Should You or Shouldn’t You?

There are days when I feel drained without having done very much.

There are days when I spin in circles, not knowing what to do next.

So many of my clients get stuck by the fact that they know what to eat, but can’t seem to do it.

Writing those sentences, I notice the one thing they have it common is the verb “do”. Taking action, or more to the point, not taking action…and how it drains us mentally and physically.

I sat down the other day to write a talk I’m giving next month on stress and eating. My mind was whirring with ideas: “I should talk about this,…then I should mention that,…oh, then I should teach them about…” Great stuff, but as I wrote, I felt my shoulders, neck and upper arms tightening, like I was being sealed into a shrinking box. Before I knew it, my excitement about the talk had deflated like a pierced balloon, and I gave up my efforts in favour of another piece of that yummy apple cake I’d made.

What should I do next?


That’s where our stress is!

Transitions in life (moving, kids, gaining or losing a spouse, or a job,…) – the biggies – are touted as the main source of stress. They are. It’s normal. You cope – sometimes more gracefully than others – and then you settle into the new routine.

Like a car accident or a fall while skiing, where there’s a clear source for the break in your leg, or when some other major shift happens in your life, you understand why your health might be suffering, or why you’re feeling low. With the leg, you go to a doctor and a physio. After you buy a new house, you mourn the loss of the old neighbours, or you get a therapist to help you through the rough patch of a divorce.

Stress becomes more insidious in the way it worms into your regular days without your even noticing.

As if the pressure of being a modern woman isn’t enough – feeling the need to cook like Nigella, run a company like Cheryl Sandberg and look like Angelina, all while hosting intellectually stimulating dinner parties in your Good-Housekeeping-worthy home – you feel the need to push yourself further with a list that could earn you Perfectionist of the Year. And a few mental kicks in the rear to top it off.

Stress isn’t in the long list of things you get done in a day – yes, you get the kids to school and yourself to work, you manage your career and your home, you drive and cook and organize and see clients and teach and manage teams – when you do them with love and intention and joy, these tasks flow from one to the next, until you finally sit – tired, yes, but in an I’ve-have-had-a-good-day kind of way – and enjoy an episode of Bloodline with your husband before bed.

Stress is in the shoulds, or as my client put it the other day, mirroring my own thoughts back to me, “My day is full of oughts”.

“I should eat more kale.”

“I ought to send that email.”

“I ought to call my mother.”

“I shouldn’t drink so much wine.”

“I should get to the gym.”

“I should talk to my husband about….”

“I should remind the kids that…”

And so the day goes, with a litany of to-dos keeping an endless roll-call in your head, along with the running commentary reminding you of the things you didn’t get done. (Easily recognizable with its tell-tale preface, “I should have…/ I shouldn’t have…”)

Stress has a very real impact on your body. (Read more about that here.)

Sometimes that internal pressure builds to the point of snapping at your favourite people or an anxiety attack. Mostly, the stress gets held inside, messing with the balance of your health and your state of mind. Belly fat, blood sugar imbalances, depression, terrible sleep, lumpy boobs, PMS, are some of the countless ways cortisol’s nefarious effects show up in your body.

So, what’s the solution?

“Should” only comes up when there’s no action.

If I think about the To-Do list that sits on my desk, there are definitely items on there that are things I “should” do, maybe because it’s expected or because I heard some expert on the internet say so. Similar thoughts come to mind when planning meals: clients tell me all the time, “I know I should eat more vegetables.”

Yes, you should. However, telling yourself over and over doesn’t actually have any benefit, other than giving you more reason to beat yourself up later on.

Sometimes there’s an item on my list that I know is important, and yet I keep moving it forward from week to week, allowing it to hang over my head. Lately it was a call I had to make. I could literally feel my body sag every time I read it, or transferred it to the following week’s list.

There came a day when I made a conscious decision to get that darned call out of the way. Regardless of the outcome of the conversation, the relief in having actually done the thing was palpable – I felt lighter, happier, motivated to move forward.

That’s the key: make a decision.

The trick to making that key work is in going for it. Fully. “I’ll try to eat more vegetables, get to the gym, start that conversation,…” doesn’t cut it. Yoda was so right: “Do or don’t do, there is no try.”

Maybe the decision will be that you don’t make the call, or that you won’t eat more kale. The important part is that you’ve decided, taken action accordingly and moved on. It’s no longer hooking you with its claws, draining your energy or giving you one more reason to feel badly about yourself.

That’s where I invite you today:

Choose one thing that’s been hanging on in the realm of the shoulds. An email, a new vegetable, a walk around the block, pay your taxes. Whatever.

  1. Notice how the weight of that should feels in your body.
  2. Go and do it.
  3. How do you feel now?

Bonus: Go for one a day and see how you feel by the end of the week.

Masterclass: Every evening for a week, make a list of 3 that will happen the next day.

I’d love to hear your results! When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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1 thought on “Should You or Shouldn’t You?

  1. i could relate to every word of this post. WHY do we do this to ourselves?! (two “do”s in that one question!) i will move an item i don’t want to do to the next day and the next day and the next, over and over again. then, when i finally do it, i usually realize how NOT a big deal it was. yes, cathy, DECIDING is the key. (thank you!)

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