Is expectation keeping you from living your most authentic life?

Our upbringing, the media, our friends, and our selves are all constantly pressuring us for more, better, or different.

“By now, I should ________.”

Many of my patients finish that sentence with:

  • be married
  • have more money
  • have children
  • be happy
  • have better work
  • be having fun
  • be on vacation
  • be retired
  • own a home
  • have no debt
  • feel better

It’s one thing to recognize something as uncomfortable or as going against your desires. It’s an entirely different thing to witness this “bad” thing and then, on top of it, judge yourself for the existence of this “imperfection.” Now, this one weight upon your mind has become two. And this can snowball if you consciously know that you’re judging yourself, and then—you guessed it—you start to judge yourself for judging yourself. Since we’re all striving to feel comfortable in life, why create all this undue pressure?

Step 1: Roll back the judgement.

See if you can stop yourself once you notice that first “should” popping up in your mind. If you feel today that your life isn’t the way you wished, stop right there! We often go the extra step in criticizing ourselves in an attempt to learn something from our situation, hopefully sidestepping these “bad” feelings in the future. But does this work? Simply try not doing this for a period. (Easier said than done, of course.) The practice here is simply awareness. When you feel out of place or that something hasn’t happened to your liking, ask yourself, “What am I thinking right now?” As you regularly ask yourself this question, you’ll begin to see the pattern of “shoulds” popping up in your life. It’s this pattern that needs breaking. Simply asking yourself, “What am I doing right now? What am I thinking right now?” may be just enough to break this cycle of pressure building upon pressure.

Step 2: Embrace the “bad.”

Now that we’re seasoned question-askers of our mental reaction to these various “shoulds,” we should be left with the one thought that started the mental snowball in the first place. Of course, many of us have “shoulds” spanning many aspects of ourselves. So, possibly you’re cycling between your most popular “shoulds” about family, finances, health, emotions, or career instead of the seemingly endless number of thoughts, feelings, and reactions that abound when trying to justify the existence of all these “shoulds.” Simply, those popular “shoulds” could, if you deemed them, be seen as your life’s guides instead of a perceived list of curses. We are so hard-pressed, consciously and unconsciously, to achieve the impractical goal called “perfection” that anything in the way can appear a nuisance. But, if your current method of life refinement isn’t bringing you lasting relief, let alone regular joy, then try something different. Start by giving yourself permission—permission to allow these nuisances and icky thoughts to exist in your life as they are. You’d be surprised that regularly allowing these unsightly thoughts to simply exist in your mind will give them less energy and power. Without this wind behind their sails, these “shoulds” will have less ability to cause you to dwell so much on what is perceived as “good” or “bad.”

Step 3: Love your life.

The “love” I speak of here is an emphasis on the passionate actions put forth into your life. Regularly doing things for yourself and your community will help build new habits, physically and mentally. This will eventually replace the old habits of repeatedly seeking out what’s “bad” and the added mental commentary that comes alongside.

Spend time around people, maybe even a new group. Spend time outside, breaking up our habitual indoor nature; enjoy the seasons. Get creative; find an outlet for your expression with color, words, sound, movement, and community.

This is all in an effort to show you that your life is happening right now. The forward progression of your self doesn’t take a nap while you sort through all these “shoulds.” Rather, embracing the totality of yourself, “shoulds” included, is what could propel you more than you’ve ever imagined.

Jason Moskovitz, L.Ac., Dipl.O.M. is the author of Arthritis: Secrets of Natural Healing. Jason is a board-licensed acupuncturist, national diplomat of oriental medicine, herbal physician, nutritional counselor, and Tai Chi instructor at Tao Of Wellness. He has administered thousands of successful treatments in areas of women’s health, infertility, elder care, and joint pain. Jason teaches his patients how to embrace their ever-changing condition and all the ways in which the body can heal itself. Connect with Tao Of Wellness on Facebook and Twitter.

*Photo by wwarby.