One thing every woman should do

One thing every woman should do

This blog has been sitting in the back of my mind for quite a while until I recently had a client who inspired me to finally sit down and write it. This lady has been dealing with cancer for over 10 years. She has had 2 recurrences since the original diagnosis and is now at Stage 4. She is also doing remarkably well and working successfully in a new career.  She has been following a range of mental and physical wellbeing practices that have helped her live a full and happy life. I asked her why she had come to see me, as she was, and had been doing well for many years.

She welled up when she told me; “I am a strong and positive person, that’s what keeps me going. But I know that the drug I am on will keep the cancer at bay only for so long, and I am scared of what will happen then. I know I should be positive but I’m scared; I’m afraid of the fear and what it will do to me…” This lady’s mind is in a conundrum which can quickly turn into a downward spiral. She believes that being positive precludes feeling fear, and feeling fear precludes being positive. What is going round and round in her mind is “Feeling fear may kill me”. That is a stressful thought, wouldn’t you agree? And stressful thoughts that we can’t escape from make us ill in the long run.

Generally, when we use the word “should” in our self-talk, there’s a mental tug-of-war going on between what we believe we should do and what we’d rather do. When I wrote this talk I thought I might start collecting the “shoulds” I hear from my clients and look into the beliefs that underpin them. We women are so inventive in telling ourselves that we should be different then we are. And while we are all individuals, I am sure there are global patterns and beliefs that deserve to be unpicked on a larger scale.

Here are some examples of ways we “should” ourselves every day, the list is of course, endless… perhaps you recognise some of them…

  • I should exercise regularly
  • I should stop eating sugar
  • I should stop working so hard
  • I should meditate more
  • I should spend more time with the kids
  • I should stop scrolling on my phone
  • I should apply for this job

Do you recognise any of these? Do you have a special one that keeps popping up?

The self-talk that’s underlying these “shoulds” is rarely a kind one. There is a judgemental and critical voice in our heads. It tells us “you are weak, you are lazy, you are just making excuses, you are a bad mother, you are not clever enough, you are not experienced enough, you are not good enough, and, and, and, and …” This voice is a bully. If this negative self-talk goes on a lot of the time stress levels will be elevated leading to the physical symptoms that accompany stress, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, raised blood pressure, palpitations, irritability and perhaps even depression.

The kind thing to do when you hear a “should” in your head is to stop just for a moment and ask yourself, what is the voice really saying? Ask yourself what you want instead of what you believe you should do. Is the self-talk in your head stopping you from doing something you really want by telling you that you don’t deserve it or are not experienced/clever/good enough for it? Such judgements go back to limiting beliefs that may have been handed on by previous generations or by peers or by the media. Remember that the desire you do not allow yourself to follow now might turn into a “should have” in the future. “I should have travelled more when I was still able to, I should have spent more time with the kids instead of working all time, I should have tried to get into Art School”.

My clients often tell me, looking rather downcast and a little guilty, “I know I should have tapped every day as you said but somehow I didn’t find time.” Yes, sometimes I give my clients homework because daily practise is beneficial. What is not beneficial, however, is stressful self-talk. Therefore, I answer, “relax, our work together is not about adding even more chores to your life and giving you more opportunities to beat yourself up. Breathe and perhaps you’ll feel like tapping tomorrow.”

If you are beating yourself up every morning because you tell yourself you should go to the gym but you don’t, perhaps the gym is not the right sort of exercise for you. Perhaps before breakfast is not the right time. Perhaps you are so exhausted and mentally drained that you do need to rest and do nothing for a while. If you want to get fitter but hate the gym, perhaps going for a walk in the park and doing some squats on the way suits you better. Allow yourself to find out what really nourishes you. Follow what makes you feel good. Slow down, be kind with yourself. Remember kindness towards yourself is not self-indulgent, it is vital for your health and wellbeing. Ask yourself what the underlying beliefs are that tell you this story, where you learned them and whether they are really true. Being kinder to yourself is the key to living a more fulfilled, liberated and joyful life, you deserve it, and everyone around you will benefit from it.

My suggestion for you today is to stop yourself just for a moment when you detect a “should” in your mind. Become aware of what it really says. Let’s stop the unnecessary and damaging self-talk. You may decide to just get on with what it is that needs doing. You may make a conscious decision to follow your desire rather than your “should”. You may decide to have this bar of chocolate even though you “shouldn’t” have it. That means you are human, not a bad person, and it most certainly doesn’t excuse anyone being nasty to you. Not even the voice in your head. I suggest the only thing you “should” do is stop should-ing yourself.

If there’s a familiar “should” in your life that bullies you on a regular basis, I challenge you to say ”thank you, but no thank you” for the next 30 days. Consciously decide to let it go and see what happens. I’d love to hear about your experience.