The Author Burnout Coach
Episode 12: Say Goodbye to “Should”
Hello writers and welcome to The Author Burnout Coach. Together, we will dismantle the burnout culture in book publishing and reclaim our love of stories. I am your host, Isabel Sterling, and this is episode 12.
Hey friends! I missed y’all last week. Our kiddo was sick for a few days and then I was sick and holy fuck was that one of the worst stomach bugs I have ever experienced. Daycare is truly a double edged sword.
That said, it was kind of the perfect example of my planned topic, so I think it’s going to end up being a great thing for us in the long run to have this sort of live example of why “should” is such an unhelpful concept and why we should (pun intended) stop using it against ourselves.
We have lots of shoulds in the book world. I should be able to write faster. I should be able to hit that deadline. I should read more. Etc. etc. I think the best way to explain this concept is contextually, so I want to dissect my decision not to write and record this podcast episode last week, because I think it beautifully illustrates this concept.
Last week, I had intended to write and record on Friday, which was interrupted when my 2yo got sent home from daycare because he got sick. I decided it was more important to me to shift into Mom Mode and take care of the sad sick little dude and just do the podcast on Monday. Not ideal, but still totally doable.
And then on Sunday, I got sick and had one of the worst nights of my life.
So, Monday rolls around and I am just miserable. I barely slept, my head hurts, there’s approximately one position (this sort of semi-horizontal state on the couch) where I’m not painfully nauseous, and I’m trying to decide if there’s any way I can do the podcast, even if it’s super short and to the point, just to be consistent and get it done.
Because in my head, there is a litany of shoulds.
I should be consistent. I should keep my word to my audience. I should stick to my schedule. I should show dedication to my work.
And as I’m noticing this parade of shoulds coming in, there’s also a slew of opposing shoulds right on their heels.
I should rest. I should listen to my body. I should trust that my listeners won’t forget me if I miss a week.
So, here’s the problem with telling yourself that you ‘should’ do something: It artificially takes away all of your power and agency. It hides the fact that you have the ability to make a choice and OWN that consequences–both positive and negative–of that choice.
And also, it generally feels like shit.
In the context of last week’s missed podcast, if I let myself believe that I should record no matter what both options would have felt like complete ass.
If I recorded while feeling terrible because of that should, I likely would have felt like a victim to my podcast. Which, no thank you! That is not how I want to feel about a project that I love. And if I didn’t record the podcast, I would likely have told myself all these stories about how I’m a failure for not fulfilling the ‘should’ from the experts. It could have been proof that my coaching business is never going to be as successful as I know it can be.
And here’s the thing, I intend to be an incredibly successful coach. I intend to help hundreds of writers heal from burnout and create thriving, healthy, happy careers. Because the more of us who make that internal shift, the better chance we have of shifting the entire industry.
I don’t have time to be shoulding all over myself if I want to change this industry.
So, here is how we let go of shoulds, take back our power, and make decisions.
Step 1: Wiggle out of believing the should is true.
One way to do this is acknowledging that existence of opposite shoulds for nearly every situation. In this case, I should record vs I should rest. I could poll experts and friends and get a nice mix of both shoulds, which I decide makes the should meaningless.
And as a side note, this is also why I don’t love crowd sourcing for ideas or validation. You can always find someone who agrees with you to back up your decision, but being unwilling to own your decision without validation hides your power from yourself.
Step 2: Acknowledge that every option has pros and cons.
For this step, you don’t even necessarily have to write out the actual pros and cons. Simply acknowledging that you COULD make strong arguments for and against either option helps eliminate the idea that there is ONE RIGHT ANSWER. There is no right answer, only the answer you choose on purpose to make right.
In this example, I could have recorded and talked about how I was proud of myself for showing up anyway. I could have made that right. But since I’m on a journey of learning to listen to my body and trust that rest is an important part of success, I didn’t want to go that direction.
Step 3: Ask yourself “if any option can be correct, what do I WANT to do?”
As much as I wanted to be able to say I never missed a week of my podcast, the thing I truly wanted was to practice honoring my need for rest and recovery. I wanted to trust that I could have my own back about the decision to take a week off, even if it meant my brain would tell me I was a failure (and it certainly wanted to). It was a chance to practice self-compassion and self-trust. To practice knowing that my value as a person isn’t tied to productivity. Even that my value as a coach isn’t tied to being perfectly productive.
So I chose to miss a week of the podcast. I chose to be okay with the disappointment of not having a so-called perfect record of releases. And I decided that once I was fully recovered, I’d make it a priority to get a couple weeks ahead with recordings (without hustle or pressure) so that if I’m sick again in the future–which, with a toddler in daycare, is bound to happen–that I wouldn’t have to make the choice between missing a week and much needed rest.
Step 4: Have your own back, no matter the consequences
Once the decision was made–all of which happened over the span of maybe 5–10 minutes on Monday–I had to consciously remind myself that I wasn’t going to second guess the decision. I wasn’t going to berate myself. I wasn’t going to look for any of the reasons it was wrong. Instead, I looked for all the reasons it’s right. Like being able to walk you through this process for this podcast!
This doesn’t mean you never write, of course. We just want to reframe the should to take our power back.
So let’s say you have a full-time Day Job and tend to write after dinner. You feel tired from your day and don’t super want to write but think “ugh, I should write.” A should can also be disguised as a have to, as in “I have to write.” These often feel heavy when you think them.
If we think about the model I discussed in episode 11, if you have “I should write” in the thought line, your feeling line might be something like dread or obligated or annoyed or anxiety. That’s not going to produce the best writing experience.
So instead of “I should write” or “I have to write” which can also make you feel like you’re at the affect of your book or deadline instead of the one with the power to make decisions about how to use your time, go through this 4 step process.
1 - see if you can find opposing shoulds to help prove that ‘I should write’ isn’t inherently true. A good friend my say you should rest when you’re tired, for example.
2 - acknowledge that there are pros and cons to both writing and not writing. You may be equally frustrated during the writing process as you are frustrated later that you didn’t write. Negative emotions exist either way.
3 - decide what you WANT, and be honest. Maybe it’s “I want to write even if it doesn’t feel fun in the moment because I know I’ll be glad I did.” Consider how those thoughts create different f-lines. I should write vs I’m choosing to write vs I want to write vs I willing to write even when I don’t want to. Be willing to own the truth of the situation with love and compassion.
Sometimes, the truth for me is: I’m willing to write because I want to finish this book so I can get paid. That’s okay. I can own that. Because sometimes my truth is that writing lights up my entire soul. I’m willing for both to be true. I’m willing to experience the first as often as necessary to make room for the second.
And finally, step 4, have your back about your decision. If you decided to write but everything came out super shitty and you threw it away the next day anyway, don’t believe yourself when you think you “should” have just gone to bed. You can still be proud of yourself for showing up and putting words down. You can decide that when you’re that tired in the future that you’re willing to choose sleep over words without making your choices a problem.
So this week, my homework for you, is this: pay attention to every time you tell yourself you should do something. Notice the should and then tell yourself the truth about what you want. Own your power and agency. “I am willing to do [insert whatever it is] because you want the positive reward or you want to avoid the negative consequence.”
Be curious about how owning your choices affects your feelings and the types of results you achieve. Just this little shift can have HUGE ripple affects through your writing life.
And if you’re ready to go all-in on shifting your relationship with writing, I invite you to work with me one-on-one. Over the course of four months, I help my clients learn to own their decisions, set healthy boundaries with deadlines, and trust themselves. And, most importantly, we set you up for a career that is free from burnout. Visit me at IsabelSterling.com to learn more. You can set up a free call to chat about your specific circumstances to make sure this fits your goals, if you’re already a “HELL YES, I need this!”, you can enroll directly on the site. I can’t wait to coach you one-on-one.
Until next time, friends. Happy writing!