There is an old joke that goes something like: how long does it take your mother to change a light bulb? The punchline: "Never mind dear, just go out and have a good time. I'll just stay here in the dark." Anyone with a mother on this planet can relate: mothers are really good at using guilt to motivate us.
There is a related lesson about what motivates us to take action in our lives that is tied to two words: "should" and "ought to." If you find yourself using these words often to explain why you take certain actions, you might not realize how you're letting guilt or outside pressures steer your life.
I get it. We all face the pressures of showing up the right way and making sure people see us in the right light. We want others to believe that we are good people doing the right thing.
But it's important to not overlook the positive motivational power of making your decisions based on the fact that you "want to" do something- as opposed to that you "should" or "ought to" do something.
I'm not advocating some hedonistic behavior set where all that matters is you and nothing else. But there is an opportunity for you to explore your motivations for making certain decisions or taking actions in a personal or professional context. Chances are, the more you think you "should" or "ought to" be doing something, you're worried about someone else rather than yourself.
This is particularly true in relationships. I have a friend who runs a successful home healthcare organization. And when she feels like people are trying to motivate her to do something through a guilt trip, telling her she "should" do something, she has a great comeback line. She'll say: "Stop 'shoulding' all over me."
I recall another time when I was working with a CEO of a company that was really struggling financially. They were not that far away from being forced to declare bankruptcy and close their doors. But the CEO found himself thinking that he "should" and "ought to" hand out lucrative raises to the key team members who continued to stay with the company out of loyalty. And while I am all for handing out raises, I explained to him they might not make sense if they cost someone their job when the company goes out of business. Worse, this CEO was also putting his own livelihood, and his home, which was used as collateral to start the business, at risk- all because he thought he "should" or "ought to" give out raises.
Ultimately, after some coaching, he agreed to put in an incentive program where his people could earn more only if they beat their performance targets. In that way, they could earn their own raises without putting the company at risk.
Now I realize that are times when we might have to listen to the "should" and the "ought to" messages we're hearing. If you don't feel like going to the gym, for instance, maybe it's not really guilt that's driving you to say no. But then it's time to think about how you "want" to have better health, more energy, and to live longer.
The point is to at least explore what's driving your motivation and to help make sure you're doing something for the right reasons-and not just out of guilt or to try and please someone else. When you can do that consistently, it becomes an opportunity to live a happier and more balanced life where you get to pursue more of the things you enjoy doing.