Have you ever wondered why it can feel so hard to take time for yourself? Even when you promise yourself a little bit of r&r there’s often something — another task, request or responsibility — that snatches that time away.
The truth is that modern life — our work and responsibilities —doesn’t always leave us with much breathing space; but it’s also true that some people seem to have more time than others.
So what’s their secret, these women who have the time to simply sit down and enjoy a cup of tea? The answer is less about the way they DO things, and more with how they THINK about things.
In today’s exercise we’ll explore how your attitude towards time is holding you hostage to that never ending to-do list (and preventing you from feeling satisfied with what you’ve achieved at the end of the day).
This exercise is taken from my three part audio series: Take Back Your Time: Practical Lessons In Creating Time Freedom For A Healthy, Happy Life. Download the full series here (videos and worksheets included)
“Should”, “Could” & “Get To”
How often do you catch yourself saying or thinking the words: I should…
“Should” is an expression of something that you think you have to do; an obligation or an expectation that you need to meet to view yourself as successful, generous, useful, important, etc…
I should fold laundry while I’m sitting on the couch…
I should get a head start on dinner to make things easier later on…
“Could,” on the other hand, expresses a conscious choice; it’s the start of a dialogue about how you spend your time.
I could go for a walk…
I could try a new recipe…
At the end of a “could” sentence is the unspoken “or”…this is you giving yourself options. By its very nature, “could” is a word that implies positivity and choice; you’ll even notice a difference in the inflection of your voice when you say it.
Compare these two:
I should go for a walk.
Golly, even writing this makes my feet feel heavy. It makes me wonder why I should go for a walk, which leads to me listing off all those unhealthy habits that I need to rectify with exercise. Yuck!
I could go for a walk.
Yep, definitely feeling more inspired. That could fit into this sentence: It’s a lovely day, I could go for a walk! Or this one: I’m going to exercise tomorrow morning, I could go for a walk or I could go for a swim.
In example number two, the walk becomes the reward and not the punishment. This sentence also reminds me that I’m the decision maker, and it gives me an option for how I spend my time.
Which brings me to your first challenge…
Step One: be a COULD person (not a SHOULD person).
You CAN choose how you spend your time and how you experience your everyday life.
But should every “should” become a “could”? (Ha, writing these sentences makes me feel like Dr. Seuss!)
Of course not!
If you’re a high-achiever it’s likely that you have a LOT of should’s floating around in your mind at any one time. I can hardly sit on my couch without thinking I should: water the plants, get rid of that cobweb, organize the DVR recordings, send an email, file my fingernails, plan a vacation, fold laundry, book a dentist appointment…apparently it’s exhausting to relax at my house!
But just because there are should’s that could be done, doesn’t mean you have to do them. Filling your day to the brim with “should” tasks doesn’t necessarily:
- Move you closer to your three key life priorities (learn about these by downloading the full series here)
- Create free space for the future (there will always be more should’s)
- Make you a more important/interesting/useful/insert-adjective-here person. It just makes you tired.
Step Two: Shelve some of the should’s…
- Look at your current To-Do list, or think about all of those odds and ends floating around in your brain
- How many of these tasks made it on to that list because of the sentence: I should do…?
“I should clean out the linen cupboard.”
“I should sort the winter clothing.”
“I should get a head start on Christmas presents.”
“I should attend that community meeting.”
While (in an ideal world) you would be able to cross these arbitrary tasks off that list, they’re actually not critical to the functioning of your day-to-day life. In fact, spending time on these “should” tasks could actually be taking you further away from reaching your healthy living goals.
Can you guess my simple solution? Just cross them off your list…right now. Liberation!
Your list will now have a sprinkling of could items, to be kept as options in your back pocket, as well as those activities that you couldn’t cross off, even if you wanted to (hello work obligations, mammograms and flossing your teeth)!
These remaining obligations are necessary for the functioning of your day-to-day life, and there are two ways of looking at that…
Step Two: living with a “have to” mindset versus a “get to” mindset
I have to go to work…
I get to go to work…
I have to meet (name) for a coffee…
I get to meet (name) for a coffee…
I have to workout with my personal trainer…
I get to workout with my personal trainer…
While this positive language trick won’t necessarily buy you more time, it will help you feel more enthusiastic about the way you’re spending that time. And who knows, spending less time procrastinating on things like work and exercise could free up more free space each day after all.
Try this one on for size: I get to workout with my personal trainer and then I could have a relaxing bath or read a book!
Commit to adding a positive spring to your language step to make your “get to” activities even more enjoyable.
Let’s summarize today’s exercise!
- Use the word “could” in sentences, to remind yourself that you do have a choice in how you spend your time
- Cross off all the arbitrary “should” tasks on your to-do list (if they haven’t been done yet the world won’t end if they stay that way)
- Be positive in your language when describing tasks you get to do
A thought to ponder as you move throughout your week: what you do is less important than WHY you do it. What’s your reason behind your should’s, could’s and get to’s? If the answer doesn’t move you, consider letting it go.