When I was dating Tweni, she said it to me all the time, and for a reason. I have a serious habit of shoulding on myself, which really isn’t a good habit to have. And, the more I listen to those around me, the more I see a world full of people shoulding all over themselves and others.
I should have. I shouldn’t have. When is the last time you said one of these two phrases? Probably much too recently.
Looking back over the last 24 hours, I should on myself several times. I should have gone to the gym. I should have gone to bed earlier. I should have called my brother. I should have eaten healthier. I shouldn’t have watched as much television as I did. I should have taken the dog for a walk. I should have buckled down a little more.
In the past week there was even more shoulding going on. I shouldn’t have led that girl on by telling her I’d go out with her again. I should have mowed the lawn. I shouldn’t have let the dishes pile up. I should have been better prepared for that radio interview. I should have been more disciplined with my time. I shouldn’t have spent so much money at the outlet stores. I should have worked out every day. I should have walked to the park instead of drive. I should have spent more play time with Noah. I shouldn’t have wasted so much time sitting around when I could have been working and writing.
In the past month there was more. In the past year, I can think of hundreds of things I should have done or shouldn’t have done. Maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job. Maybe I should have put more time into a, b, and c. Maybe I should have been a better brother, son, and friend. Maybe I shouldn’t have let a particular girl slip through my fingers. Maybe I should have kept my truck. Maybe I shouldn’t have written that post. Maybe I should have visited my grandparents more often.
No wonder I smell like should. I’ve should all over myself and I stink to high-heaven of it.
In all reality, of all the things I’ve ever taken from anyone else, this lesson has rang the most true, even though it is the lesson I have struggled with most. I love to beat myself up over past mistakes and blunders. I second-guess decisions I’ve made. I continually think and rethink what I should or shouldn’t have done.
Now, on first thought, perhaps it doesn’t seem so unhealthy to constantly think about what you should or shouldn’t have done. After all, don’t we improve by doing things better than we know we “should have” the next time around? Not really. In fact, rarely, if ever, does shoulding on yourself actually help anything.
I should have exercised. When’s the last time you said that? Did saying it motivate you? Did you jump up and run to the gym? Did you throw on a headband, grab your boombox, and run to the park for some hard-core breakdancing? If I had to guess, you probably did what I usually do. You said, tomorrow I’ll do better. Tomorrow I’ll go. And then tomorrow comes, and you find yourself covered in should all over again.
What if instead of shoulding on ourselves, we step over the should and move on? What if I were to rethink each of the paragraphs above, and simply phrase them differently? Whenever I find that I’ve been shoulding on myself too often, I do this simple two-part exercise. First, I change all the should statements into statements of fact.
In the last 24 hours, I didn’t go to the gym. I didn’t get enough sleep. I didn’t call my brother. I hurt my body by filling it with crap. I wasted too many hours in front of the TV. I let Buddha down. I wasted too much time.