How my body taught me to stop “should-ing” myself


My mother, the sage, said, “look how the word shoulder is spelled,” and waited (a while) for me to see what she was saying: SHOULD-er.

Then she asked me, “are you “should-ing” yourself right now?”.

I had been complaining to her about my terrible shoulder pain. It was constant and the only thing that brought temporary relief was pressing into the knot of muscles. I had blamed my work area, my workouts, and the way I was sleeping but I hadn’t thought this might be a message from my body.

Our bodies are powerful communicators when we partner with them.

It really took me until I was well into my forties to connect the dots between physical aches and pains and my thoughts, patterns, and emotions. Even after I had realized that my sore throat meant that I felt I didn’t have a voice in a situation or an upset stomach meant that I was making a decision that felt out of alignment with my core self, I still didn’t think that my shoulder pain might be trying to tell me something as well.

But my mom was exactly right.

Trying to pretzel myself into what I thought I “should” be doing or what I thought other people thought I “should” be doing was the quickest way for me to race away from myself and what’s really best for me.

With some time to reflect, I realized it wasn’t only about “should-ing” myself, which I’m sure I was doing, but that I was also spending a lot of time thinking about what other people “should” be doing.

Thinking that someone “should” be doing something different than they were or that I knew what was best for them did nothing but separate me from the other person and myself.

When I find I’m starting a sentence in my head with “I should” I try to remember to replace it with “I choose” and see if I still want to do the thing, (for example: “I should do the laundry.” becomes, “I choose to do the laundry so we have clean clothes.” or “I choose to leave the laundry for later so I can go out for a walk while it’s sunny.”).

And though they are far less frequent these days, when I notice a thought about what someone else “should do” I remind myself that other people aren’t my problem to solve and that the “they should/you should” mentality is toxic to them and to me. If I don’t notice those thoughts my shoulder will jump in and make sure I do.

My body has made it clear that it doesn’t like it when I live in a place of judgment and control. It is much happier when I choose curiosity and compassion – for myself and for everyone else — and so am I.


Hi, I'm Sara!

I'm here to reclaim the term 'midlife' and embrace the power these years offer us.

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About the author

Sara Smeaton

I help you discover the joy and power in midlife and navigate the transitions on your own terms. I am passionate about changing the narrative about aging and am trying to fill the world with profiles of real life people who are thriving and more alive after 40 than ever before. The best is yet to come and there are role models all around us. Book your free 30-minute connection call.

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