I should exercise more. I should eat better. I should get up earlier. I should drink less coffee. I should I should I should… Does this sound familiar? I have a list a mile long, and I am should-ing myself sick. Literally. I had an anxiety attack recently, something I haven’t felt in years, because I had been burying myself beneath ridiculous expectations. We all have goals and ideals we strive for, but when they are making you sick, it is time to rearrange your thinking! My anxiety built up on the shoulders of this lovely list:
- Get up earlier, to exercise and/or write
- Drink less coffee
- Exercise three times a week
- Meal plan
- Write in my journal
- Commit to being vegetarian or vegan
- Make a budget
- Drink less wine
- Drink more water
- Be more active with my kids
- Stop yelling at my kids so much
- Spend more time with my girlfriends
- Clean the basement
- Read more
Just making this list stresses me out! I started making lists, schedules for the entire day, and writing meal plans, but something always got in the way of me following through completely. I WANTED to succeed at _________, I PLANNED for __________, but I just didn’t follow through 100%, so I’d feel like a failure. Hmmm… Perfectionist, anyone? Ugh. I signed up for inspirational newsletters, followed motivational Instagram accounts, and signed up for productivity email lists. Instead of helping me turn my “shoulds” into “dids”, they just made me feel worse. Why could THEY meal plan and make it work? Why could THEY plan their week out exactly and find time to exercise? Why couldn’t I be more like THEM?
Yup. Good ol’ self-confident doesn’t-follow-the-crowd Carolyn’s self esteem had been crushed by comparison. So, I had a super-fun anxiety attack, went to counselling a few times, and have decided to scrap the “I should” list.
Change How You Talk To Yourself
Instead of saying “I should exercise three times a week,” I am working on saying “I feel better after I exercise”. Instead of saying “I should eat vegetarian”, I tell myself that I feel better when I don’t eat meat (it’s true!). Instead of bossing myself around, I am focusing on what feels good. After all, who likes to be told that they should do anything? If my husband told me I should clean the basement, you better believe that I would do the exact opposite.
At first, I couldn’t believe how often I was bossing myself around from the moment I got up until the moment I went to bed. “I should get up earlier tomorrow to be less rushed” to “I should prep the kids’ lunches instead of watching Master Chef.” It was shocking, and it was no wonder I felt overwhelmed. Here are some of the key-phrases I have been using instead; I am even using post-its around the house to help me remember to be kind to myself.
Key-Phrases to Help Reduce Your Overwhelm
- I feel better when
- My day is easier when
- It relaxes me to
- I am happier when
The key to stopping should-ing yourself to death is to instead focus on what feels good. Pleasure and positive side effects can be a great motivator, so by highlighting what you DO get out of something is better than harping on what you DIDN’T do: “Today was an easier day, because we planned dinner the night before. We were less rushed, and my husband did some meal-prep before I got home.” By framing it this way, I am more likely to plan my next meal, rather than after telling myself: “Man, we should meal plan every day, because it makes the evenings so much smoother.” It is almost the same sentence… but the second version makes me feel like I am failing because I don’t meal plan every day. I prefer the first sentence, don’t you?
It isn’t easy, but I am trying to cut myself some slack. After all, just because someone on Instagram says they #wokeuplikethis at 5am or LOVE #mealprepsunday, doesn’t mean that a) it is true, or that b) their way of living will work for me. So, I will just keep on keeping on with what I know does work for me: flexibility, understanding my own needs, and kindness towards myself.