Replacing Should with Could


By MatrixxPR (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By MatrixxPR (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Because of my work and travel schedule, I was feeling especially behind on all of the things that I needed to get done before Christmas this year. I decided that I was going to do an experiment in how I approached my task list so that I could bring more peace and joy into the season.

The experiment that I designed was simple. Whenever I caught myself saying, I “should” do that, I replaced the “should” statement with the question, “What could I do?”

One tradition that I have had for many years is making homemade cashew caramel clusters and sharing them with family and friends. When I caught myself in the “should” thought pattern about making them, I felt burdened and overwhelmed. When I asked myself what could I do, it made me remember why I make the candy and helped me identify different ways of sharing the treat that energized me.

As a child, some of my fond memories of the Christmas season are centered around Cashew Starkles. That was the name of the incredibly delicious cashew caramel clusters that could only be purchased once a year through my dad’s steelworker’s union. My sisters and I were each given an equal allotment of the candy and we judiciously rationed how much we consumed at any one time to stretch the enjoyment out over the entire month of December.

After the Cashew Starkles were no longer available and we could not find any replacement to buy, my dad recreated them. As my sisters and I dispersed across the country, we took the recipe and started making them part of our individual family traditions. When I explored why this tradition is meaningful to me, I realized that making the Cashew Starkles is partially a tribute to my dad. As I was making them this year, I thought of him often because I had reconnected to why I made them through my shift in thinking. This made making the chocolates enjoyable instead of tedious.

I also wanted to share my chocolates with my new colleagues and knew that it would be impractical to individually give away chocolates because there are too many people. Asking myself, what could I do opened up my thinking. My solution was to distribute tins of the chocolates to groups which worked beautifully and allowed me to share more broadly than I have previously, which was fun.

The real payback came as I shared them with people who I have given them to previously. As I delivered the candy to friends that look forward to their arrival each year, I loved seeing their pure joy and excitement that mirrored how I felt as I child when I got my Cashew Starkles.

Shifting from “should” to “what could I do” helped me simplify all parts of this holiday season, including my gift giving, decorating, and social obligations. I have felt peace and joy as the holiday approaches.

It is a principle that is directly applicable to all parts of our lives.

I invite you to try the same simple experiment. Next time you find yourself saying “should” to yourself or others, change the statement to the question “What could I/we/you do?” and see how it shifts your thinking and energy.

Stopping the Negative Downward Spiral

CC BY 2.0 - Spiral Stairway by aotaro on Flickr
CC BY 2.0 – Spiral Stairway by aotaro on Flickr

As we are opening up different ways of communicating and working together across campus, it is exposing gaps in expectations, lots of fears, and many stories. Sometimes very talented and committed people escalate their frustration, pick lines in battles between groups, and reinforce negative perceptions about individuals, creating a negative downward spiral. For many reasons, this is a common and understandable pattern that I’ve observed on several occasions.

I am sure everyone one of us can relate to being indignant over the actions of others. I certainly can. I have felt disrespected. I have felt that there is no way to satisfy someone’s expectation. I have felt criticized and unappreciated. I have felt fearful that I am not going to be able to get my work done successfully. These situations make us feel uncomfortable and they are not easy to work through.

The good news is that we are talking about our concerns and frustrations openly and with each other. That is a first step. Now we have the opportunity to work together to change these negative patterns..

We each have the ability to stop the spiral.

As we start talking directly to each other about our concerns in an open way, we are not going to do it perfectly or, even very well. When you receive negative feedback, you may want to withdraw and communicate less. This is the time to communicate more, not less. Try to have empathy and patience with yourself and each other. We are all practicing a new way of communicating and working together. The information that we get, even if it is not delivered perfectly is so valuable. Feedback can help us know where we have not been clear enough and what isn’t working.

We also need to try and assume good intentions from others. This is foundational because it helps regulate our response and keeps us open to listening. I have found it important to also check my own intentions to see what I really want. When my intentions are based in fear and are not positive and supportive, it is difficult to imagine that others are acting more altruistically than I am.

Most importantly, we need to acknowledge our part in creating the negative downward spiral and environment. I had a situation at work where I was constantly frustrated with a smart and negative colleague who was very critical of me and my team. I avoided him and minimized his feedback. This had been going on for years.  At the urging of my coach, I deliberately practiced withholding personal judgment, spent time talking with him personally, and looked for opportunities to acknowledge his contributions publicly. He became a friend and advocate. That was such a powerful lesson for me because I couldn’t see my own part in creating the negative pattern. I thought it was all his fault.

As I have shared these principles with several individuals, I have been appreciative about how open they were to change and willing to partner to create a more positive, effective, and collaborative team environment across all of the groups at Temple.

My invitation to you this week is to commit to doing your personal part to stop any negative downward spirals in your world.

Self-Mastery is a Journey

CC-BY-2.0 image copyrights Moyan Brenn –

Self-mastery is a journey, not a destination and although I am passionate about sharing what I have learned, I am still practicing. I attended the Pennsylvania Area Banner Users Group (PABUG) conference last week and presented a session describing the Fear to Freedom coaching program that I co-developed with Kim Knapp at the University of Michigan Medical School. I enjoyed sharing my experience and reflected again how transformational the coaching has been for me personally.

fearfreedommodelThe Fear to Freedom model is quite simple and powerful. The model is that when you are focused on yourself and worried about being good enough, you are operating in fear. However, when you are focused on others and the positive difference you can make, you can operate in freedom, which is fun and creative.

In order to shift from fear toward freedom, you can write a positive intention. A positive intention is written in past tense and describes the most positive outcome you can imagine. A big clue that you are residing in fear, is when your intention requires someone else to change. Because an intention is always a draft, you can rewrite your intention until you have shifted from wanting to look good to wanting others to feel good. Writing intentions helps me to self-manage my reactions and gives me a concrete way to understand and purify my motives so I can shift toward freedom.

Immediately following my presentation, I had a chance to practice and coach myself using the Fear to Freedom model and writing a positive intention.

I still get regular coaching from Kim and we have been thinking about how we could bring the coaching program to Temple University. I had some pretty concrete ideas about how I wanted to do this and when I presented it to Kim, she did not like my plan at all. We ended up having a heated conversation and agreed to a plan that I was not happy with, especially as I reflected about it over the long holiday weekend.

I had never had that strong of a disagreement with Kim and I was upset. I spent a lot of time in self-reflection and wrote an intention that clarified what I wanted and helped me manage myself out of fear. This week, Kim and I talked again about what had happened and renegotiated our approach. She expressed how she was grateful that we had the conflict because it meant we could create something together and that conflict is at the heart of creativity. I certainly felt better after our conversation.

Be kind to yourself as you travel down your own path toward self-mastery, knowing that there will be both conflict and joy in the journey.