How to Cure a Case of the “Shoulds”

shutterstock_218313466Over the past few weeks, I’ve been challenged to up my game on just about every level in just about every area of my life. I’m managing a series of personal and professional transitions that are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and it’s been an unbelievably stressful time.

It’s brought to the fore a number of old resentments, fears, and anger that I thought I’d mastered, or at least of which I thought I was aware enough that I didn’t need to worry about them much any more.

It’s also brought forward a painful case of the shoulds.

Perhaps the shoulds are familiar to you. They sound like this:

“I should be at this point in my career by now, just like so-and-so.”

“I should be past this degree of family-of-origin drama by this age.”

“I should be able to handle this circumstance without medication/therapy/my coach/crying all the time.”

“I should have married someone more like x person, or with x qualities.”

“I should be more financially stable by now.”

“My team shouldn’t hate me so much. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

I’ve heard all of these from clients, and some of them from myself, over the past few weeks.

The shoulds are closely related to the “supposed tos.” Those go something like this.

“I’m supposed to be x kind of leader.”

“I’m supposed to make x amount of money, or I won’t be good enough for my dad.”

“I’m supposed to not be in debt, but I made stupid mistakes when I was younger and now I feel bad about myself every damn day.”

Any and all of these may be familiar to you.

My up close and personal interactions with the shoulds, the supposed-tos, and their friends fear, resentment and anger over the past few weeks have led me to a place of considering a novel mindset in recent days– one that I’ve avoided for a long time, but that has proven to be a powerful cure.

What is it?

It’s something called radical acceptance.

I’ve never been particularly good at radical acceptance. I’m more the type of person who has acted to beat her head against a wall in every effort to change circumstances that have made me unhappy in every single way, for as long as I can remember.

Sometimes (well, rarely), that strategy has worked. More often than not, however, it has led me instead to being more miserable than before, and to wondering what’s wrong with me that I can’t change other people/a workplace/a familial relationship into exactly what I think it “should” be.

Which leads to this interesting observation: most of the time, fighting so hard to change other people or environments actually leads to you only being harder on yourself.

Radical acceptance of what is, however, leads to another path.

Radical acceptance says “I can’t change this person or circumstance. I can only take them for who or what they are, and make my decisions from there.”

Radical acceptance says “I accept that I am responsible for my own emotions, not anyone else. If I stop blaming the other party, maybe I can investigate how my reactions are contributing to this relationship drama.”

Radical acceptance says “I can’t change that I’m under mountains of debt thanks to past decisions. What I can change is how fast I get out of it.”

Radical acceptance says “I am where I am in my career, and these are the demands of it right now. How do I negotiate with those, instead of wishing it was different?”

Radical acceptance gets you on the path to tackling what’s in front of you, instead of beating yourself up for the past, offloading your part in your present circumstances, or wishing that the present was something other than what it is.

And an added side benefit? It’s awfully hard to be angry, fearful or resentful if you radically accept your present circumstances.

In other words, “this is how it is” forces you to confront reality, and ACT.

This week, I invite you to consider how radical acceptance might play out in your life.

If you radically accept that your current job isn’t working for you and never will, what will you do next?

If you radically accept your spouse for who they are, faults and all, what choices will you be led to?

If you radically accept that your family members will not change no matter how much you want them to, what will that mean for how you interact with them?

Will you choose “shoulds” and “supposed-tos”? Or will you choose to take responsibility for your own life, to own your values and your choices and the kind of person you want to be, and act from that place?

Wishing you a great week of experimenting with radically accepting what is.

Best,
Elizabeth

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