About 15 years ago I told myself I would never make a new year’s resolution and I haven’t made one since.
That’s not to say I haven’t changed things in my life. I’ve studied new subjects, re-evaluated my priorities, and given myself little challenges – such as to always make small talk in an elevator. (It’s good practice!).
But I generally make these changes when the time feels right to me. Not because some calendar – or society – says it’s time to solve all my life problems in a single stroke.
New years resolutions are the motherload of Shoulds. And Shoulds, I’ve found, can be toxic.
You probably know what I’m talking about. Shoulds are that moment when you’re lying on the couch resting and just as you’re about to relax you think to yourself, “Ah, I really should…[fill in the blank.].”
A Should can take any form.
Sometimes it’s a common household chore – I should wash the dishes. Sometimes it’s about theoretical self-improvement – I should go to the gym or I should read that scholarly article. Sometimes it’s the people in life you’ve been neglecting – I should get to together with my friends. And sometimes it’s an intellectual reaction to an emotional response – I should feel happy.
And maybe Shoulds aren’t such a bad thing. They help us take on those tasks we really don’t want to do, but really want done. They can bring a motivating energy and empower us to take on challenges we’d rather not have to face. Shoulds can be good.
The danger comes right after the Should.
It’s not so much that you should do whatever, but the ultimate, undeniable conclusion that if you don’t do what you should do you are clearly a terrible, horrible person of little to no worth.
Sounds like a jump when I put it like that, but many people make that leap all the time.
I know I do.
Shoulding myself, I call it.
So instead of making that jump in logic, when I should myself I try to treat it as flag on the play. A moment to step back, think something might be wrong, and to really evaluate what I am demanding of myself.
Some Shoulds help us become better people, or help us become the people we want to be – I should do that because that will ultimately add value to my life.
But many of the Shoulds we impose upon ourselves are nothing more than a manifestation of over idealized goals – driven more by society than by our own sense of self-improvement.
These are the ones that kill us.
The myth goes that there are certain things well-functioning, successful adults do continuously and perfectly, and if we ever hope to maintain any sort of illusion of being a well-functioning and successful adult, we should do those things continuously and perfectly too.
But we don’t really want to do them. So we don’t. Therefore proving that we must not be a well-functioning and successful adult. QED.
Now, I don’t want to judge what works for other people. But I can say for sure that Shoulding doesn’t work for me.
To be honest, I still Should myself all time. But I’ll forgive me my trespasses.
And with all the talk of new years resolutions hot on the pages of every magazine and screen, January is a perfect time to take a deep breath and remind myself.
I should do only those things I genuinely want to do.
I should be me.