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18 Mar

No more ”should”!

Date: 2014-03-18 10:16 Comments: 0 st

There is a word which I recently realized completely kills all my energy, drive and initiative.

Even if I am physically well, thoroughly rested and fairly “on the go” I am drained of all energy as soon as I think I “should” do something.

It can be as simple as receiving an e-mail from someone who I think I should have gotten in touch with sooner.

The thought that I should respond to the e-mail emerges and with it all zest and energy leaves me. In these moments I tend to turn my attention elsewhere. I start checking Twitter for interesting posts, start browsing Spotify for music I want to listen to right now, or lose myself amongst the design-blogs in Feedbin – I do other things instead of doing what I should.

Just because that little word “should” pops into my mind, I feel reluctance towards doing something which I in actuality do not find very difficult to do (and perhaps even inspiring and valuable). 

Come to think of it, the word “should” does not contribute anything positive to my life. I live and work according to the belief that I do not have to do anything, but rather want to do all the things I am doing since I want to develop both myself and my business.

“In the beginning was the Word” …
I am reminded of the late author and traveler Bruce Chatwin. In his book “Songlines” he describes how the Australian aborigines’ myth of creation tells of that in the beginning of everything the gods wandered across the continent and sang the landscape into existence. When the mountain, the tree or stone was named, it also came into being. I understand that it is a myth, but must admit that it holds a grain of truth. 

Physical objects exist regardless if they have a name or not, but many phenomena occur or at least protrude more clearly and are spread to a greater number of people once they are named and turn into a concept. Take for instance the Swedish author Bodil Jönsson’s concept of “setup time” or Alain de Botton’s “status-stress”.

If something can come into existence just by being given a name, should we not be able to make things disappear by getting rid of a name or word?

Sort out what the actual cause and effect is
I amused myself by dissecting the word “should”, which amounted to the method of getting rid of it which I am sharing with you in this edition of Done!.

As I see it, the connotation of the word “should” (as in “I should do X”) is actually “I think that I have to do X otherwise something unpleasant and unwanted will occur”. This unwanted event may for instance be that we miss a deadline, that we lose a customer, that our colleague gets angry, that my opportunities to develop are impaired, or something else.

The amusing part of this is that when we think “should”, we also subconsciously think that we are able to predict what will happen if we do/do not do X. But, speaking for myself when it comes to my soon 40-year old life, I have encountered enough unforeseen events which have humbled me when it concerns my “lacking” ability to predict the future. So, the only thing we actually achieve is naming our fear.

What we miss is that there are at least a handful of other possible outcomes and consequences to doing/not doing X. If we make some of the alternative repercussions of doing/ not doing X clear to ourselves, we are then able to consciously choose whether or not we want to do X. And suddenly the word “should” is gone!

Do this
The following method has worked for me, perhaps it will work for you as well.

  1. Take an empty sheet of paper.

  2. Write down what you think you have to do, in other words what you “should” do.
    For example “I should send the material NN asked for the other day.”
    This is what my handwritten template looks like.

  3. Now write down what you fear will happen if you do not do it.
    “If I do not do it NN will be angry with me, lose faith in me and interrupt our collaboration which I value deeply”.
    Now comes the fun part.

  4. Think of three things alternative outcomes of not doing what you think you must. To really confront your fear, try thinking of positive consequences of not doing what you think you must do.
    • “If I do not do it today, NN will not notice anything since he is busy in a conference all day and will have forgotten all about me by now.”
    • “If I do not do it today, NN will feel relieved when realizing he is not alone in sometimes delivering material late to others.”
    • “If I do not do it today, NN will be a bit disappointed but it will not affect our collaboration since he on the whole appreciates it as much as I do.”

  5. So, finally, decide if you with this new perspective on the situation still want to do what you thought you should, or if you choose not to do it right now. The choice is ours and we are not victims of our circumstances, which is crucial to our well-being.

You “should” now have more energy!
If you are like me, you will do what you do because you want to rather than due to a sense of obligation by providing a more nuanced perspective on your situation and preferably by removing as many “should” as possible. I have felt more energized, lighter and had more fun by doing this. Perhaps you will as well. Try it!

What is your way?
What word is your worst enemy in terms of creating obstacles and what do you do to prevent it doing so? Write a comment and tell me.

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