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How to Stop "Shoulding" On Yourself

How critical self-judgment keeps us from being dynamic.

Many of us have that friend, spouse, parent, sibling, coworker who gets very hung up on “should”. It pops up everywhere from stances on male/female gender roles, to ethical debates, and social responsibility. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word should I automatically take pause because I KNOW A JUDGMENT IS COMING. Let’s be clear---definitions of the word should include:

  • used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions.

  • indicating a desirable or expected state.

  • used to give or ask advice or suggestions.

  • used to give advice.

Judgments come in so many formats: about our physical appearance and how we dress, political beliefs, religion, sexual preference… Some of it may be completely harmless. But I’m talking about a sort of nagging inner criticism that has possibly manifested from our own beliefs about ourselves. When was the last time you felt judged? Some people might grow up with all kinds of judgments and not even realize it until we’re older!

Monday Morning quarterbacks are everywhere you look! Shoulding on yourself (or others) sounds like…

“You should have…”

Used less salt

Spent less on Black Friday

Done what I said

“I should have…”

Left earlier to avoid this traffic

Quit this job a year ago

Spoken up about that

Be married and have kids at this age

Judgment of self is often about trust and fear. Whether you’ve taken something personally, experience regret or guilt, or you’ve been taught in life that somehow you’re just not good enough, the bottom line is lack of trust in yourself…and fear of what could happen if you do, amongst other things. Also, judgment can come in the form of feedback, which may make you feel vulnerable and question yourself. This doesn’t mean you cannot take feedback on advisement. But do consider the source of the feedback and the intention behind which it was shared.

How to stop shoulding on yourself:

You have the power to disarm these icky, unproductive thoughts. Nothing has meaning until we give it meaning. The object is to stop assigning meaning to these self-judgments, because once you start to give them weight, they begin to weigh you down.

Your ability to experience personal and professional growth, weather chaos and catastrophe, and begin living guilt-, regret-, and disappointment-free will increase once you make a conscious decision to let go of judgments every time you recognize them and move into a space of self-acceptance.

  • Get grounded—Establish awareness before you try to focus on the positive; try to get to a neutral space where you can identify, acknowledge (accept), and release (let go) your negative or destructive feelings. Building a sense of mindfulness can start with asking yourself these questions?

  • Is this true and accurate for me right now?

  • Is it true sometimes? Under what circumstances?

  • Was it true in the past, but no longer?

  • Validate. Choose to be patient and compassionate with yourself.

  • Balance the negative. How true is the judgment for you? Your fear around a situation will start to magnify the aspects that are not aligned with who you are and where you want to be. Reframe painful self-reflection and steer towards constructive awareness.

  • Reframe in terms of consequences. Is the judgment rooted in a deep fear of what might happen? Explore your attachment to “what if” scenarios and understand the feelings around them. Make sure that these consequences exist in reality. This means letting go of “Omigod, if XYZ happens I will just DIE!”…or at least looking at whether or not XYZ is actually lethal. Instead of looking at what is the worst that can happen, begin looking at how a different outcome can present new opportunities for you.

  • Reframe in terms of goals or gratitude. Look at ways that the judgment can result in positive results or personal growth. For example, if your judgment is attached to your comparison of yourself with others, consider changing the tone of the criticism. Instead of “I wish I wasn’t so awkward in crowded rooms. Dana is always so well put together” try “I really admire Dana’s ability to work the room under pressure. I would like to learn from her some tips on how I might do that myself.”

  • Eliminate absolutes. No, we’re not talking vodka! We are looking at “always” and “never”. These words set you up for infinite failure because you are subscribing to the limiting belief that certain situations, people, circumstances do not have the ability to change. This unconditional way of thinking sets fixed terms on how you live and will keep you safely enclosed in a pattern of repeat (poor) performance.

  • Actively look for exceptions, not excuses. Become a possibility powerhouse by widening your scope and looking for what you’re missing or not noticing. Notice times in the past when you have done well, if you happened to be ill or distracted that day, or if your perceptions of others’ performance may be a bit off.

Imagine what you can do when you are no longer focused on these self-criticisms? You are now ready to knock this block down and start building a path toward sustainable growth and achievable goals. What will you do first?


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