Monday, December 29, 2008

Sprained Shoulds

So I recently missed a stair and sprained my ankle. That, in and of itself, is enough to cause a fair amount of pain. However, my crazy mind went wild with "shoulds" that caused far more suffering. Just a sampling of these "shoulds" included: you shouldn't have fallen, you should have been paying more attention, you shouldn't be so klutzy. Fortunately, I had my questions about "shoulds" to help me find some peace in all this agony.

Q: How did you learn you shouldn't be such a klutz?
A: Navigating around New York is a constant reminder of this. It is very difficult to get from one place to another without full physical capacity. I also see this reflected in the media constantly, as nearly all images present "normal" able-bodied people. I think I've learned from American culture that one should metaphorically be always pushing ahead, and if I slow down to limp I'll "fall behind" in a way in the race of life.

Q: Is this "shouldn't" true for everyone everywhere 24/7?
A: Of course not. Being a klutz by no means is a reflection of any one's character, of their values, or of their soul. It does not reflect one's ambition, nor ability to help others. My unique American sense of wanting to stay ahead is not universal, and certainly not very healthy.

Q: Who is profiting off you "shouldn't"?
A: That capitalistic spirit that says I should always be moving faster, going further, pushing harder, accomplishing more.

Q: How does it feel to think this "shouldn't"?
A: I feel ashamed, like an idiot doofus loser.

Q: And does feeling like an idiot doofus loser help your ankle heal?
A: No quite the opposite.

Q: What would one day be like without this "shouldn't"?
A: I would feel better — like I could just do what I'm able to do without the stress of accomplishing more.

Q: Who would you be without this "shouldn't"?
A: I'd be someone a lot more at peace. I'd be a lot more accepting of whatever life throws my way (or whatever I fall into).

Replace it:
A: I wish I was not such a klutz. I would prefer not to fall down anymore. It would be easier on me and my loved ones if I paid more attention. But even as a klutz I am a still a good person, and I never have to be a victim of capitalistic thinking unless I choose to be.

And with these questions, I feel better. The pain is there, but suffering has been alleviated. Can you try this the next time you're giving yourself a hard time?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Should-less Holidays !

It’s that time of the year again. The weather is cold, the days are short, and the advertising industry is directly and subliminally using every “should” in their billion dollar budget to make you feel as guilty and ashamed as possible. What are these “shoulds”? They may include:

I should give my loved ones everything they want for Christmas.
I should be able to spend the money I used to have.

You should give me the perfect gift that I want.

Love and affection should be proven through the exchange of gifts.

Families should be together.

I should be happier.
I shouldn’t eat too much food and gain weight.

I shouldn’t have lost my job this year.

My parents shouldn’t judge me when I go home.

I should be good at this stuff like other people.

So what’s the alternative?

First, understand that you had to learn every "should" causing you stress or sadness at this moment. Not one of us popped out of our mother’s womb saying, “I shouldn’t have that extra cookie” or “I should be making more money.” If you learned your should, it means you can unlearn it. Try asking:

How did I learn this should? Your parents, your children, your friends, the billion dollar advertising industry?

Is this should true for everyone everywhere 24/7? Are there some who can be happy and fulfilled by not giving or receiving store bought gifts? If it’s possible for them, isn’t it possible for you?

Who is profiting off your should? Anytime, and I mean ANYTIME you feel guilty or sad there is a cash register somewhere singing. The media can make billions of dollars from making everyone feel insecure and fearful. You don’t have to give in to it.

How do you feel when you think this should? Does it bring you happiness? Peace? Hope? Or does it make you feel afraid, angry, frustrated, or depressed? You can change the way you feel by changing the way you see the holidays. If nothing else remember this: It is not the holiday that is making you feel upset, it is your “should” about the holiday that is making you feel upset.

Change It: You can try saying, “I prefer to be with my loved ones this year,” or “I can choose to make the holidays better by simply changing my mind” or “I wish I could gifts but I am a good person no matter what.”

By changing your thinking and talking about it with others you can have the very best “should-less” holiday ever. It’s up to you !!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another Beautiful Tribute to Jhan Dean Egg

Jhan's good friend Chester wrote a beautiful tribute on his blog. To view it press here.

Tips for Should-less Protesting #4

Should-less Protesting Tip #4

ACTION: Write a letter (snail mail is better) to your Congressperson, your Senator, your local city politicians, and tell them what you think about this issue. Try eliminating "shoulds" from your letter, and using as many "I" statements as possible.

REASONING: Nobody opens their hearts or minds when they feel condescended to or judged. Don't believe me? Just how motivated do YOU feel to change your thinking when someone tells you that you "shouldn't" have the right to marry who you want to?
"Shoulds" are an ineffective motivator for change. You make a much more powerful statement by speaking your truth from a personal standpoint using "I" statements, and explaining why same-sex marriage benefits everyone, not just the couple involved.

If you'd like to read more about theory behind Should-less Protesting, press here

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Radio show with Barry Shainbaum!

Please listen to my interview on Perspectives with Barry Shainbaum on Sunday, December 14th, at 12noon, EST, at:

[If you missed it, check back on my website in a couple of weeks and it will be posted].

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tribute to The Effervescent Jhan Dean Egg

It was ten years ago this weekend that my friend Jhan Dean Egg died. With some friends I might say something more gentle or poetic like, "he left this earth" or "he started on his next journey." With Jhan, he wanted to be referred to as "dead" as dead can be.

I met Jhan at Roommate Referrals on Castro Street in San Francisco in late September, 1993. We had a four bedroom apartment on Albion Street, and this strange bald piercer from Brooklyn was the perfect fit for our early 20's party filled mecca. Within days I noticed that this man wore only black, had more music than I had ever seen, and watched no television or movies except for b-horror flicks.

The five years I lived with Jhan frequently contained fascinating paradoxes. He could live his life completely free of the "shoulds" from societal norms, media, and his family. But at the same time, he could be incredibly rigid about certain issues around our house. If anyone moved his english muffins and cream cheese in the refrigerator there would be hell to pay. If a chair was moved to a different area it would be accompanied by a comment like, "Oh, I guess the chair is living over there now." He hated traveling anywhere, and was often disappointed and hurt if someone failed to return a phone call. He could appear aloof and independent, yet was actually quite vulnerable and hungry for human contact.

What I always could count on was his unwavering support. He cheered me on as I applied to graduate school, and encouraged me to keep going during the two years I spent completing my M.A. in Psychology. He always seemed to see the good in me no matter who I was dating, how much I was partying, or which bad soap operas I was watching. When a conflict with another roommate came to a "him or me" boiling point, the usually quiet Jhan stood up and assertively ordered this other roommate and to remove himself out of our home. When the roommate protested, "I can't find another place to live with no money," Jhan calmly replied, "I did it in New York, I'll tell you how to do it in San Francisco." I was surprised and amazed for the way he stood up for me, and that he could be such a powerful unflinching advocate when needed.

The most important lesson I learned from Jhan was not about living, but about dying. He coped for several years with AIDS related symptoms, and took a very pragmatic rational view about his own mortality. In 1996 he sat me down, showed me his will, and asked me if I would be his Executor. This responsibility included respecting his wishes not to prolong his life, and to distribute his beloved music collection in an exact order to his friends after his passing. I agreed, without comprehending the emotional toll this would eventually entail.

Right before Thanksgiving of 1998 we received the results of an MRI: Jhan's brain had significantly atrophied, and he had very little time left to live. The doctor said he could try medications to prolong his life, but they would only buy him six months at most. My "shoulds" went into overdrive: He shouldn't be dying, he should try the medications, he should stay and fight, he shouldn't give up so easily.

Jhan and I sat down on his floor after getting this news. I told him my "shoulds," and how scared I felt. And with the same self-possessed assertive force that he displayed earlier with the problematic roommate, he explained to me that he had a right not to take the medications, he didn't want to fight the inevitable, and he was at complete peace knowing he would be leaving this world soon. We both cried a lot that night, as we listened to Marc Almond's "Brilliant Creatures" over and over. By the end of the night I understood what he was saying. He had a right to decline meds. He had a right to say goodbye. He had a right to choose to die in the same manner in which he chose to live. The only thing causing me suffering were my "shoulds" about his decisions.

Jhan's choice to end his life with dignity, integrity, and courage has had a significant impact on me ever since. Being included in his life and his death have deeply shaped the man and the therapist I am today. The lessons I learned from him were essential ingredients in writing "Absolutely Should-less." I wanted to honor Jhan and his spirit with this book, and hope that I've been able to do that.

During one of our last conversations I asked him what he thought happens after we die. Do we rise above over sweeping landscapes and gorgeous mountain terrains? Jhan looked at me horrified and said, "I hope NOT...I hope it's over the city concrete and large skyscrapers." Ten years later I pray there is a part of Jhan that can find me writing this in his old hometown of Brooklyn and missing him a lot.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Should-less Icon: Ilene Kristen

Ilene Kristen is an actress famed for a having both enormous acting talent and an idiosyncratic sense of humor which helps her to steal every scene she’s in. But behind the wisecracks is a wise soul with a unique understanding of human psychology. She’s used that understanding to create two iconic daytime characters: Delia on Ryan’s Hope and Roxy on One Life to Live. When we spoke at length recently, she described how she reached inside herself to create both Delia and Roxy.

Please come visit Marlena DelaCroix's blog site to read my full interview with this wonderful actress. Learn how she made Delia so real, Roxy so entertaining, the scene from Ryan's Hope that she refused to play, and the essential OLTL scene that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Soap Shrink on Blog Talk Radio!

I am so excited to announce that the Fabulous Marlena De La Croix, the Amazing Patrick Erwin and "Soap Shrink" me will all be guests Friday night, December 5th, at 10 PM EST, on the In the Zone Blog Talk Radio Show . We’ll be talking about our site and reviewing the many events of the last, tumultuous soap year. We’ll all be pleased to speak with you on the air and answer your questions. The call-in number for the 90-minute show is (347) 996-5978. Please tune in!

Tips For Should-less Protesting #3

Should-less Protesting Tip #3

ACTION: Talk to your partner about your death. Set up a health care proxy giving your partner power of attorney in case you are unable to make your own medical or legal decisions.

REASONING: This is a similar idea as making legal wills. These are rights that married couples take for granted, including being allowed full access to their spouse when they are in the hospital. If the state won’t protect your relationship then it’s up to you and your loved one to do it. It may not be a subject that will be fun to discuss, but it is another form of standing up and taking action.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tips for Should-less Protesting #2

Should-less Protesting Tip #2

ACTION: Do something really fun with your partner. Something that involves laughing, and taking lots of pictures.

REASONING: Victor Frankl, author of, Man’s Search For Meaning, said, "The last of the human freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." When you make the choice to be happy, even under oppressive laws, you are effectively practicing a radical form or protest.

Remember, no one can “make you” feel unhappy unless you give them the power to do so.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tips for Should-less Protesting #1

In previous columns (below) I have discussed the option we all have to remain happy under Prop 8 simply by changing thoughts. What follows from these ideas are actions you can take IF you choose to have more peace. I will be adding more of these throughout the week. If you have some of your own, PLEASE e-mail them to me at

Shouldless Protesting Tip #1
ACTION: Make legal wills. You can purchase the software to create legal wills at nearly any office supply store. Follow the instructions, and update them regularly.

REASONING: This pertains to the decision not be a victim. If the state isn't going to look out for your rights, you had better stand up and do it yourself! You never ever have to feel like a victim or a “second class citizen” unless you choose to be. Making legal wills puts you back in the driver’s seat, and protects you and your loved ones.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Prop 8 Shoulds (Part Two)

Last week I began writing a piece on staying “should-less” and choosing happiness even in the midst of being denied the legal right to marry, as California did with Proposition 8. But how is this possible when you live in a state or an area that doesn’t support your fundamental human rights?

I promise you it is possible if you keep the following in mind:

1. You always have the right to choose to be happy in ANY situation. No matter what anyone else is saying to you or about you, you can choose not to buy into their insanity or their cruelty. No one has the power to take your humanity unless you give it to them. Don’t believe me? Try reading Victor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” or Tina Turner’s, “I, Tina.” These individuals make strong testaments in favor of determining your own emotional/spiritual path, even in the face of personal and political oppression.

2. Choosing to act the victim role plays into the oppressor’s hands. If you choose to live your life at the effect of other people’s choices, you will be letting them win. Anytime you compromise your mental, physical, or spiritual wellness because of another person’s ignorance, you are giving them what they want. By asserting your right to be happy and proud in all areas of your life, you are diminishing their ability to hurt you and the people you love.

3. You cannot control what other people think or do. You can control how your react to what others think or do. In my own experience, expending energy on what others think and do will leave me tired, exhausted, angry, and burnt out. This hardly puts me in a position to be an effective activist, or inspire others to change. However, I can have an impact and an affect on what others think or do if I have chosen peace and happiness within myself first. It is only through doing your own work that you can motivate others to change.

4. Nobody opens their minds or hearts when they are being judged or condescended to. Nobody. So if you’re out there yelling at people that they “should” support you, it really won’t help. People may change their minds when they feel they are being listened to and respected. Throwing bottles or vandalizing churches hardly encourages anyone to change their political views.

5. “To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others,” Nelson Mandela. Are you behaving in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others? Are you respecting that partner you want to marry? I can’t tell you how many activists I have known who stand up for human rights in the world, then ignore or abuse their loved ones at home, or are cruel to their co-workers. By demonstrating compassion and love for people you know, you are in fact making a powerful political statement about the rights of others.

Please consider these ideas as you go forward in your work this week. It’s easy to choose suffering. It’s harder to make the most radical choice of all: Happiness.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My appearance on "Up Close and Personal"

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have been a guest on Bonnie D. Graham's wonderful show, "Up Close and Personal" back on November 7th. If you'd like to hear it, follow the link below.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Prop 8 Shoulds

Like so many others, I am frustrated and saddened by the passing of Proposition 8 in my homestate of California. It is sickening that the majority of adults voted in favor of banning legal same-sex marriage, and illuminates some deeply entrenched distortions in many people’s thinking.

But I am also aware that any time I am feeling upset or angry, I can choose to feel peace and acceptance. IF I am willing. I am also painfully aware that many activists perceive themselves as needing to remain in a constant state of anger and victimization in order to feel productive. They are often unwilling to consider that happiness is always an option—even without legal validation of same sex relationships. By challenging “shoulds” I have learned it is possible to be politically active, and feel peace at the same time.

Here’s how this works with my should, “Gays and Lesbians Should Be Allowed To Legally Marry.”

Q: How did I learn this “should?”
A: I learned it from my friends and clients over the years, particularly those that went through traumatizing legal issues after their same sex partner died. Without legal protections, people I know and love have lost their homes, their savings, even their children.

Q: How do you feel when you think this “should?”
A: I feel hurt, angry, like I want to strike back at one of these political or religious organizations that want to take away people’s rights. Then eventually I feel achey and tired.

Q: And who profits off your “should”?
A: Anyone who voted in favor of the marriage ban profits off my “should.” Because when I get angry, my body reacts. My muscles hurt, my head aches, my blood pressure goes up, my stomach thumps, and I don’t sleep well. This makes me a lot less effective in being active or outspoken about the injustices around me.
The conservative power base who want to deny me legal rights have a lot at stake in my being miserable. If they want me to be unhappy and stressed out, then I make their job a lot easier when I make MYSELF miserable with my thoughts.

Q: Who would you be without this “should”
A: I would be a person who could be happy and fulfilled, even when half the state of California doesn’t want to me to be. I would be someone who feels personally and emotionally empowered, despite what the law tells me about myself.

Q: Replace it.
A: I would prefer that same-sex couples have equal legal rights in ALL states. It would be legally and emotionally advantageous for everyone to be able to have their relationship validated. But either way no one has the power to determine how I feel about my partner or anyone else...unless I give it to them.

From doing this “should-less” questioning, I am feeling more hopeful, and more peaceful. And it is from this place of acceptance that I know I am more effective in my actions and communications with others. Over the next few weeks I plan to write more tips about ways to engage in “should-less” protesting. Please come back and share with me your responses.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Book Is Out!

I just have to say it is astounding and amazing to see the book is out there now. I can't thank everyone enough who has been reading this blog, giving me feedback, and considering how great a world without "shoulds" can really be.

The book is now available on most internet outlets, including Amazon, Tower, Barnes & Noble.

If you've read it, please let me know what you think. Even if you think it stinks!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wall Street Shoulds

Like every one else, I have been horrified these last few weeks, witnessing the stock market jump up and down, and up, and down, to today's lowest point since 2004. How does one remain Absolutely Should-less in such a market? Not easily, I tell ya.

It's easy to be "spiritual" and "feel good" when things are going well. But when the chips are down, (and they will be down for awhile), then that is the time for you and I to step up and do the inner work we are capable of. Marianne Williamson has spoken about our tendency to be "lazy" spiritual students at times. Jacob Glass points out how easy it is to get "distracted" from the truth we hold within by the disasters of this world. I agree with both, because images such as this tend to make me lazy and distracted:

So how does one remain Absolutely Should-less in light of these uncontrollable circumstances?
This is how I'm dealing with my should, "The Stock Market should stop falling."

How do you feel when you think, "The Stock Market should stop falling?"
I feel anxious, afraid, worried, annoyed.

Who is making a profit off your "Should?"
Certainly CNN is profiting from my need to obsess over this event, as well as Suze Orman, who I keep hoping will shed light and hope in this area. If I can't sleep, then Starbucks will profit from my fear, as well as my doctor, and the makers or whatever sleep meds he wants to prescribe. If I over eat when I'm worried, then Ben & Jerry's and the pizza place down the street will certainly profit from my "should."

What would one day be like without this "should?"
One day without this should would be very relaxing. I'd probably end up spending less money on coffee and food that I didn't need.

Who would you be without this "should?"
I would be someone whose happiness wasn't dependent on the poor decisions of Wall Street brokers. I would be someone who recognized that my peace and satisfaction is within me, and not contingent on the numbers I see on my computer screen, or the fluctuations in my bank account.

Replace It.
I would prefer that the Stock Market stops falling. I really hope things stabilize soon. But even if things get worse, I have a choice to be more happy, less stressed.

And with that, I feel better. It doesn't solve the problem, it does not absolve me of all my stress and worry. But it helps me to realize I have a choice in this matter. I can choose to make the falling points on wall street my God-like source of agony and stress. Or I can choose to seek happiness from different sources.

What other sources? The changing of leaves in New York City in autumn. The kids laughing on the subway. Seeing my partner's smile in the morning. THESE are the investments I'm going to be making the rest of the week.

What investments are you willing to focus on in order to have more peace this week?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sleepless Shoulds

For as long as I can remember I have had problems getting to sleep. I can get pretty hyped up at night, which doesn't fit in well with having a nine to five work schedule. Not sleeping at night used to bring up much frustration. I would curse the birds chirping in the morning, and beg not to see the first hint of sun peeking through the window.

Fortunately, when I started challenging the thought, "I should get plenty of sleep at night," I felt better. Here's how I apply it now in the middle of one of these aggravated sleepless nights:

"How did you learn that you should get plenty of sleep at night?"
I certainly get bombarded with 'studies' that tell me I should be getting rest. I know I had parents who did their very best to get me to sleep at night. Teachers, doctors, all say I should get plenty of rest.

"But is this true for everyone everywhere 24/7?"
No, plenty of people can function without a proper night's rest. And in fact, I can function adequately without a decent night's sleep. I'm certainly not at my best without sleep, but I can make it through if need be.

"How do you feel when you think you should be sleeping right now?"
I feel angry, anguished, discouraged, powerless.

"And do these feelings help you get the sleep you want?"
No way.

"What would life be like without this should?"
It would be so much easier. I could sleep when I'm tired, relax, and not worry so much if sleep doesn't come.

"Replace it."
I would prefer to get enough sleep. It would be beneficial for me to get enough sleep. But in the long run I'm going to be okay either way. Even if I'm not functioning at my 100% best I can get by. And as Dr. Albert Ellis once said, nobody has ever died from losing one night of sleep.

By changing my thoughts like this, I actually feel a lot better. And when I feel better, I end up getting more sleep. So it turns out that when I eliminate my "should" about getting sleep, that I end up getting a lot more sleep!

This is one of the wonderful paradoxes of Should-less living. When you let go of that thing you think you need, you're often more likely to get it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Traveling Shoulds

I was reminded last week that travel by flying is one of the most annoying experiences in modern civilization. After braving extensive waits for the MTA subway system at 4am, a LONG delay on the JFK Air Train at 5am, and completely expensive tasteless food at 6am, I still had to face my worst obstacle yet:

The Quintessential Airplane Crying Baby.

Now don't get me wrong, I think the propagation of the human race is an admirable thing. But why, OH WHY, would they bring an infant on the plane, especially one who clearly doesn't want to be there? Given my level of indignant righteousness, I realized this was the perfect time to work on worst "should" of flying: "They should shut that child up."

"How did you learn this was true?"
It's one of those cultural things about not intentionally making loud disturbing noises in an enclosed area with no escape.

"Is this should true for everyone everywhere 24/7?"
No. If a child is in pain or suffering then loud crying is the only way it can communicate that feeling. Many babies ears are hurting on the plane. If a parent always muffles their cries, then that can send the child a destructive message that they SHOULDN'T communicate when they are upset.

"Who is profiting off your should?"
The airlines and the makers of Skyy vodka, both of whom make money from me if I use a drink to deal with my shoulds instead of asking these questions.

"How do you feel when you think this should?"
I feel angry, righteous, and helpless. I feel like I don't want to travel anymore, thereby cutting myself off from a potentially wonderful vacation just because of my should about this child.

"And do you want to be right or happy during this flight?"
I choose to be happy. I already know I'm right, I'd guess everyone would agree with this should. But they won't have the high blood pressure or the ulcers for me that results in insisting that my should is correct. Clearly being right in this case means that I'm not happy.

"Replace it."
I'd prefer this child settle down. I'd prefer it would be quiet. I'd prefer parents did not subject their children to the treachery of flying if they are not ready for it. But either way, I still have a choice to be happy or angry. Sometimes I choose anger, especially if jet lagged. But today I choose to be happy .

And with this questioning I felt better. It didn't solve the problem, but it changed my reaction to the problem. Ultimately, the child did simmer down. And later when I thought back to how I initially reacted to this child I had to wonder: Who was the REAL infant on that flight?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Absolutely Should-less in Action: Margaret Cho

I just finished watching the third episode of "The Cho Show." Although the situations are a bit contrived for my taste, I am so impressed that Margaret Cho has remained a living breathing example of what Absolutely Should-less living is all about.

I first had the opportunity to see Ms. Cho perform in San Francisco in 1993. She had a scathing silliness and a wicked tongue. Her natural talent, wit, and beauty were recognized by ABC television, who gave her her own sitcom— and subsequently tried to get her to conform to incredibly oppressive shoulds. They basically told her: You should be thin, you should be cute, you should be less Asian. She desperately tried to conform to such shoulds, up to the point of starving herself and nearly permanently damaging her internal organs.

In her brilliant film, "I'm the One I That I Want," she details her destructive downslide, and how she has survived stronger, more confident, more beautiful, and funnier than ever. She has since made a career out of telling her story, sharing her painful experiences, and helping women and men learn they NEVER have to buy into oppressive shoulds from others. She has inspired many of the ideas in my book, "Absolutely Should-less," and inspires me to tell my truth even if it pisses some people off.

So if you haven't already, try watching her new show on Vh1 on Thursday nights. I guarantee you'll learn something that will help you deal with the rigid standards and "shoulds" you are facing in your life.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

I Don't Think Any Women Are That Stupid, Sarah Palin.

John McCain announced his choice for vice-president this week. In a blatant attempt to win over disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters, he chose Sarah Palin, an inexperienced running mate who stands opposed to women's reproductive rights, gay marriage, and doesn't have a great track record with the environment either. The obvious logic behind this choice was that some Hillary supporters would say, "Hey, I want a woman in the White House one way or another, I'll take this one over none at all."

Will this strategy work? Time will soon tell. I just can't believe that female voters who supported Hillary Clinton would be swayed to vote for a candidate so diametrically opposed to the issues she cherishes. The McCain camp are clearly counting on female voters to ignore these differences and base their vote purely on gender. But I don't think any women are that stupid, or that easily duped. Do you?

I must admit that politics are a wonderful opportunity for me to use the tools of living life Absolutely Should-less, especially when things are not going the way I prefer. The last eight years have provided nearly daily challenges to choosing peace over bitter righteousness. I have decided to stay on that path regardless of the outcome of this election. Are you with me?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Liquid Shoulds

I was in an environment this week in which drinking a liquid of any kind, including water, was banned. After the initial shock of forbidding water in 85 degree weather wore off, my shoulds took over. See, after an unfortunate encounter with dehydration last year, I learned my lesson about the value of drinking water, constantly. It is not only important to me now for medical reasons, but the implementing of an anti-water policy appeared random and petty.

So when this gauntlet came down, my knee-jerk response was anger and outrage. Fortunately, I have learned that when my righteous indignation is kicked up, it is much to my benefit to ask myself some questions outlined in "Absolutely Should-less" before acting up. I focused on the should: They shouldn't be trying to stop me from drinking water.

"How did you learn they shouldn't try to stop you from drinking water?"
I learned this from my doctor. But I also think there has to be some sort of law that protects you from being dehydrated. I can't think of any other place where I am told I can't drink water.

"How does it feel to think this should?"
Angry, stressed, and rather thirsty.

"Who profits or benefits from this should?"
I suppose Dasani water does pretty well from my water consumption. But when I get angry and stressed like this, it definitely affects my sleep. So I'm sure Starbucks also profits from my righteous shoulds. Eventually if I get upset enough then I'm sure my doctor will end up profiting, as well as the company that makes whatever medicines he may need to prescribe, (which would defeat the purpose of drinking lots of water anyway).

"Who would you be without this should?"
I'd be much more at peace, much more relaxed, able to actually take appropriate action effectively instead of ranting aimlessly.

"And do you want to be right or happy today?"
After indulging in some righteousness, I decide to have happiness.

And with this last question, I was reminded I have a choice. I could be that angry stressed out guy, or I could access peace at any moment I wanted to. I chose the latter. And with that peace, I went to my doctor, got a note, brought it back to the environment, and have been happily drinking water ever since.

Many mistakenly operate under the notion that being at peace means you do nothing when approached with conflict. I have known plenty of political activists who believe the only way to bring about social change is to constantly should others. The only problem is, shoulds NEVER are effective in opening up people's minds, or their hearts.

In my case, it was clear that my shoulds were leading to more suffering. So I chose an easier path. I chose to be happy. And from a place of happiness, not anger, I took the appropriate steps I needed to take to stand up for myself and my right to hydrate.

Now I'm going to enjoy a tall glass of ice water. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Sized Shoulds

I'm just going to say it. All the media coverage of the Olympics for as long as I can remember has one underlying unquestioned "should": America should win. But I can't help but wonder, WHY?

Now let me clarify something. I'm not against America winning -- I honestly couldn't care less. What I am concerned with are the psychological consequences of such unquestioned values in our culture. What does winning really mean? Will it help our failing economy? Will it prevent more unemployment? Will it mean we'll live in a country where people are happier and treat each other with more kindness? History would suggest not.

Which brings me to the individuals who face the brunt of these beliefs. Sure, if you go along with the "shoulds" of winning you get wonderful media press, and maybe your face on a cereal box. But if you have the audacity to compete and lose, forget about it. You are then challenging the status quo; the American notion that, "We are a country of winners only." And you WILL face the consequences of going against this oppressive viewpoint.

Don't believe me? Check out the coverage of Alicia Sacramone's performance today on Google. This 20-year-old is being raked over the coals in the nation's leading papers for failing to win first place. Never mind that the United States still came in SECOND place out of eight. Never mind this is a human being who has devoted every day of the past four years to representing her country proudly. Never mind this is a young woman who has feelings.

Because she made an error she must pay. Because she failed to fulfill the mandated "should" about winning, she will face the judge and jury of the media. The same press that puts Michael Phelps on a throne is now spiritually tying Ms. Sacramone to the stake. Let's all try to be mindful of how this preoccupation with victory leads to "shoulding" and scapegoating others, before more spirits get sunk.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Should-less Publication Date

Having a book published has been one of the most exciting experiences of my life. When I learned that "Absolutely Should-less" was going to be released by Morgan-James Publishing in September, 2008, I started counting the days.

Then I learned it's being pushed back to November 1.

Immediately the should came to me, "no, they should publish it in September!" I noticed myself starting to feel frustrated. So I used to tools in the book to explore some thoughts:

"How do you know it should come out in September?"
Honestly, I don't. And actually, when I think about it, many of the positive things that have happened in my life did not happen when I thought they "should." I have no way of truly knowing when anything "should" happen, so there's no point in arguing with what is happening now.

"How do you feel when you think the book should come out in September?"
I feel frustrated, impatient, bummed out.

"What would one day be like without this should?"
It would be much easier because I wouldn't be controlling things I have no control over.

"Replace it."
I would have preferred for the book to come out in September as originally planned, but I'm so glad it's coming out at all, and I am determined to enjoy this process either way.

When I think that last thought I feel at peace, much more accepting with what is happening around me. And because I prefer this feeling, I know I'll be using this tool again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Problem With Shoulds 7: Using fear to control

"Shoulds" demand that we essentially play cop while monitoring our actions and the actions of others. They require us to spend great amounts of time and energy reviewing behaviors and determining how they should be done differently.

Historically, individuals in society were motivated to act in ways which would avoid incurring the wrath of a king or a god. Today, people are more motivated to act in ways which would avoid incurring the disapproval of their friends and family.

Shoulds lead to extreme fears of embarrassment and social exclusion. We know that we will not get struck down by a god or legally exiled by a sovereign if we get fat. But the internal shame and social stigma can be far more powerful. It is this self-other regulation that causes us to walk around feeling anxious, alienated, afraid, and exhausted. Our bodies will not be put in prison for gaining weight, but our minds will.

This is the 7th and last of my "Problem With Shoulds" blogs (until I can think of some more!). From here on I intend to use every day examples to demonstrate the principles outlined in my book. Keep coming back and reading!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shoulds and Social Change (The Problem With Shoulds #6)

"Should" has always been used to maintain power imbalances and oppression. "The status quo," is a Latin term for "the ways things were before." Society has much invested in keeping things "the way they were before." Change is scary for anyone, especially for individuals in positions of power. Politicians, corporate leaders, religious figures -- anyone who feels threatened by change will tend to cling tightly to the status quo and use "should" as a means of manipulating others into doing the same.

Every minority group that has struggled for equal rights has had to confront this. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, The Women's movement of the 1970's, and currently those pushing ahead for gay/lesbian rights have had to deal with and dismantle traditional and oppressive "shoulds." Seen this way, living Absolutely Should-less is not only a valuable commitment to your own mental and spiritual health, but it is also a powerful statement in favor of social change.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shoulds and Safe Sex (The Problem with Shoulds #5)

"Should" is an ineffective motivator for behavioral change. When it is being used to shame someone to work harder, make healthier choices, or produce more, it does not generate the intended results for any sustainable period of time. Many employers mistakenly operate under the belief that if they use should with their employees, then the employees will want to work harder and conform to standards. But do you remember a time when a boss has told you that you should do something? Did it really make you want to do it?

Safer sex is also an area where "should" is frequently used to promote a certain behavior. For over 25 years, HIV educators have tried to use fear and shoulds to motivate people to use condoms more frequently, with varied results. Why is this? If people know how HIV is spread, and if they know it can kill you, why wouldn't it follow suit that they would always use condoms 100% of the time?

How motivated do YOU feel when you are told you should do anything? In the long-term, "shoulds" have not been found to sustain healthy behavior patterns. This holds just as true for antismoking campaigns and anti-drug messages, and other such instances in which educators continue to ponder how and why individuals would engage in self-destructive behavior patterns knowing all the facts. Why don't they work? Because "shoulds" do not change the beliefs or thoughts that created the problematic behavior in the first place. If I don't value my body as deserving of happiness and health, it won't matter what shoulds someone is addressing toward me, I will still abuse it with drugs and unsafe sex.

When it is demonstrated to people that they can make choices that are fundamentally based in love and respect, as opposed to fear and shame, then the likelihood that someone will take positive steps consistently is increased. Reframing these choices may include saying, "I decide not to abuse drugs," "I choose to prioritize my health and therefore use condoms with sex," "I choose to quit smoking not because I should, but out of a sense of honor for me, for my body, and for those who love me." All involve changing perception first, behaviors second.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Is there ANYTHING Meryl Streep Can't Do?

No, seriously. I'm starting to wonder what would have happened if she had gone up against Obama in this past election. Because after seeing 'Mamma Mia', I'm pretty sure Meryl Streep can take over the world if she chooses. From dramas to comedies, historical and contemporary, countless accents and white river rafting, and now singing and dancing, Meryl Streep gives new meaning to doing things your own way on your own terms.

In an industry where women, especially women over 40, are inundated with insidious and complex shoulds such as, "you should be toothpick thin, you should look 30 when you're 60," Ms. Streep stands alone. She defies these oppressive and dehumanizing shoulds, and demonstrates more talent, depth, versatility, and sensuality now than ever before.

Whether you love or hate 'Mamma Mia' there is no doubt it blasts down the Hollywood wall that says men and women over 50 should only be supportive, quiet, and asexual. It gets Should-less kudos from me for that!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Problem With Shoulds #4: Responsibility

"Should" absolves the speaker of all personal responsibility. When you say, "I should go now," what are you really saying? That you have no desires or preferences of your own? When you say, "we should break up," who is truly making that decision? Was there a vote taken somewhere?

Even a seemingly benign statement such as "I should go to the gym tonight," or "I should call my mother," carry meaning. By disavowing your own needs and wants, you never have to take ownership or authorization for your life. You can then defer your actions to that invisible universal committee that doesn't exist. This frequently results in blaming others for your problems and identifying yourself as a victim.

Living life Absolutely Should-less means taking back your responsibility, and your sense of efficacy. Examples of such statements might be, "I choose to leave now," "I want for this relationship to end," "I'd prefer to go to the gym tonight," or "I honor my mother by calling her."

It's using every day language to convey that YOU are in control of your self, not "them".

What do you think?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela!

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

I couldn't let this day go by without writing a heartfelt happy birthday wish to an individual for whom I am profoundly grateful.

His political conviction and spiritual integrity is an inspiration worldwide. For me personally, he is a living symbol of resisting oppressive and tyrannical "shoulds." This great man grew up in a country that constantly communicated to him, "you should be subjugated, you should be miserable, you should not have the same rights as others." Even after serving a 27-year prison term, he was able to stand up against such messages and ascend politically.

His legacy is a reminder to me that no matter what anyone does to me or says about me that I have a CHOICE to believe that my life deserves love, meaning, and happiness. I too can resist the harmful "shoulds" I confront daily that try to threaten my mental and spiritual health.

So thank you Mr. Mandela. Thank you for your honor, for your leadership, for your actions.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Problem With Shoulds #3: Reality

The problem with Shoulds 3: Reality

"Shoulds" position your thoughts to be in direct conflict with reality. "I shouldn't be stuck in traffic right now;" "I should feel healthy today;" "You should have been home by now;" "It shouldn't have rained on the day of my party!" Notice how this feels. By telling yourself that something should be different from how it actually is, you are setting yourself up to experience stress, anger, fatigue, burnout, and hopelessness. In a nutshell: If you are determined to argue with reality, you are going to lose, and quite often feel worse about a situation than you did before.

Does this make sense in terms of situations in your own life? If so, drop me a comment below.

And hey, even if you disagree and think I should stop writing blogs about shoulds, go ahead and drop me a line as well!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Problem with Shoulds #2: Conformity

2 - "Shoulds" frequently encourages conformity and sameness. “You should act like others, dress like others, live like others, etc.” It not only tries to squash out individuality and creativity, but it also harms those who are not able or willing to meet the standards that others appear to be living by. Children and adolescents deal with this in school every day from teachers and other students. Most adults continue to experience this in some area of their lives such as their work environments, families, even social groups.

In what ways are "shoulds" used to make YOU conform? What are the consequences if you don't?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What the heck is the deal with "shoulds?"

Q: What's all this "should" business about? Why make such a big deal about a word that's used every day?
A: Just because it's used every day does not mean it is healthy or helpful.

1 - "Should" assumes that there is an agreed upon governing body of principles that we can ALL defer to in order to determine morality and standards. It assumes that you and I have knowingly and willingly entered into an arrangement stating, "We will both respect and follow the dictates of this system. We will agree upon how people should behave, how they should appear, what they should value."

Is this true? Hardly. You are bound to encounter people different from yourself in this world, who have different values. All of us carry around our own governing systems based on ideas we have learned throughout our lives, and most people believe theirs are definitely "right." However, it is exactly this narrow faith in an invisible "objective committee" which leads us to condemn ourselves and others, and causes problems in our relationships. It is a set up for judgment, condemnation, even wars.

Suffice to say, there is no objective moral standard for living that all individuals in a diverse world will completely agree upon, and so the term "should" holds no universal meaning. It's useless!

Do shoulds make your life better or harder? Do they help or hurt your relationships? Tell me what you think!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Welcome To Your Should-less Life!

Life doesn’t have to be that hard. We are all in this together trying to make ends meet, to feel happy, to get along with others, to have meaningful relationships, and to experience a basic amount of safety in an ever changing world. But for most of us, something is getting in the way; something is preventing us from living the life we deserve. We sense something is off, but we can’t quite figure out what it is.

Despite great advancements in technology and communication, we have significantly increased our sense of alienation. We have so much knowledge available to us, yet we feel so much confusion. We have much more convenience, yet we feel there is so little time. We have so many opportunities to connect with others, yet we feel so alone.

The reason for this is that our thoughts and beliefs have become barriers to living life with the utmost fulfillment and happiness. These barriers are built on a foundation of stubborn “shoulds” that you are carrying at this moment. When these “shoulds” conflict with what is happening in the here and now, they effectively block you from being able to experience any of the joyful and stress-free living you deserve.

This blog is here to help. Living Absolutely Should-less means taking responsibility for your self destructive “shoulds” so that you may experience genuine happiness and peace. It is a thought process by which you train your mind to think critically, question ideas of what is “normal,” and accept yourself and others without rigid standards and judgments. Being Absolutely Should-less is a commitment to enjoying a world without harmful shoulds, and a decision to inflict fewer shoulds on others.

So sit back, read these entries during the week, and let the ideas help you deal with day-to-day stress. Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, and speak your mind.