leadership incorporated blog

March 14, 2010

Inspired To Succeed: What is keeping you stuck?

I’m hearing a lot of “shoulds” this week.

I’m hearing about work people just can’t seem to get to. Deadlines approach, the pressure is on. Lots of thought time and energy are going into knowing something should happen and yet, it keeps getting put off.

I’m hearing about difficult conversations that need to happen, and people who know they should speak up, but delay, day after day. Meanwhile situations that need to change persist.

I’m hearing from people in transition who have a whole list of shoulds they can’t bring themselves to get done.

Can you relate? Where are you telling yourself you should be moving forward that you’re not?

The dictionary says “should” means must — or ought, meaning duty.

In my opinion, the dictionary is missing the point. In practice, “should” means we expect action even as our reaction is, “I can’t,” “I won’t” or “I don’t want to,” PLUS — and this is important — a slap of guilt.

When we tell ourselves we should, we are at war with reality. The thing ain’t happening. Should doesn’t help.

Continuing to think we should is toxic for both our business and our lives. Here’s why:

Should is passive. When we tell ourselves we should be doing something, we are by definition, not doing it. Yet, we have not chosen to do it or not to do it, putting ourselves in a limboland of disempowerment. Whether you are aware of it or not, this effect ripples out and drains your energy and power in other areas as well.

What happens to us when we are not doing what we think we should? On some level we judge ourselves. We put energy toward justifying our inaction. We avoid. We procrastinate. We delay. We channel our effort into activity that is ineffective. We blame other people or situations.

Meanwhile, should keeps us stuck. It sucks away our productive energy. It diminishes our confidence in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It makes the task-at-hand grow to epic proportions in our mind, whether or not it merits those in the real world.

There’s almost always a reason we aren’t moving forward. It’s not as simple as we think. Often we’re missing something we need. Sometimes, we know intuitively that taking this action leads to other undesirable outcomes. For example, once we write that letter, we’re going to have to deal with the reaction it provokes. If we do that work, we have a pretty good sense that we’re going to have to fight to get paid.

Should keeps us from identifying what we need or if there are other problems that we can solve. Instead we create a cycle of avoidance and blame that gets in the way of our success, both specifically and generally.

What good comes of should? You might argue that should keeps things on your radar so they will eventually get done. My response to you: you can keep things on your radar by putting them on a future to do list and skip all the energy-draining should self-talk. Which do you think is more effective?

I invite you to outlaw should from your vocabulary. It won’t be easy. For many of us, it’s a powerful habit. I’ve been living without should for about 5 years now and I highly recommend it.

Here’s a simple tool that may help.

First, get in the habit of listening for should in your thinking.  When you hear it, stop and ask yourself these questions. It only takes a few minutes to reclaim your power:

  1. What will I gain by doing this? By not doing this?
  2. What will it cost me to do this? To not do this?
  3. What do I need to move forward?
  4. What am I avoiding that needs to be addressed?
  5. Do I really truly intend to do this now?
  6. What is my next step?

Based on your answers to these questions, COMMIT either to do it, not do it, delegate it, or put it on your Later List. Take that next step immediately.

Remember reality always wins, but only 100% of the time.


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