Shouldless Days, Creativity & Presence

“I should have _____ (read my script instead of staying out too late, eaten less, called my parents).” 

Does that sound familiar?

Some of us aren't aware when we should on ourselves. And it can be damaging. 

Should statements generate a lot of unnecessary emotional turmoil in your daily life. When the reality of your own behavior falls short of your standards, your shoulds and shouldn’ts create self-loathing, shame, and guilt.
— David D. Burns, MD in Feeling Good

When we start talking to ourselves, "I shoulda done this, I should do that, it takes away from the present moment."

Try it

Tell yourself a few shoulds right now to verify that you'll split your mind into two directions - you're in one place and your mind is in what I call the House of Should.

Shouldless Days

Actor Ellen Burstyn says she feels lazy if she isn't doing something, so it's hard for her to get away from saying should to herself.

So Ms. Burstyn schedules shouldless days - she can do whatever she wants at any time all day long.

Should-less days, I recommend them. Because, what I figured out is we have wiring. I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy, if I’m not doing something. God you’re so lazy—can’t imagine whose voice that is? And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is I can put in another wiring, I can put in should-less days, so when that voice goes off and says you’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, no, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want.
— Ellen Burstyn's Lessons on Survival via Death, Sex & Money on WNYC

Try a shouldess day. You might really like it.  

Enter the House of Shouldless - Step by Step

When you slip into saying should statements, notice the effect of saying should to yourself on your posture, breath, and the clarity of your thinking. You might find that you are holding your jaw tightly - and that has an impact on your breath. 

Simply noticing the habit can begin to change it. 

When Should has a Purpose

What if you are using shoulds to get things done? Rather than telling yourself what you should get done, make a plan: write down the task and decide when and where you'll work on it. Commit to 15 mins as a starting point.

Next, enjoy the moment immediately after writing down the task. Give yourself a bit of time and credit for recognizing and modifying the habit. It's a big deal - you're choosing to explore alternatives and most people stay entrenched in habits for decades.

Finally, tell yourself that there's no reason to hold any unnecessary tension in your body - you have a plan and you're doing your best.


In the House of Shouldless (above), there's a lot of room for creativity. 

Shouldless days can be strange or unpredictable, because we're used to having to do stuff v. choosing to do what you want.

relax notes

When you free yourself from should, it can help you relax, which leads to feeling more present. And when you're more present you're more creative.

I recommend Ellen Burstyn's interview with Anna Sale on Death, Sex & Money, where she talks about should less days, acting, getting out of an abusive relationship and other life lessons.