How often do you say (or think), “I really should…”? Maybe it’s your response to a social invitation or volunteer request. Or maybe it’s a self-made promise to change a bad habit or build a new one. Either way, it’s time to stop the should-ing.
To be fair, some shoulds are good.
Shoulds encourage you to connect with friends, engage with your family, build your career, and form healthier habits. They motivate you when you feel lazy, inspire you when you’re down, and give you clarity during indecision.
But, shoulds have a dark side, too.
The dark side of shoulds
Some shoulds are a personal check-list of your shortcomings and failures. They keep you awake at night ruminating about a mistake you made or a person you think you hurt. Most significantly, they highlight a self-defined deficiency gap between you actual self and your ideal self.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda wreaks havoc on our mental health.
For me, shoulds are a constant companion. I have Deliberative in my top 5 CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder) and Intellection in my top 10. In short, my brain doesn’t have an off switch.
I struggle with two kinds of shoulds. One should is the result of external influence and the other is created by internal pressure. While one is little more than a nuisance, the other is exceptionally destructive.
noticing the shoulds
Here are two kinds of shoulds to notice in your life.
- Behavioral shoulds: You say yes in response to a request or invitation. Someone asks so you act. You do something you may not want to do. It’s inconvenient but the impact is minor. You sacrifice time, energy, or a personal preference.
- Character shoulds. You self-impose expectations of an ideal self. You’re convinced you’re the problem. You focus on your flaws, deficiencies, and weaknesses. The impact of should be’s is far more devastating.
Maybe this list of examples will add more clarity.
- I should be more social, because it’s not normal to choose solitude, even if I’m an introvert.
- I should be more spiritual, because it’s not normal to ignore my Bible, skip devotionals, or skimp on prayer.
- I should be more focused, because it’s not normal to be so directionless at this point in my life.
- I should be more stable, because t’s not normal to struggle with anxiety and depression, especially as a Christian.
- I should be more patient, because it’s not normal to be get angry.
This personal check-list of imperfections is created through comparison. As a result, it’s an unrealistic picture of what it means to be human.
the cost of shoulds
So, when your self-talk revolves around needing to be more, it’s time to start should-ing.
When you focus too closely on the behaviors and messages of others, you lose sight of your own strengths. You imitate and mimic. Listen and regurgitate. And as the pressure increasingly mounts to be something you’re not, it’s easy to forget that everyone else is playing the “should be” game, too.
In fact, there’s a game master involved in the should-ing. He hisses deceit, infusing your mind and soul with should be’s every chance he gets. He loves to remind you of your short-comings because the longer you stay stuck in the should be’s, the greater his win.
Too often, we believe the lies.
Because these lies dictate your emotions, decisions, and attitude you stay immobilized from fulfilling your mission. They prevent you from remembering your image, your image-maker, and your calling to simply pursue God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Most importantly, they drown out the still small voice that says, “I love you. Just as you are.”
The only should that matters
There’s only a single should in a single commandment around which life is to be lived.
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
This simple truth is not so simple to remember. It’s easy to lose sight of it in daily life.
Shoulds are a part of life. Behavioral shoulds give us the option of saying yes or no and sometimes you’ll choose well and sometimes you won’t. Either way, their impact is minimal.
Character shoulds are the ones to fight because the only person you should-be is one who knows and loves God and others. That’s it. All the other should be’s will fall by the wayside as we lean into and practice this simple truth that’s not so simple to remember.
Can we agree to stop the shoulds?
I think we should.