The key to happiness is…

…low expectations and cutting out the word “should”.


I’m struggling with the motivation to write a blog post this week. In fact, I’m struggling to motivate myself to do anything that isn’t wearing pyjamas or eating carbs. I’m not alone, most people I know are sharing with me that they’re too tired/broke/fat/whatever to do anything right now. I should write a blog post, I should exercise, I should eat a meal that isn’t mostly sugar but you know what, I can’t be arsed.


If you’re still reading (congratulations, I promise this is going somewhere), I’m not about to offer you any great advice about how you can motivate yourself and there also won’t be any inspiring graphics about how if you drop your phone and smash it you don’t then take a hammer to it and break it properly, you pick it up and carry on (no shit, I’m bipolar, not completely lacking in fucking common sense). I am however going to tell you that the word “should” is a swear word and needs to be dropped from your vocabulary. I may even consider starting a campaign to remove it from the dictionary.


Several years ago, I was having weekly therapy sessions in a bid to sort out my slightly disastrous mental health. I was convinced that if I somehow discussed every tiny detail of my life, we’d find some small thing that started off the whole process of being mentally ill.  I’d fix it either by talking about it or inventing a machine to travel back in time and change my entire life history. Spoiler alert: neither of those things happened. I’m bipolar because, well, genetics/environment/all that stuff and I didn’t invent a time machine because I’m really crap at physics. What I did get from the experience was a hatred for the word “should”.


At the end of every therapy session, my counsellor would ask how I was going to spend the rest of my day. The answer tended to be the same on around 90% of occasions: “I should exercise, I should do some house work, I should do the ironing.”  Normally, she’d tell me to spend some time resting to get back into the right head space, wish me well and that we’d see each other next week. There was just one occasion when she challenged my list of “shoulds”. “Instead of saying SHOULD, you need to start saying COULD.”


I wasn’t sure I understood at first but she explained it like this, when you’re saying you SHOULD do something, you make it negative. You make it another item on your to do list and when you don’t do it, you give yourself a guilt trip. When you say COULD, you introduce the element of choice. You could do the housework, you could exercise or you could rest and drink tea. “Could” makes you feel like you have a choice as to how you spend your time and it also removes the prioritisation from the to do list. “Could” levels the playing field.


“Should” is what our parents/our boss/the government say when there is something they want us to do. Adults should exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. People who want to live longer should stop smoking. You should work overtime if you want that promotion. Now lets replace the should with could. Want some more energy? You could try exercising. Want to live longer? You could smoke or drink less. Want to further your career? You could do some overtime or you could spend your spare time developing your skills to get to the next goal. Alternatively you could do none of those things because you’re quite content with your lot and can’t really be bothered to change anything right now. Try cutting out the should for a week and see if it makes you feel more motivated (I also like to google de-motivational quotes to amuse myself in the knowledge that other people can’t be arsed today either).


As for me, right now I could read a book, I could unpack the dishwasher or I could have a snack. I think I’ll do all three…


A word of thanks: I’d like to say a huge “Thank you” to my friend Mark who provided me with the inspiration for today’s blog after hearing me complain that I didn’t feel motivated!



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