The S word

There is one word that I despise in the English language almost more than any other word.

I think of it as “the S word.”

The problem with this word is that the person who’s saying it feels good – and the person to whom it is being said often feels bad.

Attending a masterclass earlier in the pandemic, I learned of new scientific research on what lights up different areas of a person’s brain.

When we tell others what we think will be in their best interest, pleasure centers in our brain light up.

In other words when we are giving advice, that’s when the pleasure centers in our brain light up.

If that advice has been solicited – in other words, if the person on the receiving end of the advice has asked for it – the pleasure centers in their brain light up too.

But when someone gives unsolicited advice – advice that was not asked for – the pain centers in the recipient’s brain light up.

Perhaps you have had that experience of being given advice that you did not ask for. If you’d like, in this moment, call to mind a situation where that’s what happened.

The situation I’m thinking about: when someone close to me tried to give me advice on my skiing. I was going along, happily skiing, and thinking that all was right with the world when suddenly this person pulled up next to me and told me “You really should…”

Boom. Pain centers immediately came to life in my brain.
And the frustrating thing is that the person who gave me that advice, the pleasure centers in their brain lit up. They were thrilled because they thought they were doing me a great service.

When I was left feeling super frustrated and annoyed.
I just wanted to ski for goodness’ sake!

And, did you catch it? SHOULD is the S word.

Often as an adult, and as a parent – to my shame – I have been on the giving end of this equation.

I’ve thought to myself “I know exactly what this person needs! I will just tell them, and I can feel like I’ve done my job today.”

Now I know better.

Now, when the urge comes up in me to give unsolicited advice, I catch myself. (Well, most of the time. I am human and sometimes still make this mistake.)

Now I might say something like “that sounds really frustrating… Would you like some help figuring it out?”

If they say no, I have learned to be okay with that. It’s not my responsibility to force advice on someone who doesn’t want it.

That was such a hard lesson for me!

And even if they say yes, I steer really clear of the S word.

I try to start with questions, rather than starting with advice.

I’ve even learned to avoid the S word for myself.

Recently I’ve caught myself saying “I really should get more sleep.”
In those moments I try to be gentle with myself.
Of course I SHOULD be getting more sleep – who shouldn’t?

But using the S word in this context feels like self-abuse instead of self-care.

I work hard not to beat myself up for for the lack of sleep that I sometimes experience.

I use my favorite mindfulness app, the American Veteran Administration’s Mindfulness Coach (which is amazing and free, and you can download it here) to help me relax before bed.

For Christmas a few years ago I was given an adorable little diffuser/humidifier, which I use each night at bedtime. I set its light to a peaceful blue, and add in a few drops of lavender oil; I read light fiction; I listen to quiet restful music.

These have been so much more helpful than telling myself “you really should get more rest.”

Does the S word creep into your life? If so, where? I’d love to hear about it.
And if you have advice on eliminating the scourge of “shoulds,” I would love to hear about that as well!

Cheers and thanks for reading –

PS What should my next workshop be on?

A little later in the year I will offer a workshop – and I’d love to know what you need from me!

I create workshops based on YOUR life.

I build them so they address your challenges…
I shape them so they help you lean into your strengths…
I offer them so you can shape your life to be exactly what you wish.

So, what’s on your mind? What should this workshop be about?

I would truly value your thoughts. Just hit reply to this email and let me know : )

PLUS… The latest We Turned Out Okay episode is out!

Episode 365, which I almost called “Is this something that I care about, or is this something that someone else thinks I should care about?” because today’s guest shares this in our conversation.

If you want help with handling all the stuff that is flying at you…
If you want to feel better about the choices that you have that maybe you didn’t even realize…
You will love this talk with Shari Medini, one half of the duo at Adore Them Parenting! Shari and her cofounder Karissa Tunis have written a great book, Parenting While Working from Home, and offer their help and support to parents from their website.
They brought me into their virtual summit this winter – you can hear the audio from my presentation at the end of today’s episode in fact, presenting on a subject that is near and dear to my heart!

Watch our conversation by going to
Or, listen in your favorite podcatcher: 

Apple Podcasts…
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