Today I went down a YouTube rabbit hole of self help/life coaching videos. It was great! I was feeling pretty introspective, so, instead of my usual music or audiobooks, I spent my workday listening to people talk to coaches about their goals, or problems, or whatever else they wanted help with– and when you like to think as much as I do, a good self-help binge always hits the spot. Anyway, as I listened to these conversations and answered the coaches’ questions in my head, one thing began to stick out to me as similar between me and most of the clients in the videos (and I’m willing to bet, between me and you). Are you ready for it? It’s just one word:
Over and over in these videos, as I listened to people bear their souls about why they disliked themselves, or how they felt they were failing, or even about why they wanted to accomplish their specific goals, that one word kept popping up. It was interesting to me to draw parallels between myself and the clients in the videos, and I’d like to share a few of my weird “should” problems with you.
Here are some of my examples:
- Why does being happy about receiving a medical discharge from the Army make me feel guilty? Because I should have wanted to stay in, even though I didn’t really like being in.
- Why do I struggle with body issues? Because I should look like I did when I was 21 and did nothing for six full months but run, do CrossFit, and sleep.
- Why do I get so angry at myself when I space out and can’t find something I just had AGAIN? Because I should be past that spacey forgetful stupidity by now.
In each of these cases, the word “should” enables me to engage in some pretty terrible and destructive self talk because, obviously, I’m somehow failing in a major way. At least, that’s what my brain would have me believe. I’ve touched briefly on this idea in a couple of other posts, but I think it’s an insidious enough issue that it deserves its own discussion and I’m willing to bet that you’ve got your own list of “should” problems to deal with.
Well, as I was listening to a particularly interesting video about a woman with a serious “should” problem in regards to her body image, I found myself asking one specific question every time she mentioned that she “should” be a certain way. It wasn’t a question from any of the coaches I’d been listening to, theirs were much more thoughtful and purpose driven, it was just something I wondered and wished I could ask her for myself:
Why did she feel what she was feeling? It didn’t make any logical sense. Why, for example, was being pretty (her word, not mine) such a central part of her identity when she really, truly, hated tying her self worth to it? Or, why “should” she feel bad for eating carbs when she freely admitted that she was nowhere near overweight? Every time she threw out one of these “should” statements during their conversation I would mutter the same thing under my breath: “why?”
And, y’all, when I realized what I was asking I actually stopped mid-weld and stood straight up. Because, man, that was a really good question. And I realized I couldn’t answer it for myself.
I mean, to go back to the questions from before, why should 29-year-old me look the same as 21-year-old me when I no longer live that singularly focused life? Or, why exactly does being chronically forgetful and a little (or a lot) spacey make me stupid and worthless? Why “should” I feel bad that I didn’t particularly like being in the Army? I mean, it’s not like any of these “flaws” are actually bad, my brain just decided that I “should” be different and punishes me when I don’t measure up. That realization seems a little obvious now, but in the moment it was huge. Suddenly, in that brief moment, I could see past the “shoulds” and just see myself as I am. It was wonderful.
So now I invite you to try this experiment with me. The next time your brain gives you grief because you “should” be a certain way, but doesn’t give any real reason why, challenge it. Ask it why. I have no idea if this will be effective in the long run –it’s entirely possible that I just had a weird moment of enlightenment while swimming in the self-help sea this afternoon– but it’s worth a shot. The worst case scenario is that asking isn’t particularly helpful, but, if it works, I think this can be a powerful tool in helping us to accept ourselves more for who we are, and not who we think we “should” be.
Thanks for reading, you’ve got this,