• Rachel Ramer

"Shoulds" of a New Year

Another fresh, new year is in front of us! It's that time when we review goals and make plans for progress in the next twelve months. For those of us from shaming backgrounds, this can be a time of stress and anxiety about what we should be doing. I should exercise more. I should be more understanding. I should finish that project at work. I should be nicer to my coworker, spouse, child. I should reach a certain goal with time to spare.

A "should" environment often downplays a person's "wants." For those of us whose wants were minimized, our internal dialogue may still punish us for having wants. I may want this, but I should not have it until I meet all "should" expectations. Delayed gratification is itself a helpful tool, but shaming and shoulds turn it into an unhealthy tyrant.

What would happen if we switched the shoulds of the new year to wants, if we allowed ourselves to freely want something? Jesse Kneeland describes "shoulding" as: "Creating a ton of pressure on yourself to do or be something, based on what you think you're supposed to do or be, rather than on who you are or what you want."

1. "Shoulds" produce stress, not results. The pressure works for awhile but mostly produces stress.

Results are forward thinking, energized rewards for good planning, enthusiasm, and grit.

2. Scheduling tasks helps. If I schedule my laundry for Saturday morning, I don't need to "should" myself on Friday night about the laundry. Scheduling avoids the pileup of multiple looming tasks. While it doesn't entirely eliminate pressure, our goal is to move between wants and results.

3. Eventually, the "shoulds" will affect your health. Because they apply a slow burn, we don't see the physical effects of the shoulds for some time, perhaps years or decades, but the stress they provide will eventually catch up with us. Listen to your body.

4. Shifting to "wants" for the new year. Instead of resolutions focused on what we expect ourselves to be doing, consider a focus on what you want to do or be. We could say this is just semantics, shifting "I should be exercising" to "I want to be in better shape," but when "wants" drive our focus we avoid the crushing, shaming expectations and replace them with possibilities.

5. What are the possibilities? Build your resolutions and goals around possibilities instead of expectations and notice the mental and emotional shift. It's possible that this year could be the year of (fill in the blank).

6. Isn't this just another should? I should stop using "should," so...isn't that just another one to avoid? This reasoning sounds clever, but it misses the essence of the directive. Shoulds overwhelmingly bring with them pressure and shame. The word "should" itself could actually be used to lessen pressure and shame. "You should not shame yourself." There's no intrinsic shame in the word "should"; we're simply suggesting it often carries that negative message.


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