Stop “shoulding” all over yourself!

should exercise more

You know you do it.  We all do it.

We’ve all got them – shoulds!  I should exercise more.  I should do some stretching. I should stop eating crisps and cake. I should be nicer to my husband/child/parent.  I should drink less wine. I should get up earlier.  These are just mine!

What do you tell yourself you should be doing?

We need to stop.  They don’t do us any favours, in fact, they’re not good for us at all.

Yes, it’s useful to realise that you’ve got more potential than you’re actually using and that life and health can often be improved if we’re willing to make some changes but deciding to make a positive change and constantly telling yourself you should but doing nothing about it are two very different things.

You know your brain and body listen to your internal chatter, don’t you?  So constantly telling yourself you SHOULD be doing something that you’re not is constantly telling yourself you’re not quite good enough as you are.  On top of that, each time you tell yourself and then don’t do something about it there’s a little part of you that loses trust in yourself.  You gradually lose the belief that you’re capable of making change.  Even though you haven’t even tried and failed, you’ve failed to try and your brain and body noticed even if you didn’t.

Take a moment and try out this little exercise.  Think of one of your shoulds, for instance, “I should start stretching.”  It’s a great idea but really think about why you think you need to.  How does that thought make you feel?  A little deflated?  Fed up because you’ve been thinking it for ages and still not done it?  Shoulds drain energy and don’t bring anything positive to the party.

Now, try something a little different.  With the same SHOULD, imagine that you are doing it.  Imagine a way of fitting it into your day.  What does that look like?  And how does it make you feel?

It’s a totally different energy isn’t it?

So now you need a way of changing your shoulds to action and luckily there’s a step by step process for doing that.

First of all, go back to thinking about your should and why you think it’s necessary, then take it a step further and tell yourself why that reason is important to you.  For instance:

“I should start stretching.”

Why? – “Because I’m stiff and achey a lot of the time”

Why is not being stiff and achey important to you? – “Because I see my parents with limited mobility and I don’t want to be like that plus I struggle to get on the floor to play with my grandkids”

So now you’ve got a solid, emotional reason for taking action.

Let’s take it a step further and think about whether it’s realistic and possible to do the thing you’re think you should.  Are you physically able to?  Can you find the time in your day?  If you’re thinking you should run 5k every day and you’ve got children to look after and a full time job plus you’ve never run before it’s unlikely that you’re going to manage it however good your “why” is but you could downsize it to something that is more manageable such as a 10 minute walk after dinner every evening with a plan to increase the time or add a jog when you can.

And when you’re doing this bit of the exercise be honest about what’s an excuse and what is a legitimate reason for not being able to do it right now.  You’ll know if you’re telling yourself you’re too busy but really you just don’t want to.  Perhaps you need to just forget about that “should” right now and find something that resonates a bit more with you.

At this stage you might even find out that it’s not your “should” in the first place.  Perhaps someone else has convinced you that you should be doing something.  In this case you might be able to just move on and stop beating yourself up about it.

What the next step?

Working out what it looks like when you’re actually doing it.  Perhaps you can’t manage a 20 minute stretch routine every morning before getting the kids off to school and getting to work yourself but could you manage one stretch before bed and another in the morning before you get in the shower?

Downsize your SHOULD until it’s doable and then take action.  That means actually start doing it.  A tiny action that you’re doing is much more powerful than the perfect programme that never gets done.  Your brain and body will notice, not just that you’re doing something good but that you’re a person who takes action so next time you decide on a change in behaviour, you’ll be even more likely to succeed.