Day 93: Lesson 8 from quitting booze and sugar. Never ‘should’ on yourself.

Oh God! The agony I caused myself about what I ‘should’ do or ‘should’ be able to do! It was excruciating!

I should be able to eat healthily without ending up with my head down the toilet.

I should be able to have one glass of wine without wanting a second glass or a third glass.

I should be more patient with my kids

I should, I should, I should, I should….

Yesterday, I wrote about Growth Mindset and I said, “not all practice is good practice“. This is a great example of a something I practiced daily and, as a result, developed all the wrong skills.

I developed self-judgment, self-criticism and, when things got really bad, self-loathing. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, these are not skills worth practicing.

It’s weird. In my corporate work, I find patterns really easy to spot. When a manager tells me he’s had 5 conversations with a team member and the team member’s performance still hasn’t improved, I can look at the situation and assess how to break the pattern. ‘Should’ always turns out to be part of the problem. In my own life, it took almost two decades to spot it.

When we focus on should, we move focus away from what’s happening right now. We cast our line into some vision of the future and force ourselves (or the person we’re ‘shoulding’ on) to start moving towards it without considering existing skills and obstacles. I imagine it a bit like this:


Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash

Lets say this is me, sitting on the rock but I’m anxious because I should be on the rock in the middle of the water. In physical situations like this, I can see the difficulty of the journey and plan for it. I can think about my current location and about all the steps involved in getting to the other side.

In situations where the journey is a mental one, we usually just start moving towards the target – a bit like walking in straight line – because we should be able to. When we go tumbling into the chasm, we see it as a personal failure instead of a planning and execution failure.

I finally broke that pattern by using the ‘versions of myself‘ thinking I wrote about yesterday. Instead of thinking “I should be able to do this”, I thought, “future me will be able to do this if I learn how to do it”.

Instead of focusing on what I should be able to do, I focused on what I could learn and that shifted my mindset. When we’re learning, we expect mistakes and set-backs – they’re part of learning. It was really that simple.

I’d do things and when they worked I’d think, “Oh good. That’s useful. I’ll do that again.” When they didn’t work, I’d figure out what went wrong and change course. I was less judgmental, more curious and far more compassionate with myself (another lesson I’ve written about).

This lesson is sort of a golden key. It unlocks so many doors and so many possibilities. It frees you from mental shackles. Instead of smashing your brilliant brain with a critical hammer, it unlocks your thinking and makes it possible for you to work out your next move forward.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay on

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