Rethinking “Should”

Today I learned that I don’t have to fill my life with things I don’t want to do.

Yeah. I know, right?

This does not mean that I will never have to do things that I don’t enjoy, it just means that I don’t have to waste all my mental energy doing things, or telling myself I should be doing things that I don’t want to do.

This may seem pretty silly to some people. Like, DUH. Of course, you don’t have to fill all your time with stuff that you hate. But I seriously had an epiphany today when my counselor and I talked about this.

We were discussing “should” statements that I tell myself. Things like:

  • I should go to the gym.
  • I should work harder.
  • I should be more motivated.
  • I should study more.
  • I should be more social.
  • I should clean more.

Etc, etc etc.

So, if I should do all those things, why don’t I?

Reason #1:

I simply can’t do it all. How can I spend more time studying, more time being social, more time working, and more time taking care of myself? There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Life is about balance. I can’t take time away from one thing in order to devote it to another and expect myself to feel okay. I also can’t expect to feel that my life is balanced if I constantly berate myself for not doing one thing when I’m taking care of something else.

This balanced, peaceful, joyful state of being that I want so badly is never going to be my reality if I don’t allow myself to recognize it or enjoy it when I get there.

Reason #2:

I don’t do these things because I really don’t want to. I don’t want to put in more than my 40 hours at work. I don’t want to go to the gym. I don’t want to study more. I don’t want to fill my schedule with social activities.

In my mind, “I don’t want to,” isn’t an excuse. At least not in these contexts and not with myself. My expectation for myself is that I will do whatever it is that is “correct” or “best” no matter what. I didn’t realize this until today. The way I’ve been trying to live my life has very VERY little to do with what I actually want or enjoy.

No wonder I don’t understand myself at all.

No wonder I’ve been so unhappy.

In the same way that I’m listening to Duke to try to determine what he likes and dislikes, I need to start doing the same thing with myself. Instead of constantly telling myself that I should be doing something, I need to start listening to what I want and, maybe, why I’m not doing whatever it is that I think I should.

Rethinking “Should”

So instead of “should” statements, my counselor and I worked on replacing them with statements that are less judgmental. Instead of saying that I should be doing something, implying that whatever I’m doing is bad, we worked on changing the tone of my internal dialogue. So rather than “I should” statements, we ended up with statements somewhat like these:

  • Keeping myself healthy is important but I don’t have to exercise the same way as everyone else. I enjoy walking Duke and taking him to the park. Motivating myself to do that is easy.
  • Adding more time or stress to my work day will take away from my ability to take care of other facets of my life effectively. I am already working as hard as I can while retaining balance.
  • Being motivated is easy when I’m doing things I enjoy. Rather than being unhappy with myself when I’m not motivated to do something, I can try turning the task into something I will enjoy.
  • Studying more would, again, take time away from other facets of my life. Thanks to my new ADHD medication, I will hopefully be able to utilize my study time more effectively than before and won’t have to try to add in extra study time.
  • Being social takes a lot of energy and often costs money. It would probably mean leaving Duke at home alone as well. Rather than feeling guilty about declining social invitations, I could make plans with people who would be up for taking a walk with me and Duke. Being social is only good for me if it works for me. Draining myself of energy and money, as well as adding the guilt of leaving Duke alone is not going to help anyone.
  • Cleaning is important but do I really need to clean more? I’m meeting my own standards of cleanliness and my roommates are content with it. There’s no need to be a neat-freak if it doesn’t matter to me or my housemates.

This new information (that really shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me) has given me a lot to think about. What things have I been doing simply because I think I should? Do those things drain me of my mental energy? Are they reducing my sense of contentedness? All food for thought.


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