Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 47: The Paralysis of "Should"

Should I go to the gym this morning?  Should I try to go back to sleep so I don't fall asleep during God of Carnage tonight?  Should I write?  How should I spend this hour before I have to go into the office?

I hate the word should.

There is no motion in the word should.  It does not imply any direction towards the thing you are feeling you should do.  You are standing here, that person you think you should be is over there, and you are just looking at each other.  Sometimes that other person is even sticking their tongue out at you and saying "yeah, you wish you were me.  Too bad you don't have the guts to actually make a decision and get on over here."

Should implies some absolute right or wrong, some external arbiter who has determined that one course of action is the better.  This is a dangerous path for me -- this thinking that there is one right answer.  The fear of doing the wrong thing can lead towards doing nothing at all, or (more likely in my case) trying to do a whole bunch of different things at once and not being able to do any of them well because my time and energies are too divided.  That is its own form of paralysis.

(I'm reminded a bit of Gretchen Rubin's post on "Demand Resistance" the other day: when people freeze up at being told "don't do this" or "no more that"; how it's more constructive to take out the negative and say "do this".  Might be some of the same thing here.)

At some point over the last few months, I started noticing how often the word should appeared in my morning journal pages.  I started a practice of crossing it out every time I found myself writing it and replacing it with "I will" or at least "I want to" or even sometimes "I need to".  At least those words come from within me; they help me get in touch with how I feel about the choice I'm facing. 

Of course there are sometimes when there is a clearly better choice.  Should I eat a bowl full of raw chocolate chip cookie dough?  Indubitably not.  Should I go the gym?  Indubitably so.  But when the choice is between going to the gym and much-needed sleep, or between the gym and much-needed time to write, which of those choices is better?  More right?  That is where the phrasing of I want is helpful to me.  Or perhaps what do I want more.  Because I often want all of those things, but alas I can't always have everything that I want.    At least there is motion in the word want, it leads me towards being able to say I will (like I ended up at I will write this morning).  That is much preferable to the paralysis of should.


  1. Brilliant! I'm really impressed with how you singled in on this problem. I'm going to look for should in my own life.

  2. I'm so glad this resonated with you! I think you'll be amazed when you start looking for "should". I couldn't believe how often it kept popping up (an still does). I'd love to hear what you discover!

    Play-fully yours,


  3. I have a favorite line.

    "Don't Should on Yourself"

    Nuff Sed.

    With love,