I learned a new term this week “Should-ing”. The term was coined by a psychologist, Clayten Barbeau to describe the ineffective guilt trips we put on ourselves. Consider this story. A mother of three, rushes to drop off her kids at daycare on the way to work. She works through her lunch to give her an extra hour to get the kids home early and pull together a meal before after-school activities begin. At the end of her day, she falls into bed feeling defeated. “I should have exercised, I should have made a healthy lunch for tomorrow, I shouldn’t have eaten that ice cream, I should really read my book…”
Barbeau points out that using the word ‘Should’ only leads to self-judgment and guilt. ‘Should-ing on yourself” rarely leads to positive action. A more useful technique is to simply state the facts and make a conscious choice. Instead of saying “I should go to the gym” consider stating the facts. “If I go to the gym I’ll feel good and get stronger”. Then the choice is up to you, to go or not to go. There’s no judgment or guilt. It’s simply a choice you’ve made in that moment.
I was first introduced to the idea of ‘Shoulding’ during a discussion with a group of 40 working women at the University of Guelph. The topic was ‘Radical Self Care’. We collectively created a list of ‘What is Self care?’ and “How does Self Care make us feel?” shown below. At the end of our long list of “feel goods” the discussion turned to the potential overwhelming feeling of everything we “should” be doing for our health. It points to the less talked about aspect of self-care which is simply knowing when to say stand up for yourself and say “I’m not doing it”. There’s something very empowering when we make a choice to do what we ‘need’ in the moment rather than what we “should” be doing. We toss aside self-judgment, social norms, and external advice in the service of what we can handle “right now”.
If self-care has simply become another stressful item on your To-Do list… then perhaps make a choice to not do it. Now you might be saying…. Wait a minute… are you telling me not to do the feel-good things on the Self-care list?: get enough sleep, spend time with friends, exercise, eat well…
Of course not. In fact, I don’t think you need advice at all. The premise I hold for everyone is that you are: whole and complete. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed or given unsolicited advice. I believe all your answers and motivation lie within. The trick is to check in with yourself to find your own answers in the moment. Self care is different for everyone. Let yourself be drawn to what feels right for You. It’s a balance of knowing in your mind and heart what is ‘best for you’ and giving yourself the permission to do what feels right today. I believe if you pay attention to the language you use around self-care (Ie: ‘Should-ing’) and check in with your body during the day to see what you need, you will make the right choices for your health.
Home Practice Suggestion: Pause for a moment during your day. Take a deep breath and perhaps even close your eyes. Ask yourself: What do I need in this moment? Is there a choice for Self-care I’m willing to make? There’s no guilt or should’s… it’s simply a choice. The choice is yours.
Journaling Activity: Consider making your own Self Care list…. Here’s what our group came up with below:
What is Self Care For You? Getting enough sleep, Time with friends, Getting enough sleep, Time with friends, Gratitude, Still mind, Music, dance, Eating well, Nature, Laughing, Exercising, Self Compassion, Alone time, Quiet time, Reading, Sewing, knitting, Self-forgiveness, Laying in bed, Self Indulgence, Time and Permission to Express Feelings.
How Do You Feel When You Practice Self Care? Alive, Focused, Worthy, Strong, Relaxed, Encouraged, In the moment, Happy, Connected, Energized, Refreshed, At Peace, Proud, Fulfilled, In control, Confident, Overwhelmed
Want to read more about Self-Care? Check out this article: “What is Radical Self Care?”