From Shoulds to Coulds

During a recent session, one of my clients said, “I don’t know what I should do!”  It hadn’t occurred to her that there wasn’t a rule book or a “right thing” to govern her particular dilemma.  “What do you want to do?”  I asked, and “What feels possible?” She was so caught up in the idea that some external force was judging the rightness and wrongness of her choices that she didn’t know how to answer.  Of course there are “shoulds” that we follow as a matter of course–such as obeying traffic laws, brushing our teeth twice a day, and respectful behavior towards others.  But these are not the kinds of things that most of us struggle with.  We have internalized the importance of such behaviors because they serve our well-being.

Her question is often expressed regarding more challenging life choices, such as staying in or leaving a relationship or a job. “How about we change the should to could?” I suggested.  In other words, thinking about what you are capable of choosing and feeling out what the possible outcomes of various choices might be puts you inside yourself, instead of coming at the choice from an outer, judgmental, perspective.  This has been called the internal v. external locus of control.  So many of our shoulds came from the external control we experienced growing up, and with maturity, we hopefully evolve into brushing our teeth because we want them to be healthy, and not because Mom or Dad will be mad if we don’t.

We all tend to gravitate toward wanting certainty and predictability, wishing that we could know ahead of time what the outcome of a decision will be.  But often that’s not possible.  After examining all the known facts, it can be helpful to set the head aside and consult our inner guidance.  When you think about each option you are considering, tune into your body and notice how it feels. In other words, try it on.  Usually one imagined scenario will feel more open and peaceful inside, while another will generate some anxiety and tension.  There are no guarantees.  But if we balance the head and the heart (inner attunement), we’re more likely to create a life in which we are living from the inside out.

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