled 8 full sized notebook pages front and back. My hand was killing me by the time I was done. But when the flood slowed to a trickle and then the trickle to drips and then I really had nothing else to write my head was surprisingly… quiet. For the first time I could remember. It felt like doing that exercise actually, physically, emptied my brain. I could think without disruption. The burning was cathartic.
Of course, they come back over time, but not as hard. When they get too loud I’ll repeat the exercise but it’s never been a full 8 pages again. By this time it’s down to one or two. Because I know they’re nonsense.
The Shoulds are just noise. Harmless noise that does not deserve any of your energy. They only become harmFUL if you give them power. If you listen to them, give them your time and (god forbid) agree with them.
Purge that shit.
*safely. don’t be an idiot.