Like many people, my life is busy. I have a full schedule and a never ending to- do list. Even though I love my life and am passionate about my many projects, having so many demands on my time, energy and attention can be stressful and overwhelming at times. To maintain a sense of calm and well-being, I have a few daily self-care practices that include meditation and disconnecting from technology.

One of my favorite practices is spending time each night reviewing my day and doing a self-check-in. This check-in, which includes an inventory of my predominant thoughts and feelings, has become a great awareness building tool.

I discovered one of the biggest culprits causing me stress were my ‘should’ thoughts. The tape that played in my head was repeating phrases like I should exercise more, I should go to that networking event, I should make that phone call, I should volunteer …

Training your brain to be positive is not so different from training your muscles at the gym.

All these ‘shoulds’ were creating feelings of being overwhelmed and literally sucking the joy and happiness out of my life. I had experienced burnout and depression in my twenties and it was not a place I was willing to revisit.

Many of us know we should take care of our physical bodies – that we need to exercise and eat healthy. But how many of us devote the same attention and care to our thoughts and emotions?

In his article Positive Intelligence Shawn Achor, the bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage, says “training your brain to be positive is not so different from training your muscles at the gym. Research in neuroplasticity… reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain.”

So I set myself free and changed my thoughts by eliminating ‘should’ from my vocabulary. Now I am on a mission to help others do the same so they can reduce their stress and regain their enthusiasm.

The tape that played in my head was repeating phrases like I should exercise more, I should go to that networking event, I should make that phone call, I should volunteer …

If you are ready to add more positivity, joy and gratitude to your life, follow the eight principles of the ‘should’ elimination diet:

Is it really a ‘should’?

Yes, some things in life you need to do.

You need to feed yourself but do you need to go to a friend’s party? If it feels more like an obligation or if you are afraid you will upset your friend, it is not something you ‘need’ to do. Take care of yourself and remember self-care is not selfish.

Is it a positive ‘should’?

A positive should is something like, ‘I should try scuba diving’ assuming diving is something you really want to do. If you use the word should, it will most likely be something you will only contemplate and not something you will actually ever do.

Posi Should


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If you really want to go scuba diving, best to say ‘I am going to learn to scuba dive.’ Then set your goal and take steps to achieve it.

Reframe those true 'shoulds.

It is easy for everyday chores like commuting to work or doing laundry to become drudgery. Remember that many less fortunate people don’t have food to eat, clothes to wear or a place to live.

Focus on how lucky you are to have these things. By doing a reframe, you switch the energy from an experience of obligation to one of gratitude. Change ‘should’ to ‘I get to!’

Stop taking those guilt trips.

How many times do you do something that you ‘should’ so you can avoid feeling guilty? Do some digging and discover the real reasons for those guilty feelings.

Should Diet

You can then go to work dealing with those issues. In the meantime, have the courage to say ‘no’ and just sit with the guilt.

Face your fears.

If you find yourself saying ‘I should ask for a raise’ but you avoid asking because it brings up fear, it is time to be brave and ask. We all know that we must ask for what we want or we most likely won’t get it. People can’t read your mind. So ask and you shall receive – at the very least an answer.

Stop procrastinating.

We often use ’should’ to procrastinate and avoid doing something we really don’t want to do. In the event you are avoiding something like exercise, explore your resistance. Perhaps you are tired of the same old routine. Mix it up and try a tribal dance class. And remember the Nike slogan ‘Just Do It,’

Pare your to-do list.

Sometimes we just have too much on our plates. Yes, we are super heroines but even super heroines have their kryptonite.

Agenda

We often do too much, give too much and lack strong boundaries. Eliminate all those ‘shoulds’ – those unnecessary or unachievable tasks from your lists.

Ask the big question

To determine if a task or goal is really important ask yourself ‘is this in alignment with my passion and my purpose?’ Eliminate the unessential and keep your focus and energy on what feeds your soul.

This article originally appeared in Happiness + Wellbeing.

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