Are you aware of, and do you honor, the wisdom that lives within your body? Or do you allow your inner critics to control you by “living in your head”? This differentiation, between living in your head vs living in your body is important if you want to have a peaceful and joyful life.
Should vs could
If satisfaction and joy are escaping you, you’re probably telling yourself, consciously or unconsciously, that you “should” many times each day. Perhaps you’re even saying ‘should’ aloud to others? My mentor, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, Ph. D., founder of Nonviolent Communication, used to say “the ‘s’ word” is one of the most violent words in the English language and I wholeheartedly agree.
I resolved, 35 years ago, to stop using ‘should’ in my thoughts and in my communication with others. I decided instead to use the word ‘could’ because it acknowledges that I have choice. I could do A, I could do B, or I could do nothing. ‘Should’ tells me what I am ‘supposed to’ say or do. Says who?! Who is this ruler that’s setting expectations of me?
‘Should’ reveals what society expects, how you are ‘supposed to be’ and dictates your thoughts and behavior. ‘Shoulds’ serve those who want to control you and make decisions for you. My mother used ‘should’ to shame me and control my behavior as a teen. “You should be a virgin when you get married”. “You should get good grades”. “You should lose some weight”, etc.
‘Should’ gives you two options: submit or rebel
You have two options when your inner critic tells you what you ‘should’ do. Your first option is to submit. That is, do as you are told.
The other option you have when your inner critic tells you what you “should” do is to rebel-to not do what you are being told. As a human being, you have a need for autonomy: to do things your way and in your time. If a doctor tells you that you need to stop smoking, or you will die within months, you might choose to continue smoking because you need autonomy. I believe our need for autonomy is at the core of all addictions.
Awareness: Your first step toward freedom
Becoming aware of your thoughts is the first step toward loosening their control over you. Maybe you tell yourself that you “should” be on time. Combine this internalized “should’ with your need for autonomy and you might be late everywhere you go! You may not even be aware that this inner critic is controlling your behavior. You may be submitting to, or rebelling against it, and eliminating choice.
My choice, whether in response to an outer or inner ‘should’, is usually to rebel. As a teen, I took several beatings with a leather belt while distance and resentment grew during each battle that ensued between me and my mother. These days, when I hear my students use the word ‘should’ I imagine them pulling out a whip and giving themselves painful lashes with it. Sometimes, I encourage them to “put the whip away” and give themselves choice instead.
Compulsive and addictive behaviors quiet ‘shoulds’
We have an epidemic of addictions: alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive shopping, credit card debting, workaholism, gambling, over-eating, busyness and even compulsive exercising. Compulsive behaviors help you to drown out your inner ‘shoulds’.
Your compulsive habits help you submit or rebel in response to your internalized ‘shoulds’. Submitting results in living a life you don’t enjoy, for instance, going to a job you hate each day because you ‘should’ earn more money. Forcing yourself to work a job you hate compels you to anesthetize your daily misery.
On the other hand, you might numb out to escape the inner ‘should’, rebelling against your inner critic, even if an addiction traps you down the road. The compulsive behavior initially provides relief from the pain of hearing your inner ‘shoulds’, even if down the road it becomes an addiction and takes away your choice and freedom.
Take responsibility, consciously choose instead
Rather than submit or rebel, you could consciously choose, which create more peace and joy. Choosing can be scary because it requires taking responsibility. If you experience success, you can take credit for it. Yet if you fail, you are responsible for that as well. I recall being afraid to take responsibility-I was scared I would make the “wrong” decision, a ”mistake”. I’m grateful I now believe there is no such thing as a mistake, as long as I learn and grow in the process. “Live and learn” is my motto these days.
Put your attention on your body/feelings, instead of the thoughts in your head
Just as Siri tells you to “turn right” on the GPS in your car, your inner GPS, is always there to let you know the “right” direction for you. Imagine saying yes to a new job and see how your body feels. Then imagine saying no and check-in. If you feel relieved or happy, that is your body saying ‘Yes”. If you feel sad or disappointed, that is your body saying “No”. Choose the option that feels best in your body rather than the ‘should’ in your mind. Making decisions from your body keeps you out of your head which keeps you from ‘shoulding’ yourself. Life can become one joyful experience after another and making decisions becomes easier when you follow your body’s guidance.
Accessing your feelings isn’t possible when you’re practicing compulsive or addictive behaviors. You’re numb and unable to “hear” your body’s guidance plus rationalization comes with addiction which complicates the inner ‘shoulds’. Yet you can re-discovered joy as soon as you stop the compulsive behaviors.
I remember laughing harder than I’d laughed my entire life after I quit smoking cigarettes, at the age of 29. I felt things I had not felt when I was smoking. Smoking had served to lessen painful feelings but much to my surprise, it had also numbed my joy, which I was delighted to reclaim!
Our bodies course-correct us toward joy and satisfaction
I earned my Masters Degree and then worked in the Corporate world for five years. Then, five doctors told me I could no longer do that work. My body was ill-it was telling me I was off course. I was honoring the ‘shoulds’ to make my parents proud, earn a generous salary, and gain respect from my colleagues. I began listening to my body and quit that job. I became a Massage Therapist instead of a Consumer Research Analyst, and changed the direction of my life. My body course-corrected me toward a career where I found satisfaction, peace and joy every day, for 33 years!
Terri Moon, MS, is a Heart-Based Communication trainer, coach and mediator since 2005. She supports entrepreneurs, activists and those building communities to connect, resolve conflicts and live authentic, artful and value-aligned lives. Get her free Communication Transformation Tool to empower you to express your heart in ways that connect at terrimoon.com.