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“Stop shoulding yourself!”

It’s a common phrase uttered by therapists and life coaches alike. It has a lot of merit. Should is a filthy word that shuts down motivation and seems to want to shame us into action. When we shame ourselves, not only do we feel bad, but it tends to backfire: the undesirable behavior just entrenches deeper. I wrote about this in my article on self-acceptance.

Sometimes the antidote is to find different language. For example, instead of telling ourselves what we ‘should’ do, we re-word it as ‘I want to…’. In order to think from this perspective, we draw a stronger link between the ultimate desire (our ‘why’) and the prescribed action. We soften the language in an effort not to draw resistance from ourselves with the shaming language.

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water

But here’s the problem: in our zeal to root out the dirty word “should,” we also tend to banish the very things that we think we should do. It is not the impulse to be doing something different that should be cast out, but rather the way that we are trying to motivate ourselves to do the necessary work that creates the problem. Yet, too often, my well-meaning advisors counsel against doing that thing that I think I should do.

I should get on Instagram (to grow my social media presence),” I tell them. My advisors bristle against my language. They challenge me. They embark on a search for a more palatable way of accomplishing my goal (to make myself more known). But they are going beyond reframing my language. There seems to be this fear against doing hard things, against doing what we don’t want to do.

Fear of PMOT

I’m absolutely complicit in this process. I thirst for someone to tell me that I don’t ‘have to’ get on Instagram. But the problem is that Instagram is only a particular flavor of the broader activity of putting myself out there (what I like to call ‘PMOT’).

It’s PMOT that makes me feel vulnerable and yet PMOT is unavoidable for my business. Yes, I could avoid Instagram, but ultimately I’m going to have to engage in some activity that takes me outside my comfort zone. Sure, it would helpful if I used softer language to describe that reality to myself, but the softer language doesn’t change the underlying fact that this entrepreneurial thing is hard stuff and that sometimes I will need to do what I don’t feel like doing.

The problem with ‘I don’t feel like it.’

Our brains crave the status quo. Their job is to keep us safe and to keep the billions of aspects of our nervous system smoothly functioning. Our brains have found that the simplest way to accomplish this is to put up with a minimum of change. So, anything that pushes us outside the status quo will cause resistance.

Often, the resistance shows up as that feeling of not wanting to do something. When we don’t feel like it, we have a golden opportunity to do it anyway, which teaches the brain that we have the capacity and drive to do hard things. 

Alternatively, we could choose the easy path, but this only encourages the brain to keep following the pathway of entrenched thinking, with the result being stagnation. Growth almost always feels uncomfortable.

Leaning in to that discomfort is not the same as shaming ourselves.

Even the exalted flow state involves challenge and pushing in to our discomfort. Mihalyi Csikzentmahalyi discovered that the conditions for flow occur when our skills are a match for a challenging task. If the task is not challenging enough, boredom occurs. If the task is too challenging, we respond with anxiety. To achieve flow, we need to find the sweet spot.

By definition, that sweet spot is found somewhere just a little past our comfort zone, in the realm of challenge.

So how do we motivate ourselves to do hard things?

1) Find Our Why: This was mentioned above and it is a powerful technique. Understanding the purpose of the hard thing, where it fits in to the bigger picture, is a good way of harnessing our motivation.

2) Watch Our Language: Language does help. We might say, “I want to grow my social media presence in order to reach more clients. Therefore, I choose to get on Instagram.” Another trick: try replacing “I should” with “I could” and see what happens.

3) Lean Into the Hard Stuff: We can think about what is hard as being a sort of barrier to entry. If the things that we aspired to weren’t hard to achieve, then everybody would already be doing it/having it. By doing hard things, we enter into a rarified air.

4) Embrace a Mantra: I find it’s helpful to give myself messages like, “I can do hard things.” It’s deceptively simple.

5) Investigate How You’ve Done Hard Things Before: The exercise in the accompanying download will help you to do that.

I’m a mindset coach for entrepreneurs and creatives who find that the old ways of bigger, faster, more are no longer satisfying. Instead, they favor simpler, smarter, better. They’re looking for creative and sustainable responses to the increasingly chaotic world around them. I help them shift their perspective and tap the power of their own wisdom to unveil new ways to thrive in these complex times. If you’re interested in one to one coaching please contact me at or check out my services at

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