I Really Should…………
These “dog days of summer”, which in Maine this year has been more about the humidity than excessive heat have kept me unmotivated when it comes to hiking. By the time I get home from work, the day is at its hottest point, Bam Bam (the cat) needs HIS walk, and I’m just happy to be home, sitting in front of the fan.
So you may have to endure some of my philosophical ramblings for the next few posts.
First up, a discussion on the dreaded phrase: “I really should _________” (fill in the blank).
To keep it colorful, I’ll post some pictures of my favorites places in Acadia that I like to contemplate such things!
One of the things I’ve learned about myself since coming to Maine is how often my thinking is dominated by the word “Should”. I don’t know that I’m all that different in that regard from the rest of my human counterparts. However, I have come to realize just how much emotional anxiety and suffering this type of thinking causes. Here’s a list of my most common “shoulds” from the last few years:
- I should work out more
- I should diet
- I should visit my parents more often
- I should have a vegetable garden
- I should do “xyz” to the house
- I should go out more, make new friends
- I should stop grieving
- I should go back into a management job
- I should stop eating “ xyz”
- I should stop worrying about the future
- I should take a class in “xyz”
- I should learn to relax
And the list goes on. Look familiar?
An exercise I have found to be most helpful, is to turn these “Shoulds” into “Wants”. Now “want” can be a dangerous word too, because “want” can very quickly turn into “expectation and desire”, which is just one short step away from attachment and WHAM, you are right back into creating suffering for yourself.
So I will tread carefully into this minefield of the using the word “wants”.
When I catch myself hearing the word “should” too much, I turn it into a question. For example when I hear the “I should work out more/exercise more” (a pretty common one); I rephrase it into “Why do I think I should work out/exercise more?”
Answer: “I want to be strong enough to hike mountains; doing this will help me maintain and build my health; doing this will help me achieve my goal of walking 1000 miles.”
I find that when I change this internal dialogue from thinking about what I “should” be doing (which creates negative expectations of myself, because when I don’t do what I think I “should”, then I feel like a failure); into a positive dialogue that is based on WHY I should be doing certain things, it helps me to identify and separate the positive “shoulds” (which I can turn into a “want to”) from the negative “shoulds”.
I also find that it is important that I be compassionate with myself. Most of us tend to be very compassionate and understanding of others and their struggles, but much less so when it comes to ourselves. What are some ways in which I practice this act of self compassion?
- I try to be realistic. I accept that I am not going to do the best thing for myself every day, all day. I’m human, and therefore, imperfect.
- I try to let go of expectations. There are some things (few actually) you can control, there are others you cannot. Going back to my example off working out: as a person who deals with an auto-immune problem, I know that there are going to be some days when I am too tired or in too much pain to accomplish much in the way of exercise. I will never be able to exercise at the same level as someone who does not have the condition I have. To think this would be creating an unrealistic expectation. When I let go of this expectation, I am much more likely to focus on that which I CAN accomplish versus what I cannot. Unrealistic expectations, like “shoulds”, are demotivating. On the other hand, realistic goals and defining WHY we WANT to do something is much more likely to move us forward in a positive direction.
- I try to let go of others’ expectations of me: A wise person once said “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. And of course we all have people in our lives that we will never please no matter what we do!! These people create wonderful opportunities for me to learn about the power “I should” has in my life, and the impact of the expectations I create for myself as a result. For that is exactly what they are: created expectations. The expectation may have been created by someone else, but I have the choice of whether or not to accept it. The key here is to look at responsibility versus choice. Asking “what is my responsibility in this situation is far more empowering (and positive) then saying “I will never please this person”, and getting caught up in a frustrating loop of negative reinforcement. I can then choose to accept the responsibility in the situation, but choose NOT to accept the expectation. There is a difference!
- Finally, I accept that I am not always going to get what I want. This is akin to letting go of expectations. Life is full of compromises. We all have limitations on ourselves; through choices we’ve made, genetics and circumstances. Life requires adaptation; we need only to look at nature to see this. When this occurs, I ask myself: “How can I adapt my “want’ to the situation I am in?” The answer to this question usually translates into finding something I “can” do to move myself forward in a positive direction. The sooner we learn how to adapt to our ever-changing environment, the sooner we will be able to let go of what “I should do”, and focus on what “I can do”.
When I find myself in a slump of bad feeling and emotions, I need only to look at how many times a day I am using the word “should” to see that I am once again creating my own negative reality. But with time, practice, and self compassion, I am learning to change; I am adapting!
Posted on August 17, 2012, in Ruminations and Philosophy and tagged Acadia National Park, Dealing with Expectations, Philosophy, Positive Thinking, Self Compassion. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.