I took a shower this morning – it’s not an everyday thing for me – and afterwards, as I plucked through my closet to figure out what to wear, this thought flashed through my head:

You really should put on some jeans and wear a real outfit today. You have the time. There’s no reason not to raise your game a bit.

Said thought was quickly followed by another:

But you hate wearing jeans. You’ll be uncomfortable all day, you’re not going anywhere but school pickup and soccer practice, so why not be in something that makes you feel good?

Needless to say, the latter thought won and I donned black capri leggings, a black tank top, and a longish gray tee. (Black leggings. Always the black leggings.)

As I combed out my wet tangles, I reflected a bit on what had just happened in my head and I realized that I had faced a battle between the should and choose to.

I’ve joked that one of the biggest changes motherhood wrought in my life was how it had edited out the terms should and supposed to from my lexicon. But this morning’s little battle in my brain revealed that I haven’t excised those normative thoughts quite as well as I believed that I had.

Sure, if I hear, “three-year olds should sleep through the night,” well, that thought just goes in one ear and out the other. Mine, as you might recall, does not sleep through the night regularly, and not letting those shoulds and supposed tos get to me offers me tremendous peace.

But while stepping away from the idea that my child should behave a certain way is difficult, I realized this morning that it’s actually much simpler than acknowledging the ways I still let should and supposed to interfere in my life.

So I started to play with this concept. I’ve been listening to the amazing Brené Brown’s newest book, Rising Strong, on my walks and in it she introduces the idea of the delta between the narrative that we tell ourselves about a situation and the truth of the situation itself. Those narratives tend to trip us up and she walks us through how to unpack them. (It’s a brilliant book and I’ve added it to my Martketplace here.)

Brené’s mainly talking about our relationships with other people, but I would love to apply the concept of the delta, which in mathematical terms refers to the concept of difference or change, to the difference between our shoulds and our choose tos. Moreover, I’d like to posit that the delta between what we feel we should be doing and what we choose to do is where much of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction lie.

It dawned on me what a radical transformation this would have in my life and attitude.

Take the outfit example above. That tug between what I felt I should do, and what I chose to do made me unhappy and feel like I was somehow failing as I got dressed this morning. What if, instead of letting that should ever enter my mind, I embraced fully that what I wear is my choice? I am free to make that choice and will embrace whatever positive and negative consequences it brings.

Let’s see how this might play out:

I really should have played blocks with her because she’s only little once and she needs stimulation and that’s what a mom is supposed to do. Instead, I played around on Facebook and drank coffee and now she needs lunch then a nap and we never played and she’s going to be a crank pot because of me.

That narrative? It doesn’t feel good to write it, much less live it! The difference between what that mom chose to do (i.e., interact on Facebook and drink coffee) and what she felt she was supposed to do will, undoubtedly, make her feel “less than.”

What if she framed the decision more like this?

chose to spend this time on Facebook with coffee in my hand this morning. There may be consequences that I don’t like – perhaps a clingy toddler who will need extra stimulation later – but those are my consequences to accept because of the choice I made about how to spend my time.

Doesn’t that just feel better to read? Wouldn’t you prefer to have that person in your life?

Now, I’m not advocating some mass hedonistic uprising of mothers, although, on second thought, that sounds like all kinds of fun. We have responsibilities to ourselves and our loved ones. I’m just suggesting that we more critically consider the role that the shoulds and supposed tos play in our lives.

Becoming impervious to the external voices – everything from the expectations you developed as a child from your family of origin to what you see on social media and Pinterest – might just help us take back a little of the personal power and sanity in our day-to-day.

Consider exorcising the shoulds and exercising more choice, and report back with your reflections here, on Facebook or Twitter.

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