NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, The Healing Project.
We all have a voice inside of our heads that tries to tell us what to do, how to act, and who to be. Sometimes this voice is productive, such as when it moves us out of inertia and into action. The voice can also help us to do the right thing, even when the right thing is not the easiest or fastest thing to do. That is the positive side of the voice…
The Dark Side of Our Inner Voice
However, the voice can also be counterproductive or even destructive. It can be so ubiquitous in its presence that we are unable to experience even a moment of peace. It can relentlessly order us to be productive in each and every moment, to always put the needs and wants of others above our own needs, and to prove our worthiness through action many times each day.
The dark side of the voice is where “should” often resides. Have you ever heard the expression, to “should” on yourself? The mental imagery evoked is apropos in that this application of should is akin to showering ourselves with garbage (or worse…).
A War Within…
I’ve often spoken of the war inside of myself between the “Warden” and the “Unruly Child.” These two archetypes represent two distinct aspects of my personality. The Unruly Child desires complete freedom and carte blanche to do whatever she wants in any given moment, even if that includes watching TV and eating bonbons (that’s what many people who know me think I do, anyway, since I haven’t had a “real job” in a number of years). The Unruly Child doesn’t want to be told what to do by anyone, at any time.
On the flip side, there is the Warden… The Warden is like a drill sergeant. He (I always see the Warden as a man) orders me around continuously and won’t let me rest until there are no tasks left on my to-do list. Of course, since no one ever really has a completed to-do list, there is no rest for the wicked – or the weary.
The Warden thrives on “shoulds” and believes that if I do not live a regimented existence, nothing will ever get done and all will be chaos.
When the Unruly Child is running the show, I am incredibly unproductive and I don’t feel very good about myself. Deep down, we all want to get things done and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Just as children thrive on structure, so do adults. However, the realm of the Warden is like structure on steroids. While I may be industrious under the Warden’s regime, I am not happy and I definitely don’t feel free.
Struggling To Find a Happy Medium
For many years, I have vacillated between the chaotic world of the Unruly Child and the prison sentence of the Warden’s control. I am still struggling to find a happy medium. I envision the happy medium as a place where peace and productivity can co-exist and thrive together. My “healing project” is not just about healing my body; it’s also about transforming my soul. One aspect of my inner healing has to do with releasing the “tyranny of the shoulds” and breaking the Warden’s stronghold that saps my vitality and aliveness.
Escaping the Tyranny – A Few Tips
How can we break the hold that “shoulds” have over us?
- The “I Should…” exercise from Louise Hay, which I wrote about in my last post, is a good first step. Sometimes increasing our awareness about the origin of our self-imposed musts can help us to either release or re-frame them.
We can also invent games to play with ourselves to at least place boundaries around our “shoulds.”
- One thing I do is to select a maximum of three “most important tasks” (MITs), which I will need to complete on any given day. I learned this technique from “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta, a book that is focused on helping people to simplify their lives. I’ve found that if I contain my obligations, I can achieve more of a sense of accomplishment from completion.
- Another “game” I play with myself as a self-employed person is to make deals with myself. I think of something that the “Unruly Child” really wants to do, such as watch TV or read a magazine. Instead of either doing that thing right away or postponing it until that mythical time when everything is done, I negotiate an agreement with the Warden. If I spend a certain amount of time on a critical task or complete one of my MITs, I can watch a show or spend a predetermined time frame reading a magazine or surfing the internet. It’s kind of like time off for good behavior…
- Something else that has been helpful for me in achieving balance is to track my successes. I wrote about this in one of my earlier posts, “The Practice of Gratitude.” Including a short list of the things I did well on any given day helps me to realize that despite my perfectionist protests to the contrary, I am getting a lot done and moving forward in my life.
Freedom Lives in the Center
We all have a tendency to be too hard on ourselves. We can be so quick to admonish ourselves for our failings while simultaneously neglecting to give ourselves credit for our successes. I believe we all have a “Warden” inside of ourselves. Freud called this facet of our personalities the Superego, but there are many other names for it. I also feel that each of our personalities includes an “Unruly Child” of sorts (Freud’s concept of the Id).
Our power doesn’t rest in either of these personas. Our power is seated within our Higher Selves, the part of us that desperately craves balance, fulfillment, and self-expression.
How can we access our Higher Self on a more regular basis? Well, that is a topic for a future post! If you have any tips or suggestions, or if you would like to comment on what I’ve written in this post, I am open to feedback. We can definitely help each other to escape the “tyranny of the shoulds” and move forward more freely and powerfully.