stop shoulding on yourself
I had a client the other day say to me “I know all the things I should be doing”. My question back was, “says who? Why are you living and measuring your life against a set of standards that someone else, or society set for you?” Her response was because if I don’t, I will become A, B and C. I asked, “but is this true?” If you don’t do these things you think you should do, will you really end up lying on the couch all day eating cookies? Is that really who you think you are?
Of course the answer is no. We have been led to believe that if we just do certain things, we will be kept from a part of ourselves that would continually be less than. Or if we don’t do them, we will become a version of ourselves that is wrong, lazy, fat, ugly or just plain not enough of a human being that is worthy of anything good in this life.
The truth is that the wellness industry is designed and maintained to have you not believe your own mind and heart because that way, they can keep you coming back for more. In fact, it’s not really wellness, it’s capitalism wrapped in the beautiful, filtered, pastel pictures presented to you as wellness. Our trust in ourselves has been usurped for the sake of the ability to make more money off of the idea that there is a better and more amazing version of yourself somewhere out there, if only you would push yourself into submission and spend enough money to find that version.
I don’t believe for one second that this is who people really are. That if left to their own devices they would lie around all day, every day and do absolutely nothing at all. I also think that some days that is a perfectly acceptable and valuable choice to make. But at the end of the day, there is nothing you should do except listen to yourself and truly learn to trust your heart and your own mind. And to be clear, I am not saying that all wellness spaces are bad, or that paying money for classes and practices that support us in being well is bad, obviously. It may seem contradictory as someone who makes a living from doing just that to be saying all of this, but it’s not if the learning that comes from those spaces is grounded in a messaging that first and foremost recognizes that being who and how you are, is enough. Messaging matters and it’s why I find it so valuable these days to continually examine and weed through it all by asking the simple question “is this really true?”.
Here are some common examples of messages based on should thinking, either directly or underlying:
Is the focus solely on the body and how it should look because of the class and outcomes based in physical aesthetics?
Are there specific body parts mentioned in the title of the class, because we should have abs of steel, bootylicious behinds and chiseled arms?
Are the classes you are taking, about the teacher themselves? This fosters a I should be more like them mindset. Real wellness is never about the teacher.
Are the general themes of a class or teacher about making you step up to a bigger and better place in your life because you should be up to something bigger than yourself?
Are they demanding from you in a way that lacks any kind of compassion and instead call you out and away from your own knowing? Because you should be able to do that pose or exercise, it’s just your mind getting in your way? (This is also power over leadership fyi)
Is the talk all about and only about positivity because you should be able to turn that frown upside down and have better control over your mindset? Aka toxic positivity
Is the general culture of the community one where you should be signing up to do all the training, workshops and programs because that is the only way you will benefit from the work?
In the teacher/instructor community you should be so grateful for opportunities that don’t pay you, but you get to trainings, workshops, programs for free? You should be volunteering your time and energy for the sake of community and self betterment?
You should be eating these foods, but not these foods.
You should use organic and free range and all natural no matter what they cost.
You should mediate.
You should journal.
You should let go of that.
You should focus on this instead.
And then there are all the shouldn’t’s:
You shouldn’t feel sad or angry or fear if you’re really practicing and doing the work.
You shouldn’t leave the room.
You shouldn’t take a break or even need that break.
You shouldn’t eat meat.
You shouldn’t be vegan.
You shouldn’t eat dairy.
You shouldn’t sleep in.
You shouldn’t stay up late.
You shouldn’t have a messy house.
You shouldn’t use chemicals.
You shouldn’t do this, you should do that instead.
My entire point is this: if the person is saying should, even if that person is yourself, I highly recommend questioning why and is that actually true? Because here’s the thing: shoulding on ourselves without real understanding as to why, ultimately leads us to feeling guilty when we don’t do the things we “should” or do the things we “shouldn’t”. And here is where I am going to quote the INCREDIBLE Jeffrey Marsh to you: “Guilt is useless. Guilt is fake. Guilt is actually a whole set of problems that you do not deserve”. In fact, I am going to link this very important video for you to go watch where he explains what guilt really is and how the problem is that often the way we know who we are is actually and tragically, through our guilt.
And here’s the major thing that Jeffrey brings up in his video and something that I am always, always, always saying to my clients: in those moments when you recognize that perhaps in the past you didn’t do something you wished you had, or are constantly concerning yourself with how to be better in the future, instead of the guilt of all the shoulds, try present compassion. Have the utmost, one hundred percent amount of compassion for the mere fact that you are a human being who is alive right now and doing their very best. Most importantly, recognize that whether you do the things of the “shoulds” or “should nots” they are not who you are. You are not the person in the messages that would have you believe that if you do not adhere to the strictures, you will fall backward into an abyss of unworthiness and less than-ness. That your happiness will totally be compromised because you aren’t living up to your best self. Upholding shoulds and the guilt that ultimately comes is to uphold the cycle of thinking that you need to keep measuring how well you are doing in life by standards that are set for and by someone else. Oftentimes, someone who doesn’t even know you and the context of your life at all.
I laugh with my clients all the time because as a teacher, I often dwell in the space of ambiguity when it comes to how to be well. Every single eMOTION class is different from the next, there is no set structure. Every meditation is different from that last. I no longer adhere to any specific methodology choosing instead to open up my own breadth of learning and knowledge not basing any one thing as a standard of truth. I believe in asking questions more than finding answers and that the asking itself has a power bigger than we even realize. At first, it can feel overwhelming and I honor that. Our minds are not used to having choices with no clear answers laid out because it’s been far easier to package the promise of answers as a business plan. However, what also happens in this space of ambiguity is that eventually we become practiced at simply making a choice, without needing it to be correct or incorrect and we learn that we are more than capable of navigating the outcome, whatever it may be. We learn to trust ourselves in a much truer way than popping the pill of someone else’s certainty. To me, this is real wellness. A kind that is free of guilt and shoulds and completely wide open to a kind of learning that doesn’t require us to bind ourselves to someone else’s idea of what would be good for us. Instead what we learn, much to our surprise, is that we are in fact good without the should.
If you are interested in this kind of wellness, I would love to welcome you to my offerings of ambiguity!
Project eMOTION is a beautiful way to explore each one as a package deal. We are starting up again this Sunday.
The Movement & Stillness subscription gives you access to eMOTION classes and Meditation sessions.
And of course there is always the option of working one on one with me. This allows for us to work together in your specificity and context of life, but in a way that will only be about nurturing trust in yourself, your mind and your heart, honestly, with integrity and complete agency and autonomy.
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is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.