Are You “Shoulding” Yourself? 3 Quick Exercises to Quit the “Shoulds”


Have you heard of the term “shoulding yourself”? Psychologist Clayton Barbeau came up with the phrase “shoulding yourself.” It consists of telling yourself that you must do something different from what you are doing.

Education, race, background, marital status, or even location don’t seem to matter when it comes to catching the “shoulds.” It turns out mothers everywhere are “shoulding” themselves, and I bet you’ve been “shoulding” yourself too.

What are examples of “shoulding yourself”?

Last month, I shared this term with our contributor team for El Paso Mom. In case you do not know any of these women, let me tell you that they are all amazing. They have successful careers, impressive educations, incredible work ethic, kind children, and are truly amazing mothers. They are so passionate about motherhood and sisterhood they have all agreed to serve our community on this online blog.

» » » » » » »  RELATED READ: Let’s Be Honest About Motherhood :: My Confessions  « « « « « « «

I asked the contributors if they had a “should.” Guess what? Every single one of us had at least one “should” we couldn’t let go of. Their responses were raw and eye-opening. Read them listed below:

  • I should like being pregnant.
  • I should plan more trips as a family.
  • I should be spending every moment with my son.
  • I should be making home-cooked meals for every meal.
  • I should be contributing financially to my family.
  • I should not need a break from the child I struggled to conceive.
  • I should be completely fulfilled with my children instead of enjoying work.
  • I should be using the degrees I worked so hard to earn.
  • I should be able to do it all.
  • I should be back to my pre-pregnancy weight by now.
  • I should be more active at my children’s school.
  • I should be engaged in my children’s activities.
  • I should be able to keep my home clean without my husband’s help.
  • I should have enough energy to want to play with my youngest at the end of the day.
  • I should limit fast food to once a week.
  • I should keep nursing my daughter as long as I nursed my son.
  • I should be able to find time to workout and take care of myself while working full-time and being a good mom and wife.
  • I should be able to nurture and raise my children without my spouse or family near me.
  • I should love being a stay-at-home mom.
  • I should limit how much I volunteer or do other things that bring me joy.
  • I should go to bed at the same time as my family.
  • I should enjoy the now instead of always trying to achieve the next goal.

Three Quick Exercises to Get Rid of the “Shoulds”

Write down all the things you did RIGHT today.

It is so easy to linger on our failures. I often go to bed with regrets about how I handled situations, things I didn’t finish, or tasks I had to put off. Instead of writing a laundry list of mistakes in your head, consciously try and list all the things you did right that day. You’ll see that the list of wins far outweighs the minor hiccups of the day.

Implement affirmations or scripture into your routine.

Technology has given us access to all sorts of tools. One of those tools is access to apps, podcasts, and youtube videos. Depending on your style, try and find an outlet for affirmations on the go. Whether it is a quick scripture and reflection or an affirmation playlist on Apple Music, pick something short that you commit to listening to or watching every day to boost your mood and confidence. The way you talk to yourself matters. Consistency over intensity is really key here.

Give yourself the grace of a mother.

Imagine your daughter is now grown. She is now a mother herself. Your daughter calls you and tells you she feels like she is failing. She is killing herself trying to do it all but she is “shoulding” herself in the same exact ways you are. How would you respond? What compassion would you show your daughter? Write it down. Realize you are also someone’s daughter and are worthy of that same compassion and grace.

There are many other self-compassion exercises out there. These are the ones that were the most powerful for me. If intrusive thoughts ever get too frequent, remember to reach out for professional help.

It has taken me years to understand life really does come in seasons. I believe I am doing the best I can. I believe I am right where I should be. And I can plan for the future while enjoying the season I am in. I hope you do too.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of El Paso Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.


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