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Unlock your freedom: Replace “should” with “could”

Intriguing question: What is one word that can free us?

You might think it is love.

Love is so powerful in lifting shame, sadness, and loneliness, but that’s not the kind of freedom I’m referring to. Instead, I’m referring to the freedom to put aside others’ presumed or verbalized expectations of us and do something in our own best interest.

That magical word is “could.” At first glance, this might not seem like a term that holds the power to free our inner potential and help us achieve our dreams, but try using it in place of should, and doors swing open.

“I should do the laundry instead of the 30-minute yoga class” becomes “I could do the laundry instead of the 30-minute yoga class.” I might still give up a half-hour of self-care for clean sheets, but it is a choice instead of an absolute requirement with moral overtones.

“Should” is a signal that someone else’s agenda is showing up in our heads. Sometimes, it is helpful to identify that someone, but what’s more important is to recognize it as a sign that we are not owning our power. Instead, we are adopting the values and priorities of another person (who may or may not be present in our lives today) as our navigation system.

Awareness is the first step. Acceptance of the fact that we have been denying our choices is second. Action is the third. Action may mean doing exactly what followed the should, but knowing we have a choice. Or, it might mean taking a different path. If so, we will need to rustle up the courage to feel discomfort as we step into the unknown, often under the shroud of guilt.

A mentor of mine used to say, “Feel the guilt and do it anyway.” (I should clarify that she was not referring to violent or immoral acts.) She meant that we need to give ourselves permission to do what’s best for us—our well-being—and not let our behavior be dictated so much by others’ needs and desires. For people with a tendency toward people-pleasing (which many of us women in medicine seem to have), this is radical advice.

I need to repeat my mentor’s mantra often; this sort of thinking isn’t my default. However, I’ve found that it is possible for myself and my coaching clients to move beyond our default modes and prioritize ourselves and our needs on our to-do list.

Today, see what happens if you replace those shoulds with coulds.

Diane W. Shannon is an internal medicine physician and physician coach and can be reached at her self-titled site, Diane W. Shannon.

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