The tyranny of the shoulds


Don’t let the scale have power over you. There are a ton of benefits to healthy eating and exercise other than weight/fat loss–it improves your mood, it boosts your energy, it promotes better sleep and more.

I weigh myself once a week. Every Sunday morning, it’s one of the first things I do.

If I weighed myself more than once a week, I would become too obsessed with the number on the scale. Weight can fluctuate up to five pounds in one day anyway, so I don’t think weighing myself every day would necessarily give me an accurate representation of where I am at.

Plus, there are a ton of benefits to healthy eating and exercise other than weight/fat loss–it improves your mood, it boosts your energy, it promotes better sleep, etc.–so ultimately, what I’m doing isn’t exclusively about numbers.

Yesterday I stepped onto the scale after six days of following the plan I outlined in my last post. I’ve read that a realistic goal for healthy weight/fat loss is 1-2 pounds a week, so that’s all I ever hope for.

Sometimes I’ve lost a lot more than that in the span of a week, though, and the past six or seven days was one of those weeks. I lost 12.5 pounds, which means I’ve now lost a total of 81 pounds.

I was happy with myself when I saw the number on the scale. My happiness wasn’t completely tied to the number, though. I was also happy because it felt really good to execute the plan and go about my week in a purposeful way, instead of eating mindlessly, working out if it happened to fit into my schedule and hoping for results.

But a few hours after weighing myself, my mood shifted from happiness and pride to something different.

The “Who Do You Think You Are?” Phantom–that shaming voice inside my head that’s suspicious of my success and questions my worth as a human being–came to haunt me, and as a result, I thought to myself, “I should have hit the 80-pounds-lost milestone months ago.”

Should is a word that I’ve spent the past 10 months trying to eliminate from my vocabulary. When you use the word “should” like I did in the sentence above–“I should have hit the 80-pounds-lost milestone months ago”–it places a demand on the person it’s spoken to and sort of implies that there’s a one-size-fits-all path that everyone needs to follow.

Who says I should have hit that milestone months ago? My trainer didn’t say that. My family didn’t say that. My friends didn’t say that.

I realized the root of that thought was me comparing myself to stories I’ve read online where people have lost 70 or 80 pounds in five or six months. It’s taken me just shy of 19 months. The “Who Do You Think You Are?” Phantom thought I should have been able to do it quicker.

This experience was a good reminder that if ever there is a way to make yourself feel bad about something you’ve accomplished, it’s to start comparing yourself to others.

I’m not sure comparisons like that ever help.

There’s something to be said for friendly competition between two individuals that results in them pushing each other forward, and that helps each person reach their respective goals, but ultimately, the only person I’m trying to outperform is the man I was yesterday.

In the introduction to her book One Year to an Organized Life, professional organizer Regina Leeds encourages readers to reward themselves when they successfully complete a task. She writes that many of her clients shy away from the reward concept because they don’t feel they deserve a reward for doing something they should have done long ago.

“Few things in life are as destructive as the tyranny of the shoulds,” Leeds writes. “I think all things happen when the time is right. Rather than focusing on what you haven’t done, choose to celebrate that today you changed your life, faced a fear, and altered your environment in some positive way. We can’t change the past. We can, however, learn from it and move on.”


This text I received today is more satisfying than any eating binge could ever be.

Do I regret that I haven’t been as focused on my health and fitness during the last few months as I could have been? Yes, I do. Do I wish I had reached the 80-pounds-lost milestone sooner? For sure. Those are natural feelings to have.

But placing a should demand on myself, and making myself feel bad because I didn’t get to where I am sooner, doesn’t help me in any way. All it does is steal my joy.

It’s like if your grandmother died and you told yourself, “I should have gone to visit her more often.” Saying, “I regret that I didn’t visit her more often,” or, “I wish I had visited her more often,” is a better way to phrase it, because it expresses a natural feeling without piling a bunch of guilt onto yourself. Saying, “I should have gone to visit her more often” will just make you feel bad about a situation you have no way of changing.

My fitness journey is about progress, not perfection. It’s about making changes I feel good about that will last for the long term. It’s about forming habits that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

The best I can do, as Leeds writes, is learn from the mistakes I’ve made and move forward.

Some people can lose 80 pounds in a few months. I did it in 19. I’m completely OK with that.

I’m proud of what I accomplished this past week.

Leeds’ thought that “all things happen when the time is right” reminded me of one of my favourite songs from the past few months, “In Due Time” by Killswitch Engage, from the album “Disarm the Descent” (Roadrunner Records, 2013).

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12 Responses to The tyranny of the shoulds

  1. Tbone says:

    Tyler N and I thought it’d be sweet if you sprinkled in some Metallica updates/interviews/videos/B-sides in between personal updates. Think about it. You’re probably letting down a lot of “drop in” traffic by random googlers.

    • Funny you should mention Metallica, Tbone: The band’s singer-guitarist, James Hetfield, slimmed down in the last year or two by following the paleolithic/caveman diet. I’m considering a one-month experiment where I follow the paleo/caveman nutrition plan–potentially all of August, or something like that. We’ll see.

  2. Hello and welcome to WordPress. Cheers!

  3. JP says:

    Wow. Sooo true… Way too often my buzz is KILLED by the “shoulds”, that little voice that creeps in and whithers the accomplishments and progress I was so proud of. Message So well conveyed here- Thanks Ace!

  4. You never cease to amaze me, Aaron. You inspire me. I am proud of you and appreciate you very much. Dorothy

  5. Pingback: 101 pounds | Aaron at Large

  6. Erika Marand says:

    Sometimes you need to toss the “should a…, would a…, could a…” !
    Very proud of you Aaron!

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