What should I do?
When you ask this question to someone else,,, you are opening the door to giving away your personal power and creating a victim mindset. This is a dangerous question to ask. At the same time guidance can be helpful.
In the early stages of our personal development we ask many questions. In the beginning the questions are general, unfocused, and many times harmful. We aren’t aware of how powerful a question can be at controlling our attention and occupying our mind with very limited ways of thinking. Usually we are in a unhappy or confused state when we ask these types of questions. And the types of questions that arise from this mind set act to reinforce the very emotions we are trying to get out of.
What are some better questions to ask?
What is the kind thing to do?
What is the respectful thing to do?
What is the compassionate thing to do?
What do I not want?
How will I treat myself?
How will I treat others?
How do I want to feel?
Learning to ask better questions is a skill. Like any skill it can take time. However the more we are aware of the questions we ask, the less automatic they are. The more aware of each question our mind asks, and the automated way our imagination and emotions respond the better we will get at asking questions.
The most common of beginner question is, “What should I do?” Why is this such a poor question to ask when we are wrapped up in emotional issues? That question can lead us back into the same negative belief structure that asked it.
The question implies or assumes that there is a particularly “right” answer. Whenever we are looking for the “right” answer our mind flips into a mode of duality and looks at things in a right/wrong split. All answers that are not the “right” answer are classified as wrong. There can be one thousand wrong. You can imagine a poor outcome with any action you take thereby making the action appear wrong. All of these with any possible negative outcome are classified as “wrong.” It is assumed that the “right” or “should” action will result in everything being right and everyone being happy. It’s a very high standard of perfection that is implied when we use the word “should” or “right.”
This very high, and often unreasonable expectation sets us up for feeling like a failure.
Having an image of perfection or an expectation in and of itself isn’t the really bad part. It could even be good when it motivates us to take action or inspire creativity. The bad part is that the mental construct of an image of perfection sets you up for two rounds of self judgment.
Once you adopt this mental construct of what you “should” do, you also build a self image of the kind of person you should be. So now there are two images of perfection. One is of the action that leads to the perfect outcome. The second image of perfection is more personal. It is of who you should be. There can be more perfection images in the mind such as, how everyone else should feel, that can complicate this even further, but lets keep it simple for now.
With these two imaginary images the voice of the inner judge now has two concepts it can use for comparison. With its typical method of comparison there can only be two outcomes. The best outcome possible is that you meet the expectations of your belief system. No praise here. All you did was what was expected of you. With your greatest effort you broke even by meeting expectations of your belief system.
The second outcome isn’t that kind. For any lesser action, even the emotional reactions of another person that you can’t control, the inner judge criticizes you. “I could have (should have” done that differently.” The second judgment follows the first. If you didn’t succeed in achieving the image of perfection outcome then you failed. If you failed, then that means you are a failure. It’s a simple duality based conclusion the judge and victim voices in your head do automatically. The result is self rejection in the form of a self judgment.
This self rejection happens in your own head and can be emotionally powerful. When we are preoccupied trying to answer the question, “What should I do?” our attention is so wrapped up in the importance of figuring out the right thing to do that we don’t see this set up to self judgment.
Why is our attention so wrapped up with figuring out the “right” thing we “should” do? Somewhere in our sub-conscious belief system we sense that the painful self judgment will come if we do things wrong. We are afraid of the painful self judgment from our inner judge and we seek to avoid it. We feel the pressure to get things “right” but don’t notice that much of the motivation is really about avoiding the pain of self judgment that is going to be generated in our imagination.
We feel the pressure from the voices in our head but don’t notice that this is just our imagination and belief system at work. It usually takes a person a while to realize that this emotional self abuse is optional. We are so used to self judgment by the time we are adults that we accept this as an unchangeable reality. Then the only solution to avoid the punishment that we perceive is to get the answer “right.” And “right” means perfect where everyone is satisfied. Of course we don’t notice that this standard assumes that everyone will interpret the action and the outcome free from any judge and victim perspectives. (not likely)
It can be very helpful to seek help, guidance, and support. However we can help our self more when we are mindful of the questions we ask and how their underlying assumptions can be setting us up for self judgment.
Be Mindful When Asking for Help
I’m all for advice. I like to pick the brains and perspective of seasoned individuals that have proven results in an area. It can save us a lot of time in learning so we don’t have to figure everything out on our own. What I am not in favor of is collecting of images of perfection that the inner judge uses as an expectation to measure our self worth. The next time you ask someone, “What should I do?” take a moment to notice whether your inner judge might use their answer in a conspiracy of self-judgment against you.
Please don’t ask me to give you advice about what you “should” do. I probably won’t answer you directly. If I answer your question in the format you expect, then I am providing you with an image of a perfection for an outcome that may or may not be achievable. You are asking an image of perfection that the inner judge can use. I’m probably going to try to do you the favor of not feeding this structure of beliefs. My answer might come back as a question or redirect your attention to looking at the situation differently.
Some people will have a reaction to this. They will get upset because I haven’t answered directly. They are so fixated on getting things “right” that they feel cheated when avoid the trap their belief system is making. I know that person is upset because their only hope to avoid painful self judgment is to get the answer of what they “should” do. And any delay in getting that answer has them slipping further into the jaws of the self judgment for getting it “wrong.”
I apologize for not answering directly. But I’m not trying to satisfy your hope of getting things right. I’m actually trying to save you from a much bigger problem. The bigger problem is that painful self judgment and the fear it creates drives the mind to believe that the “right” answer is the only hope.
Please don’t ask me to conspire with the trap your belief system creates with self judgments. At the same time, it is okay and even advisable in most situations to seek counsel and guidance. Just do your best to be aware and avoid this trap of self judgment.
If you have another question,,, a better question,,, I might give a more direct answer. Look back to the beginning of this article for some ideas on how to ask a better question. If these questions don’t apply, then ask other questions. If you can’t come up with another question then ask, “What questions should I be asking?” There are lots of ways that you can get help, support and guidance from people through sticky situations without building images of perfection that the judge will use.
There are lots of questions that I work on asking that will help you to look at the situation differently. There is a lot that can be done with perspective and inquiry that is extremely helpful without anyone telling you what you should do.
So if I don’t respond to your question of, “What should I do?” in a way that you expect then I hope this explains it. I’m not trying to give you ice cubes so the pain from the fire stops. I’m trying to help you put out the fire that you are sitting in.