Making ME a Priority: Letting Go of the “Shoulds” and “Musts”

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.”

Jean Shinoda Bolen

As we approach the end of the holiday season and the beginning of a brand new year, some of us challenge ourselves by reflecting on all the things we want to change about our lives.  It could be our physical health (“I want to be healthier, more physically fit, and have more energy”) or our emotional well-being (“I want to be happier, calm and relaxed”).  We view January 1st as a baseline to which we can compare ourselves on December 31st.  If you are anything like me, I tend to set goals for myself that I “know” I have the time and energy to complete.  I find myself “should”-ing and “must”-ing about all of the things that I truly believe in that moment are achievable.  And then life happens.  And all of my “shoulds” and “musts” become precipitators for feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and frustration.

This year, I am going to try something very different.  My goal is to make myself a priority.  This is far beyond the “Year of Me” that I have tried to start for several years, where I set goals for myself to achieve that focus on different aspects of my life.  Making myself a priority simply means that I will try my best to give myself equal attention as the other aspects and responsibilities of my life.  This means that the relaxation and self-care time that I hope to “fit into” my life will now be scheduled.  I will let go of the “shoulds” and “musts”.

For example, one of the goals that I have made for the last three years (at least) is to begin reading for leisure again.  I happily go to the bookstore and pick out two or three books that I have always wanted to read and then I go home, put them by my bedside and wait until nighttime.  Then, I go about the rest of my day.  I cook dinner, eat dinner, attempt to clean up, and relax in front of the television and catch up on the shows that I have previously recorded (or Netflix…there is almost always time to watch Netflix it seems).  By the time I get to my bed, I look at the books as I yawn deeply and my eyes sting of fatigue.  If I can get a paragraph or two in, I am asleep before I can turn the page.  I tell myself that I will do it tomorrow…if I have the time.  And then the next day, the same things happen.  Until a few months pass and I have still not read the first chapter.  Insert “shoulds” and “musts” and feelings of guilt and shame.  So, if I follow the idea of making myself a priority, I will schedule reading time into my schedule and follow through with it, just as I would do with scheduled meal times and work hours.  I will go to my bed earlier.  Even if it is for half an hour, it is now a personal appointment.

In my personal and professional lives, I have learned that there are often times when the things that we hold dearest to us are the ones that we often set aside when we believe that there are things that we “should” or “must” do instead.  Spending quality time with our family members often occurs when we have time at the end of the day after running all of our errands and completing all of our chores. And just like the situation with my lonely books at my bedside, we often run out of time and cannot fit it in, promising ourselves that there will be more time tomorrow.  Letting go of the “shoulds” and “musts” is reminding ourselves that the dishes can be done after the kids go to sleep.  They will still be dirty at 9:30 p.m.  Or giving ourselves permission to sit and drink our cup of tea until it’s completely finished.  It only takes ten to fifteen minutes.  The countless cups of half full tea that turned cold because I was trying to multi-task and completely forgot about it is unbelievable!

It seems like an easy enough goal, right?  To schedule time to spend with my family and do things for fun? The actions are not difficult.  What I may struggle with most will be reminding myself of my “shoulds” and “musts”.  Challenging these negative thought patterns (a.k.a. Thinking Traps) by asking myself, “Do I really have to do this now or can it wait a few minutes or hour?“, will take practice.  But I am up for the challenge.  Besides, taking care of ourselves reminds us of our self-worth and value.  It’s time for all of us to remind ourselves of this.  So, read that chapter you have been meaning to read. Go out for coffee and catch up with friends whom you have not seen in a while. Watch your favourite television show with your partner.  Play with your kids.  Make them all personal appointments that you cannot cancel. Let go of your “shoulds” and “musts” and focus on your “wants” and on yourself.

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