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.