Break free from the “shoulds”

Should you read this? Do you have a lot of “shoulds” rolling around in your head? If the answer is “yes,” I wrote this article for you.

I give talks about high-pressure words and low-pressure conversation. Whenever I ask the crowd for examples of high-pressure words, should is always one of the first named.

Should is a high-pressure word.

Many of us are plagued with it. It’s an epidemic. There was a time in my life when I had so many shoulds in my brain that if they were represented as polkadots on my body, I would have been walking around with something we might call “should-itis.”

The shoulds came in three forms:

1. Things I thought I should be doing differently. Like this:

I should work out more and eat healthier.
I should be a better mom and have a cleaner house.
I should take care of my aging parents more.
In the past, I should have done that thing differently.
In the future, I should definitely do that thing.

2. Things I thought others should be doing differently. Like this:

My kids should respect me more.
My husband should be a better dad and a better husband.
My neighbor shouldn’t do that thing they do.
My parents shouldn’t have done that thing they did in the past.
In the future, my parents should definitely do that thing.
That guy on the news should be doing something different too.

3. Things I thought others thought I should be doing differently. Like this:

My work-out teacher thinks I should go to class more often. They also think I should try harder.
My friend thinks I should try the new diet she likes.
My parents think I should be doing more for them.
My kids think I should buy them that trendy thing.
God thinks I should be a better person, and go to church more.

Wow. In writing this, I realize this is just the tip of the iceberg. If my shoulds were polkadots, I would have had enough to infect a whole army with should-itis.

The shoulds pushed me around and put a ton of pressure in my life. They blinded me from the life I was actually living. I was so busy focusing on the shoulds I had trouble focusing on what was right in front of me.

And then, one by one, I learned to let go. First, one or two. Then a few more. I noticed the shoulds and swatted them down, like swatting mosquitoes. It took practice at first, but now I’m pretty good at it, and there have even been a few moments where avalanches of shoulds went tumbling out of my life. And you know what I’ve found?

Freedom. Joy. I can focus on the life I have.

If you’ve read this far, maybe you’ve found your freedom. Or maybe you’re looking for it.

Do you find yourself wondering: What would life be like without all the shoulds?

You won’t get any shoulds from me (there are a few have-tos — like your safety — that’s a story for another time). Here’s an idea to help you crack open this door:

Get a piece of paper and a pencil.

  1. Write “The Shoulds” at the top.
  2. Make a list of your current shoulds.
  3. For one week, when you notice a should, add that to your list. Notice the three kinds of shoulds — when you think you should be doing something differently, when you think others should be doing something different and when you think others think you should be doing something different.
  4. At the end of the week, look at your list. Cross off the things that aren’t have-tos. And really think deeply about the ones you think are have-tos. Circle them. Sleep on it. Look at your list again. Are the have-tos really have-tos? If they are, they might be important. Pay attention to them.

So, who are you under there under all of that should-itis? Let’s clear it up and see what happens — with less pressure, you might gain a whole new perspective.

What is one should you are ready to be free from? 

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How to talk with your kids about the “bad guys”

When I became a mom, I gained a whole new perspective on classic western fairy tales.

Because when I read to my children, I think about how a story is forming their story, how it’s forming and informing their lives.

And do I really want to read my little girl stories about ugly old witches that want to kill young women just because the young women are beautiful? Um… No.

What does that story tell about old women? And young women? And what does it say about relationships between women? OMG. That is not what I want for me and my little girl.

I want her to be valued for her heart and mind, not just for her external beauty. And when I’m an old woman, I want to be wise with my own beautiful, well-earned wrinkles. And I want to teach my daughter (and my son too) that women love and support each other.

And in that story (Snow White), the men have one of two jobs: that of killer or provider. The hunter’s job is to hunt down Snow White and kill her. The prince’s job is to rescue and support Snow White. OMG. That is not what I want for my husband and my little boy.

I want my son to be valued for his heart and mind, not just for his ability to fight or provide. And when my husband is an old man, I want him to be wise with his own beautiful, well-earned wrinkles. And I want to teach my son (and my daughter too) that men love and support each other,

and that men and women love and support each other too.

So how can I read a story about the “bad guys” while maintaining this story of love I want to teach my children? What do I say about the Wicked Witch or Darth Vader or Voldemort when my kids look at me and ask, “Why do they hurt people mama?”

Here’s what I say: “Everyone is doing the best they can.” Let me show you what I mean.

We used to call these stories about the good guys and the bad guys battles of “good vs. evil.” We used to say the bad guys are “evil.”

I have a different perspective, though. The perception of someone as “evil” is just a way that we give ourselves permission to hate and hurt others.

So, how do we love the bad guy?

By seeing the pain.

When I see stories of bad guys, I see ripples of pain.

> Darth Vader is in pain — you learn about his journey from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader in the first three movies. He’s doing the best he can with the awareness he has, and he wears a mask to cover his face, to cover his pain. Upon his death, when the mask comes off, he tells his son Luke that Luke was right about him, that there was some good left in him after all.

> And have you seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi? In my opinion, the story was written in such a way that you actually hope that it is the last of the Jedi, because then maybe the fighting would stop. The movie blurs the lines between good and evil, and you wonder if rooting for Luke, Leia and Han was the right thing to do all along. The whole movie is pain-full.

> Voldemort (He Who Shall Not Be Named) from the Harry Potter series is in pain. You only get glimpses of it (it’s a little more expanded in the books), but he had a terrible childhood. Voldemort can’t do any better — he’s doing the best he can, and maybe his pain is made worse because they don’t even say his name — they don’t see his pain — they don’t even recognize him as a person.

> There’s a book and a musical called Wicked about how Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, became the Wicked Witch. How? You might have guessed — it’s a story of pain that began before birth.

> I don’t wake up in the morning and think, “Today I want to yell at my kids.” But sometimes, I end up yelling at my kids. Not because I’m evil, and not because I’m a bad guy. When I yell at my kids, it’s a sign of pain, of hurt. Sometimes, there’s hurt happening in the present moment, but often, hurt from the past (from my own childhood) is creeping back into the present. And moms who lose their temper agree — we are in pain. Sometimes the pain is so painful we keep our hot temper a secret, to hide it from the world and in some ways, we even try to hide it from ourselves.

Here’s one final illustration I want to share with you about the “good guys vs bad guys” story. It’s about the events that happened on September 11, 2001. In the United States, there’s a holiday named in remembrance of that day — it’s called Patriot Day.

When my 6-year-old kids came home on September 11, 2017, they told me, “Mama, today we learned about Patriot Day.” So I asked,

“What did you learn about Patriot Day, sweethearts?” (I had not told them that story yet.)

My son said, “We learned that the bad guys flew airplanes into buildings and a lot of people died.”

My daughter asked, “Why did they do that mama?”

I told her, “They thought they were the good guys and we were the bad guys.”

My daughter thought for a moment and asked, “How did they come to think we were the bad guys?”

I told her, “Well, we’ve hurt them, and those are the stories they tell about us.”

So here’s my question: Where does it end? When does it end? How can we be true Patriots for our country and for our families?

Here’s my answer: the story about evil bad guys ends on my couch each evening with my children when I read them a fairy tale. It ends when they fight and hurt each other and instead of punishing them, I teach them how to love. It ends when they tell a story about a kid in school that got in trouble and I say, “Maybe he was having a rough day.” It ends when I’m driving on the road and I have compassion for someone who cuts me off. It ends when I apologize for yelling at my kids and I say, “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m doing the best I can, and I will try to do better.”

By calling the problem “pain” instead of “evil,” there’s opportunity for healing. “He Who Shall Not Be Named” has a name, and we need to say it, to see it, to see that he’s not evil, but that he’s a person in pain. Then it becomes a lot harder to hurt him. It becomes a lot harder for us all to hurt each other.

Now, does that mean it’s ok for the “bad guy” to hurt others? No. Hurting others is not ok, but learning how not to hurt begins with us.

If there is such a thing as evil in the world, it’s a tendency we all have to sometimes forget that people are people, with their own stories and histories, their own pain, dreams and desires.

I’m not the bad guy and neither are you.

When I think about it, it’s truly awesome (AWE-some) the power we have as parents. That’s why I like working with moms. In little moments every day, we have the power to change a story and maybe, just maybe, change the world.

Has that ever happened — have your kids asked you about the “bad guys?” What did you say?

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Introducing: Low Pressure Conversation

This post contains a free printable to use at home or at the office.

My first career was working for the news: 1992-2001. As a producer, I was trained to use high-pressure language to stress people out because when people are stressed out, they tune into the news.

We got higher ratings during stressful times — it’s how we made money.

For many people in the United States, our current stress levels are high even though statistically, many things are better than they ever have been worldwide! I’ve had a few conversations with people who blame “the media” for stressing us out, but who do you blame: me (a producer), or someone who clicks on headlines containing high-pressure language?

Finding someone to blame for our stress won’t help us.

Here’s a simple concept I’ve developed that does help. I call it Low-Pressure Conversation. But before I teach you about low-pressure words, it’s helpful for me to teach you about recognizing high-pressure ones.

When people are stressed out, sometimes they use high-pressure words. High-pressure words are useful when someone is in danger, but using them when not necessary can create more stress and limit problem-solving abilities.

What are high-pressure words? Here are some examples:
   > Absolutes and generalizations: Always, have-to, must, never, no, everyone, no one.
   > “Us vs. Them” language.
   > Should.
   > Promise, secret, hate, best, perfect, trust, limited, now, poison.
   > Cuss words and words of condemnation.
   > Words that make you feel strong emotions such as anger, sadness, shame or blame (these are the types of words we used in the news to get your juices flowing and keep you tuned in).
   > Other words according to your life experiences.

Listen for these words in your family. Listen for them at work. Look for them while you read. They’re clues that someone might be stressed-out. Here are some steps you can take so that a high-pressure word won’t stress you out:

  1. Notice the word.
  2. Ask yourself: “How does that word make me feel?”
  3. Get curious about the person using the word. How are they feeling?
  4. Think about how you would like to respond to the word.
  5. Choose your response thoughtfully so you don’t contribute to the stress. Mainly, focus on noticing: Who is stressed out and why?

Also notice when you’re tempted to use a high-pressure word. Here are some helpful steps you can take:

  1. Notice the word you are tempted to use. (Or perhaps you’ve used it already — in that case, you can take a step back, take a breath, and choose a different direction.)
  2. Ask yourself: “How am I feeling? Am I stressed-out?”
  3. Get curious about how others around you are feeling.
  4. Think about low-pressure words you might like to use instead. (I give a few examples below.)
  5. Choose your words thoughtfully because what you say and how you say it matters. It makes a difference in your life and the lives of others around you. (This includes typed words like text messages and internet posts.)

What are low-pressure words?
   > Maybe, might, probably, sometimes, perhaps, usually, try.
   > Loving or kind language.
   > Considerate language, with the feelings of others (including yourself) in mind.

(When you are finished, re-read this blog post and notice low-pressure words!)

When someone uses a high-pressure word, it might be a sign of stress. You can develop an eye and ear to notice those words, and that awareness will help you make decisions to lower your stress. Sometimes, your low-pressure choices will even help to lower the stress of others.

For example, sometimes homework time is stressful and high-pressure words pop up from my kids like “I hate spelling.” That’s a good moment for me to take a breath (because sometimes I’m stressed out too) and say something like,

“I’m feeling some stress because it’s been a long day. Are you feeling some stress too?” Or, “It’s normal to feel some frustration when you’re learning something new.”

Notice how I didn’t talk about how they should like spelling, or how they needed to get their homework done quickly. Telling them how they “should” feel or what they “should” do, especially with a time crunch, adds pressure to a situation.

When I’m teaching folks around town, “should” always comes up as a high-pressure word. Where do you see “should” in your life? Do you say “should” to yourself? Who thinks you “should” be doing something differently? Who do you think “should” do something differently? Just focusing in on this one word can remove pressure from your life and the lives of others around you.

Removing pressure helps people to learn, solve problems and think more clearly.

Low-Pressure Conversation takes more time than plain conversation because usually, it doesn’t mean saying the first thing that comes to mind. Low-Pressure Conversation might actually look like saying nothing, more like listening. Or it might mean saying something unexpected that takes more words than usual. Often a low-pressure focus ends up being about emotions that are happening underneath the conversation. It may sound strange, but if you focus on the emotions happening underneath a topic, then the topic will often resolve itself (or a solution will become apparent).

To experiment with Low-Pressure Conversation, download and print this fridge sheet. When you post it at home or at work, talk to your friends, family, and co-workers about it. Work together to develop an awareness of high-pressure language. And then notice how you can use Low-Pressure Conversation to impact your work and relationships in positive ways.

Developing the skill of Low-Pressure Conversation takes time and practice (you won’t master it overnight). Eventually, high-pressure words (even high-pressure words you tell yourself) will stand out as an opportunity for thoughtfulness. And the more you use low-pressure words, the more you’ll experience the benefits of having less stress on your mind, personally and professionally.

Would you like to read more? I wrote a whole post about the word “should.”

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The difference between a life coach and a counselor (and how to find a good one)

It’s common for people to seek help from a counselor when big events happen. The first time I saw a counselor was after my mother died (I was 27). I needed more support than usual, more than my husband and friends could give.

Over the years since then, I’ve hired a few other counselors and life coaches to help me with challenges and also work on goals in my life.

My current counselor helps me both personally and professionally. And as my business has evolved, I also have sought out a business coach, copy coaches and web and branding coaches too.

Good counselors and life coaches have counselors and coaches too (it helps them in their lives and professions).

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

There is a difference between counselors and life coaches. I’m a life coach. In an article from Counseling Today, Paula Badget Baylor (counselor and life coach) says that life coaches mainly focus on four things:

    • Defining goals
    • Formulating a plan that will use the client’s skills
    • Holding the client accountable for progress
    • Providing structure, encouragement and support

Counselors are also life coaches. And counselors are certified with additional training and licensing to help people heal from trauma and deal with substance abuse, major depression and personality disorders like bipolar or borderline. It’s kind of like they are a doctor for the mind. Like doctors, there are regulations and laws counselors have to follow.

A counselor might call themselves a counselor, and they might also call themselves a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, therapist or licensed clinical social worker.

Counselors can form long-term therapeutic relationships with some clients, like they can “mother” you or “father” you in healthy ways if they think it would be beneficial. In contrast, the coach/client partnership is usually centered around strategies, empowerment and goals. The coaching partnership is not therapeutic (it’s coaching).

Training, certification and licensing for coaches vary, and none of it is required by law. I received my education in seminary school (I have a Masters in Divinity) and I was trained at Life Coach Austin. I don’t have a license, but I follow the Ethical Principles of the International Association of Coaching because it’s good for my clients and me.

A life coach will call themselves a coach, mentor or consultant. Coaches often focus on wellness, and they also often have a particular focus. For example, my focus is on moms with hot tempers. Coaches are often people who have figured out a particular problem in their lives and they want to help people who have the same problem they did. (That’s what I do – I used to have a hot temper too.)

The time spent with a coach is also focused and often limited. For example, I’ll see a client for 2-10 sessions during a focused period of time for a particular goal, and not more. Clients continue to grow and practice the strategies they learn during our time together after the sessions have ended. They often go on to seek out other counselors, coaches, massage therapists, fitness teachers, etc., to get more help with their goals. Sometimes they ask me for a check-in at a later date, a review of strategies, or they ask if they can work with me on new goals.

If a long-term therapeutic relationship would be beneficial, a coach will tell a client that it’s time to see a counselor. After working with me, my clients often benefit from seeing a counselor (I have a list of referrals). A counselor will sometimes refer a client to a coach to work on a specific goal or challenge too. (Mine has.)

It’s not black and white (nothing is), and counselors and coaches will say that there’s overlap in the professions, but they both fulfill a need in our society, and they bring each other business. The two professions complement each other.

To help you as best they can, with your permission, counselors and coaches will sometimes consult with each other about their clients.

So if you’re not dealing with major depression, a personality disorder, trauma or a substance abuse problem, I might be a good fit for you. I’m also unable to work with families who are presently in abusive situations. (Please call 911 if you’re in an abusive situation.) I serve a particular niche, average moms who need some support.

HOW TO FIND A GOOD COUNSELOR OR COACH

If you’re looking for a counselor or coach, ask around. For a coach, ask your friends. For a counselor, ask leaders, pastors or bosses you know to see if they have someone they can refer you to.

The counselors and coaches you choose to work with is largely a matter of taste. Who gets you? Who helps you?

After a few meetings, you may decide a coach or counselor isn’t the right one for you. Or a coach or counselor also might decide that you’re not a good fit for them. If either of you decides it’s not a good fit, it’s ok. The counselor/coach relationship is a partnership, and to get the most out of it, you want both partners to be excited about working together.

Because you’re in a partnership, you might spend some time talking about what’s working and what’s not in your partnership. A coach or counselor might encourage you to talk more about something specific because it’s helping them to help you. If a coach or counselor said or did something helpful for you, let them know, or ask them to say it again. It will help them learn how best to help you.

You may see a coach or counselor for a short while, or it may be a partnership that lasts for years. The way I see it, when two people work together to lift someone up, it’s a good thing. It’s a sign of love and wisdom, a sign of good things to come.

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