Cultivate the Why by Molly Totoro

I am a personality test junkie. I love learning a bit more about myself in the hopes of discovering why I operate the way I do. Most recently I took a test sponsored by Personality Factors. The test confirmed that I am a serious planner. That is, I scored near zero percent for “gregariousness” and near 100% for organization.

But the test also revealed an area of surprise. I scored near 100% for dutifulness.

Now responsibility and independence are two of my core values. I strive to be a woman of my word. I think for myself and refuse to ask someone else to do a job I can handle. My parents joked that “me do” were my first words.

I consider these traits positive attributes – they show strength of character.

Dutifulness, on the other hand, appears weak. It is an act of surrender rather than autonomy. It is allowing others to dictate my life rather than taking control myself. And we all know when a toddler does his “duty” it is a stinky, messy business.

Shortly after taking this test I went for my daily walk with the basset. Since he sniffs every tree and blade of grass, our leisurely walks give me time to ponder. As I mulled over the daily calendar, I discovered a pattern of thought. Every potential activity was prefaced with the phrase “I should…”

  • I’d like to go the library and write, but I should stay home and do laundry.
  • I’d like to finish reading our book club selection, but I should grade papers.
  • I’d like to try my hand at painting but I should do a “real” artist date and get out of the house.

When I realized I was “should-ing” how to do take a personal Artist Date, I knew I was in trouble. The adage, “Don’t should on yourself” seems rather appropriate for someone who is so immersed in duty.

I decided to embark on a little experiment: brainstorm the perfect ordinary day.

While I am fond of carpe diem, I also know chores need to be done. My goal was to see if I could replace duty with a bit of fun.

I began with my morning routine. I quickly outlined the daily tasks. But without premeditative thought, I also included a why statement to each activity.

  • I wake up before 6:00am because I don’t want to be rushed. I like taking my time and slowly greeting the day.
  • The first cup of coffee makes the early alarm bearable. While I only drink coffee in the morning, that first cup is pure delight.
  • Reading email and checking social media is a fun way for this shy reserved introvert to connect with others.
  • I look forward to morning pages and discovering the thoughts rattling inside my brain. Oftentimes I surprise myself.

I continued this exercise for various activities throughout the day. In the end, I discovered the secret to a joyful schedule: cultivate the why and weed out the should.

Rather than saying I should do laundry or I should go the store, I rephrase that thought. I say I want to do laundry so I have clean clothes to wear. Or… I want to go grocery shopping so I can have healthy food in the house.

Of course, there may be times when should is unavoidable. For example, I should grade final papers because the academic year is coming to a close. But I find if I think about the task rather than rely on auto-pilot, there is a more valid reason than duty. I like teaching and a part of teaching is grading papers. In essence, I choose to grade papers because I want to teach.

Old habits die hard. Retraining the brain after fifty years of “should” is not going to happen overnight. But I continue to tend the garden. I pluck the weeds on a regular basis – giving myself a bit of grace when they grow out of control. And I cultivate the why by giving myself permission to nurture the desires of my heart.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

2 Replies to “Cultivate the Why by Molly Totoro”

  1. I love this way of reframing the “shoulds” of life to make them more enjoyable–and removing them when they’re not serving a purpose. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I’m so glad you found this weeding activity useful, Helena! I must confess, it is a bit more work than it sounds, but the results are well-worth the effort 🙂

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