Adventures in Anxiety, Dear Starfish Diaries, Yogalicious

How to shake a bad case of the “shoulds.”

“Stop worrying about whether you’re doing it right, because you’re probably not.”

I heard some version of this quote on a podcast recently, in a discussion about the best advice one had ever gotten from a yoga teacher.  I loved it immediately, not only because it rings comically true for my yoga practice, but also because I’d love for it to be my motto for life overall.  It makes me laugh and feel free.  I literally breathe easier after reading the words.

Lately I’ve been putting some effort into letting go of my “shoulds.”  I am plagued by shoulds every day, and each time I’m able to recognize one enough to release its grip on me, I feel lighter and happier immediately.  One might say I should do this as much as possible.  (See what I did there?)

I should be more successful.  I should be better with money.  I should be thinner.  I should be able to run farther and faster.  I should want to go to the hard yoga class.  I should eat kale.  I should bake my own cookies.  I should want kids.  I should like cilantro.  I should have more friends.  I should read more serious books.

I have a bad case of the shoulds.  And I’m trying very hard to shake them.

There are 2 conflicting theories on how to shake the shoulds.  The opposing sides argue for hours, and it’s exhausting.  Truly, because the argument is happening in my head.  Typically at 2am.  When I SHOULD be sleeping.


Theory 1 is all about rationalizing.

Exhibit A: I should bake my own cookies.  My grandma baked, my mom bakes, my sister bakes.  So many happy memories bubble up to the surface when I smell cookies baking.  But damn, I hate to do it.  My cooking style is one of whims: a dash of this and a pinch of that- none of this measurement nonsense.  Baking, for me, is restrictive and booooring.  Who cares if I like baking, right?  Well, apparently I do, and I feel guilty every time I buy a (vegan) baked good instead of making a batch at home.  But Team Theory 1 steps in to arbitrate that guilt by reasonably arguing that if I did bake at home, I’d eat far too many of my finished (and unfinished, let’s just be honest about the delicious gift that is cookie dough) product.  Buying a single cookie saves money on ingredients and saves me from my gluttonous self.  Toodaloo guilt!  My inner lawyer rests its case.

Theory 2 is more inclined to say “F-you” to the should situation.  Theory 2 is a bit of a bully with good intentions.

Exhibit B: I should want to have kids.  I don’t need to go into all of the reasons that this causes internal strife.  There are novels written on the subject, so I’ll spare you a paragraph of what you’ve already heard.  Team Theory 2 hears little internal Liz quietly worrying about what it means if she does not want to procreate, and bitch-slaps her right across the face.  Then proceeds to sucker punch any other nagging thoughts that try to wiggle their way to the surface to drive the point home.  Team Theory 2 does not tolerate the shoulds.  TT2 says I am just right the way I am, and nobody, not even my own self-doubt, gets to tell me how to live my life.  #2 is my biggest fan, my strongest bodyguard, and my inner badass.

Between my inner lawyer and inner badass, I’m making progress at releasing my shoulds, and thus living my life free(er) from guilt.  Not that I don’t appreciate guilt for the inner crossing guard that she serves as (it gets crowded in my head with all of these characters), but feeling bad about not enjoying amusement parks really doesn’t serve me in any way.  I can still be a good person without loving roller coasters.  And cilantro.

“Stop worrying about whether you’re doing it right, because you’re probably not.”

Back to the awesome yogi’s quote that I started with.  If you are kind, you’re doing life right.  If you are cruel, you’re not.  Otherwise, there is very little cut-and-dry ‘right versus wrong’ conversation out there.  So for the little things (and so much of life is little things), nobody is right, because we’re all just doing the best we can.  My downward dog is never going to be perfect, but since no human body is the same, there is no such thing as perfect.  Similarly, I’m never going to love every superfood (kale is the worst), nor will I enjoy the same exercises as the ultra-athlete beside me, but I’ll be winning in some other aspect of my life that even she may envy.  I make a damn good roasted chickpea, for example.

My beaten-down point, in case you haven’t gotten it and moved on already, is that there is no “right” when it comes to this flawed, messy, delicious life.  There are so many coulds and woulds.  Shake off your shoulds and keep doing the best you can.


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