Mercy … Please

While there’s certainly plenty of room for mercy for others, today I’m talking about mercy towards yourself. More specifically, the need to stop beating yourself up over every little thing. I’ve written on this topic before, but I hear people doing it to themselves every day. What I’m talking about is constantly shoulding yourself – looking to the past and telling yourself all the things that you should havedone differently. Shoulding yourself is NOT about learning – it’s about punishing and shaming. Nothing more.

Think about it – when you go back and look at past decisions, actions or inactions and say things like “I shouldn’t have done that” or “I should have done this instead,” it doesn’t really change your thinking. It’s just a culturally ingrained way of beating yourself up and telling yourself that you made a mistake or even that you were bad.

The problem is that it feels like there’s some learning going on or that you’re acknowledging a mistake; however, you don’t learn with shoulding, and you can learn and take ownership in other ways (without beating yourself up, even if subtly).

Instead of shoulding yourself, I encourage you to starting coulding yourself. Shoulding is about being bad, wrong or mistaken, but coulding is about improvement, learning and growth. It’s simple – should only looks backward to the past, while could is about the future and different choices in the future. Consider these differences.

  • I should have acted on this sooner. I could have acted on this sooner.
  • I should have been more present. I could have been more present.
  • I should have been more direct. I could have been more direct.

While shoulding might seem to make sense, it only makes sense in terms of blame and feeling bad. That’s why we use it – somehow we believe that if we feel bad about a prior choice, we won’t make that same choice again in the future. But that’s not how learning works.

When you instead think and speak in terms of what you could have done differently, you’re engaging in a process of awareness, assessment and learning. You can also then assess what drove your prior choices or actions (more learning), and be better prepared to make different choices in the future (improvement and growth).

Trust me – this shift from shoulding to coulding will be challenging for most of you because shoulding is so engrained in our habits and even in our culture. It’s what we think we’re supposed to say. If you want to keep shaming yourself and beating yourself up (as well as shaming others and beating them up – when you should all over them), then do so knowingly. However, if you instead want to improve, grow and make better choices in the future where they matter – and you want to help the people around you also grow and improve – then dump the should and embrace the could.

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