Should You Be Reading This Right Now?

Should you really be reading this right now? Or are there other, more important things you should be getting on with? Most people can come up with all sorts of alternatives to feel guilty about in an instant.

Having a should collection is a widespread and generally accepted form of mental clutter. But the good news is that if you choose not to accept the mental should clutter and instead set about decluttering it, you can liberate your own mind, freeing yourself up to lead a more fulfilling and successful life than the shoulds would ever allow you.

Your particular should pattern may involve telling yourself that there are belongings you should have, activities you should be engaged in or characteristics you should display. Quite possibly all of them. But where do the shoulds come from?

Although they’re in your head, shoulds are actually externally generated. The media is keen to dictate how and who you should be, what’s acceptable and what’s not. Your parents will probably have exerted their influence through shoulds in the past too – maybe they still do. Then there’s the whole collection of teachers, preachers, gurus, spouses, relatives, co-workers… And that’s without even considering how professional advertisers set out to program your brain.

If you take all the shoulds on board plus you feel you should act on them, pretty quickly you’ll find there’s no space left for you. If you live your life according to your shoulds, it soon becomes meaningless and distinctly lacking in fun. You lose your sense of self, and your chances of success on your own terms gradually erode away.

The rather obvious truth about the basic essence of a should is that it’s something you don’t want. But it’s one of those truths that you’re not supposed to notice or mention. Like the emperor’s new clothes.

One of the secrets to unloading your mental clutter is to stay on the alert for your shoulds. When you catch one (you’ll probably be amazed how often the word comes out of your mouth once you start listening for it and noticing it), stop it in its tracks and ask yourself: “I’m telling myself that this is what I should do, but what do I actually want to do?”

Once you’ve identified the want as well as the should, you have a choice and you can change the way you think and talk about it. Instead of saying: “I should do this”, you can experiment with:

– “I feel I should do this, but I don’t want to, so I’m choosing to do something else instead.”

– “This isn’t something I particularly want to do, but I choose to do it anyway because…”

– “This isn’t something I particularly want to do, so I choose to feel good about not doing it.”

It’s important not to let yourself be a victim or to blame your shoulds for controlling you. Although it’s not quite as straightforward as always saying no to the shoulds – we all have to do things we don’t want to do occasionally – the mental clarity you gain by taking responsibility and making a choice in these situations will help you to reduce your mental clutter and reclaim your life.