How many times a day do you should yourself? You know what I am referring to:
“I should have taken a left.”
“I shouldn’t have eaten that.”
“I should lose 10 pounds.”
“I should exercise.”
You might as well add “I suck” when you are done.
I think you get the gist, and I am pretty sure that if most of you started to keep track of how many times you should yourself, it might surprise you that you do it several times an hour.
Now, think about this too: When you should yourself, how does it feel? Pay close attention to your breath and the sensations you experience in your chest, in your heart center.
Since shoulding is ultimately an action of berating yourself, the physiological changes that the body will go through involve reactivity of the stress response, which involves a heightening of the heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, muscle tension, inflammation, and so forth.
It also involves stimulation of other negative emotions and the behaviors associated with these emotions.
So, think about this now: When you are in a negative emotional state, does that motivate you to take care of yourself, do good things for others, or does that usually lead to self-sabotaging actions, irritability and a lessening of goodwill?
In fact, seeing, hearing and experiencing negative words have been shown to trigger stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters that will, in turn, trigger more negative thoughts, behaviors, physiological changes, and so forth.
When you are in a negative emotional state, you are less likely to have access to your creative thinking and motivation to find solutions, accept yourself where you are, and generally be happy.
So what do you do when you know that your behavior may have led to weight gain, getting lost, or hurting someone’s feelings? Do you sugarcoat it or ignore that negative outcome?
The key is to learn how to be accountable for your behavior without taking it personally, understanding that you could be doing things differently, and that though making mistakes is a part of being human, a big part of life is learning from those mistakes, growing and creating a richer and more meaningful life.
You can access that state of mind simply by switching your shoulds with coulds. The word could allows you to be accountable for making a mistake, to accept the situation without shaming yourself.
It allows you to engage the stress response only enough to motivate action, including a little bit of guilt to motivate thinking about behavior change, but not strong enough to induce inflammation, negative thinking, and what we know of as the fight-or-flight response.
Stress isn’t bad. It is necessary. It motivates action, induces change, creativity, and innovation, and in itself, enables us to sustain and maintain life. Without it, we would be bored and ultimately dead.
Stress becomes unhealthy when it is unmanageable or is perceived to be such, which is what happens when negative emotions take control of our emotions by using them as signals that we are out of balance and may want to figure out why.
Try this out yourself:
Use should in a sentence like, “I should have exercised today,” and note the sensations you experience, including your emotional state.
Then, repeat the same sentence, this time saying “I could have exercised today,” and note how you feel.
You may note that by simply using the word could, your internal conversation changes. It is not necessarily positive, but you don’t need it to be. You need it to be empowering versus disempowering, so that you can be accountable for your choices yet feel open to making some positive changes, to be creative and engage in less self-sabotaging behaviors.
So take a vow right now. Raise one hand while placing the other on your heart, and say these words:
“I vow never to should myself.
However, if I ever do should myself,
I vow to love myself anyway.”