I’m not a big fan of the word should because it implies guilt or shame for having not done something. When it comes to selecting words that empower and motivate, the word should isn’t high on my list. Instead, I prefer to replace should with could. Doing so allows you to take back your power. The word could implies choice and a person with choices feels empowered. For example, which one of these statements is more empowering?
I should have gone to the gym, but I had too much to do today.
I could have gone to the gym today, but I chose to complete some important tasks on my to do list.
The first statement implies a lack of choice and carries with it an air of guilt for not having worked out. The second statement acknowledges a choice was made and a sense of accomplishment. We truly are our own worst enemies with the thoughts we have and the words we use about ourselves. There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs when applying the golden rule of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We tend to forget to include ourselves in that equation. We tend to forget to treat ourselves the way we wish to be treated.
Fortunately, we have the power to control our thoughts and make conscious choices about the words we use. This means we also must take responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions… and ultimately that really is a good thing. I’m known for frequently saying that there are no such things as mistakes or accidents, only lessons and gifts.
Every choice you make has consequences – good, bad or indifferent – and all consequences teach lessons. How you react to those lessons is also a choice. I may not always react the way I wish I had when I think about the choices I’ve made, but I do accept the lessons I’ve learned. Though it may not have felt like it while in the moment, the lessons I’ve learned are gifts that continue to help me evolve into the person I am now and strive to become.
Having said all this, there is one exception to the use of should that brings the word to the top of my list and that is when we are talking about our worthiness. From my experience, both personally and professionally, the number one root cause of unhappiness is a lack of self-worth.
So many people tolerate jobs they don’t like. They put up with being treated badly in their most important relationships with significant others, friends, family, and even colleagues and bosses. They endure activities they don’t enjoy to appease others. They unnecessarily live their lives in a constant state of stress and anxiety.
Ask yourself, are there aspects of your life that you put up with for the sake of others? Are there negative scripts in your mind that have you convinced you are not worthy of joy and abundance? I realize these are loaded questions, and the answers are unique to everyone. If these questions don’t apply to you then you unequivocally know the answer to this next question.
Who is the most important person in your life? I pose this question with many of my clients and I usually receive similar answers. The most popular answer is my kids, or my daughter, or my son followed by my husband/boyfriend, my wife/girlfriend or my mom/dad/sister/brother. Those aren’t bad answers, but they’re not the correct ones either.
Now don’t feel bad if one of those answers was one of your immediate responses. The first time I was asked, I answered my kids and I didn’t pause a millisecond. I felt good about that answer. I mean, shouldn’t a mother’s kids be the most important people in her life? You’d think so, but nope! That may sound wrong, blasphemous even, but I know differently now, and it changed my life and my kids’ lives for the better. I know now that when I take care of me, I am happier. When I'm happier, my kids get to engage with the best version of their mom.
The person who should matter most to you is YOU! This is not a selfish act or feeling. In fact, putting yourself first is the most selfless act you can do for those you love the most. When you put yourself first, you tell the world that you matter. You model to your kids that self-respect is imperative. You teach others how you wish to be treated without having to spell it out.
Think about airline safety instructions. Should the cabin lose pressure, you always put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. If you pass out or are running on empty, how can you possibly be there for your most cherished family members, friends, and community? The way you respond to life’s challenges, celebrations, and all the moments in between is a choice and you have a responsibility to put yourself first because you should matter most.
When you matter most, you make time to do the things that keep you living your happiest and healthiest life. You treat your body as the sacred vessel it is. You treat your mind as the human embodiment of the perfect, eternal soul that you are. You give yourself permission to say no when you know that saying yes would cause too much stress. You joyfully say yes when doing so feeds your soul.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You can’t give from an empty cup.” Being selfish doesn’t have to mean doing things for yourself without regard to others. Join me in redefining selfish so that it means filling your cup with so much joy and happiness that it overflows, allowing you to give to others without expense to yourself or them.