Stop “Should-ing” Yourself!


Do you know what one of the most dangerous words out there is?  Should.  It is an evil little word we use on ourselves and others to apply pressure when our perfectionism starts taking over.

Right now I am in the middle of a summer intensive semester, and I have been should-ing myself to death: I SHOULD be done writing papers by now, I SHOULD be doing more with my friends and family; I SHOULD be helping my classmates more.  No, I shouldn’t.  I would like to, and my perfectionist brain is trying to turn “I would like to” into “I have to”, which gives us “should”.

We should ourselves constantly.  And, the only thing that really comes out of it, is more stress.  Instead of being honest with ourselves about when things need to be done by, how much we really need to do in a given situation, or what the expectations of us are, we take our ideal and try for force that to be the reality.  Consequently, we’re working harder, towards harsher deadlines, and for increasingly more outlandish goals.  And we’re the ones to blame!  Yes, there are increasing external demands being put on all of us, but we’re not helping the situation.

Possibly even worse than should-ing ourselves, is when we start should-ing kids.  Please stop doing that.  One of the worst things we can say to kids is “You should be doing better”.  No, we would like them to be doing better, and probably they would like to be doing better, too.  “Should” leads to “Have to”, which increases perfectionist tendencies, which causes stress.  Kids already have enough stress.  We don’t need to be adding to it.

Should is a word we need to ban.  Be honest with yourself and and others.  Is it a situation of “I’d like to” or “I have to”.  Don’t try to turn the former into the latter.  We already have enough stress in our lives.  Why create more?

Practice Makes Progress: The Failure of Perfect Students


Increasingly, young people are succumbing to perfectionist tendencies – very bright young people are worrying themselves into a frazzle over school work. 

Along with this, I have noticed that the highest rates of test anxiety are among high-achieving students.  These are students who, in day to day situations, can answer any question I throw at them, who will take the initiative to help explain concepts to other students, and who are capable of genuine inquiry and analysis of ideas.  But, when it comes to tests, these same students are bombing them.  Badly!  So what’s getting in their way?  Their fear of failure. 

Within the education system as a whole, so much emphasis has been placed on the importance of the test as the be-all and end-all assessment of students’ learning.   And, that idea of “the big test” determining their grade in a class is driving students to live in fear of, and ultimately do poorly on, tests.  So what can we do?  We need to teach kids that it is okay to fail.

So-called “failure” is only another step on the path to learning.  Instead of looking at a test as the final analysis of kids’ knowledge, why not use it as a way to judge what still needs to be learned?  Weaker areas can be revisited, material can be re-taught, and kids can be given another opportunity to prove what they know. But, the funny thing is, even with knowing they get another chance, kids still fear their tests, and through that fear end up doing worse than they normally would.  Overcoming this fear is an ongoing process, especially if kids come from a traditional schooling environment, and have already developed that fear of tests.

Beyond all of that, consider this – taking tests is a skill, one that needs to be developed over time.  So why are we constantly testing someone on a skill while it is being developed, and then punishing them (with low marks) because they are still working on that skill?  Why not set up situations so that kids can practice how to take a test, without fear of their marks dropping while they learn to do it? 

There is a lot to be said for alternative means of evaluation, and YES!!! use them, embrace them, give kids the chance to show you what they know in the way that is best for them. But, unfortunately, standardized tests are still a reality for the education system, and as long as that is true, students need to learn how to write tests.  But, we can work with kids, giving them to opportunity to learn the skills they need to be successful in those circumstances, without punishing them, and having them live in fear of failing while they are in the learning process. 

Failure isn’t something to be feared, it’s a learning opportunity.  If we can embrace that and make it part of our practices, we can help kids move out of a state of fear, and into one of learning and growth.