Annie Ricci: The 11th Commandment (Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself)

TODOI conducted a self-esteem workshop with several women a couple years ago. At this gathering, one of the women shared that she had learned “the 11th Commandment”from a nurse: “Thou shall not should on thyself or others.” She said it so fast we all thought she said, “Thou shall not sh*t on thyself or others.” When she slowed down and said it again, we got it. And we all laughed at what we thought we had heard.

If you think about it, how do you feel when someone says, “You know what you should do?” It kinda feels like they just poo-pooed on you or your ideas or your feelings.

What’s your first reaction to a statement like “you should”? If you really stop and examine how you feel when someone shoulds you, you probably feel defensive and scolded at worst–or unheard at best. I know when someone says to me, “You know what you should do,” I get this passive expression and respond with a robotic, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Or, I say, “That’s good, you are right, but….” And I launch into why it just won’t work. All the time in the back of my head I am thinking, Whatever. What do you know about it? They might even have worthy advice. But that word “should” brings out the rebel in me and in all of us.

What reaction do you get when you tell someone what they should do? Does your spouse complain about the same thing all the time? Do you have that one friend who seems like a train wreck? And you, meaning well of course, tell them what they should do to fix this or that, right? I mean that’s what friends do, right? What happens? They DON’T do it! And it is SO frustrating! Well, you just pooed on them, and their rebel came out.

What about how we talk to ourselves? If you are like me (well, like I used to be), you can count ALL the times in the past two hours when you said to yourself, “I should this” or “I should that.” And then you know you typically don’t do it–whatever “it” is. Why? The Rebel. None of us do what we should.

So, what did I do to stop shoulding on myself? I switched up the self-talk. I now use “want” and “would like to.” Our brain rebels against the “shoulds,” but it does what it “wants.” Granted, I don’t want to do the dishes. Who does? I go a step further and say I want a clean kitchen. I want the end result of doing the dishes. Then I am faced with a choice (not an imperative/should). The question becomes, do I want a clean kitchen now or later? If the answer is now, I do the dishes now. If the answer is no, or it doesn’t matter or I REALLY don’t want to do the dishes, then I don’t do them. And I accept the consequences of that (dishes in the sink for longer). The thing is, now I have a choice. And choice feels good. Doing what I want feels good.

How does it work with others? Well, if you want to stop hearing them say, “Yes, but…” to you, then I challenge you to stop using the word should. If they are complaining, ask questions like, “Do you just need to vent, or would you like (do you want) me to tell you what I see or what I’d do?” Now they have a choice. What will they want? I don’t know. Ultimately, your friend, spouse, whoever, will do what they want to do anyway. You can decrease YOUR aggravation by asking a question instead of using a “should.”

anniebw 001I am a mom, wife, daughter, friend, professional coach and licensed marriage and family therapist who is always seeking ways to be a better person today than I was yesterday.
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