Shoulding all over myself

“Do you need to be smashed and tickled?” Mr. T asked.

“Yes!” I replied without thinking, although I tried to amend with, “NO TICKLING.”

This quick exchange, which was immediately followed by 10 minutes of de-stressing-cackle-my-brains-out-almost-pee-my-pants tickling, was preceded by a funk-related conversation:

Me: Huffing. Sighing. Staring at T until he noticed me.

T: “What’s the matter?”

Me: “Nothing.”

T: “Liar.”

Me: “Nothing.”

T: “You mean nothing as in there’s something and you know what it is but you just don’t want to tell me.”

Me: “Whatever.”

And so I confessed my post-calendar-check stress about upcoming holiday events, unstarted Christmas shopping, ungraded papers, continual job prospect rejections, unwritten Christmas letters, unstrung Christmas lights, unbaked Christmas bread, etc.

T astutely pointed out: “That’s a lot of Christmas.”

And more to the point: “You don’t have to do all of the Christmas in the world.”

Yes. I. Dooooooo. I thought. But of course he’s right. I’ve had an “I should…” and “I need to….” monologue running through my head for weeks (months, years, whatever) and I realized recently: I’m should-ing all over myself.

Will anyone die if I don’t get the Christmas lights up? (They didn’t last year.)
Will anyone freak out if I skip cards this year? (Probably not!)
Will my life be over if I don’t get a “real” job? (Nope, not if the last year is any indication)

So where does the pressure come from? A lot from within… Most of the things I tell myself I *should* be doing are activities of my choosing, things I like quite a bit (e.g., all things Christmas!). But I’m also aware of societal and disciplinary ideals… what I should do to be a “good” academic, what I should do to be a “good” employee, etc. And when my actions conflict with what I’ve told myself I should be doing–enter cognitive dissonance and guilt. (Do note that shoulding is an actual psychological term to describe a type of cognitive distortion or false thinking.)

So I’m committing to ditching the shoulds and instead, being clear about needs and wants and choices. As a communication scholar, I know how powerful linguistic choices can be. There’s certainly a big difference between feeling obligated to a task versus choosing to do it, or acknowledging when a “need” is actually a “want” and what not.

Consider should-stoppage my first big goal for the New Year!

What about you? Ever suffer from “the shoulds”? Leave a comment below or email bluestmuse(at)gmail(dot)com


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