Obligation Overload

How to draw the line with what you “should” be doing

Obligation is ruining our lives. If that grabbed you … read on, you’re part of the team that has a very long list of things that “should” be done. This should-do/supposed-to-do list is taking us down, and not only ruining any chance of enjoying life, but also making us incredibly resentful and inefficient.

Every “should” in our lives carries a string of energy away from us. After a while, there are so many energy-filled strings attached to this list of “shoulds” that there is very little energy left for our own enjoyment – or even to get today’s needs accomplished. These strings of energy are siphoning away our precious ability to create.

What’s On Your List?

Currently, my “should” list includes writing a book, ten pounds of weight loss, three birthday celebrations to host, a list of enriching, meaningful craft projects with my child, eight career advancement actions that involve skills I don’t possess, at least twelve house projects to complete, organizing digital pictures, and a new face cream to try that makes your skin worse before it gets better. That is only a sampling. The actual list is much longer. I did drop learning a second language and compensated by signing my child up for immersion Spanish instead. Check! Done! At least part of my DNA got that accomplished.

The other day I got a royalty check for my doctoral dissertation for $28.74 – after thirteen years, I’m fairly certain it isn’t going to be a bestseller, but no one really reads dissertations anyway. The sweet naivety of bringing fresh research into the world is tainted by the reality that no one is ever going to see it. Truth be told, it is about as dry and boring as it comes, and I am delighted that someone – anyone – outside of my academic committee, read it. Anyway, I’m sure there is a Netflix series begging to be binge- watched, so I’ll save you the trouble and tell you the best, most-relevant part.

Review & Reclaim

I looked at the effect that on-site childcare had on working women. The expectation was that it would be a glowing, golden-handcuff benefit that would retain rising talent. And for the most part, it was. However, there was this BIG anomaly. Women felt more guilty and more obligated when they used it. See, the centers would tell them that they could come by anytime to see their kids. They actively promoted this with the full support from the companies.

On the surface, it seemed like a great idea except that it was making everyone miserable. The women would feel a deep sense of obligation to swing by to see their children, but this wasn’t really possible when you have a busy, demanding executive job. They would then feel tremendous guilt about not coming by during the day. When daycare centers were even just a few miles away, the obligation to stop by vanished and the mommy-guilt dissipated. The “should” of it all is what causes the damage. The constant tug of holding something in your heart or mind and not attending to it drains us of resources and the ability to focus on what is in front of us.

Here’s what we need to do to reclaim our energy and put the soul-sucking strings of obligation in their place:

1. Cut the Cord

First, ask yourself the question if this is something that can be accomplished today. Is this “should” one that can be handled or scheduled today? If so – get going!  There is nothing so grand as to cross an item off your to-do list!  If it isn’t something that can be done or started now, give yourself permission NOT to do it. This immediately returns the energy you have available back to you. You are not responsible for it today.

2. Set a New Date

Then decide if you can give this “should” a new date. Can you shift it out to another day, several months, a different life point? Giving it a new start date allows you to keep it but reclaim the energy. You still get to have it on the list, but it maintains your store of energy to focus on what is happening right now.

3. Revisit / Edit

Once it is given a new date, you must revisit the list in order to maintain integrity with yourself. If you commit to a date to revisit it, you must do so, or you will lose respect and trust for yourself. Once the time comes forward, it is important to reevaluate the “should.” Is this still vital to who you are and what you need?  If so, it is time to prioritize what matters to you. Altering your “should” is fine too and sometimes it is even better to eliminate it. Everyone needs both a bucket list and a chuck-it list. Letting go of a “should” can be the ultimate in allowing the needs most aligned and authentic to you to shine and get your full attention. The “shoulds” that you just can’t let go of, are the real SHOULDS and are essential to you.

Let’s just all take a break from the obligation and evaluate what really deserves our attention today. If you start getting really picky about what should be done, you are bound to get to what is truly important while reclaiming your energy.