Why You Should Stop Using the Word “Should”

by LA Bourgeois
published in Writing

Each January, I watch the world celebrate “Should.”

We begin the month obsessed with our “shoulds.” I should lose weight. I should write my book. I should clean my house more.

Maybe that last one is just me? It can’t be!

Encouraged by the world, we take all of our “shoulds” and turn them into resolutions. I will lose weight. I will write my book. I will clean my house more.

After throwing ourselves at them for a few days, those resolutions dissipate back into their original form, but with an added bonus of guilt from the unrealistic expectations we piled on ourselves!

And the guilt makes the “should” show up even more often.

“Should” Pressures Us

When we say “I should,” we state what we insist we must do. Actions we believe that someone else or our community or the world demands of us. Expectations that have not been met. Each time you say “I should,” an unfulfilled assumption unfurls from your tongue, and guilt breaks through the dam surrounding your soul, flooding it with disgust.

Guilt around these “I shoulds” helps no one. Guilt fills up your brain with static, refusing to allow anything else entry. 

Where is the room for your writing? Gone because you’re feeling guilty about not writing! 

Where is the room to make a beautiful home? Gone because you’re feeling guilty that you haven’t cleaned the house! 

Where is the space for your family? Gone because you’re feeling guilty that you didn’t take the time to play with your kids!

It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s one inflicted on us by ourselves.

Luckily, one radical practice frees you from this cycle.

Stop using the word “should.”

That’s it. Excise “should” from your vocabulary. Does it sound easy? Because it is not. That “should” is trained into us by our family, our schools, our community, our society. Shaking it loose takes time and effort. This is why it’s a practice—not a quick fix!  

The first step? Stopping your mouth from forming the word.

And the real trick to stop the cycle and avoid the guilt trip from yourself?

Define the expectation. 

When you stop your “should,” replace that word with another one. What’s the first word that comes to mind to replace it? Why that word? What does that word tell you about this expectation you hold?

Inquire why you must do this thing that you “should” do. 

What goal is achieved by doing it? Can the goal be met by taking different actions?

The rote “I should ” now becomes an “I can.” Or maybe, the “I should” becomes an “I don’t need to” or an  “I want to.”

And that’s ok.

This transformation of the “should” redirects your energy from wallowing in guilt into practical action. It encourages you to work on your real goals infused with your meaning rather than the goals that you imagine everyone expects.

And that is what I am asking you to do by releasing “should” from your vocabulary. 

Let’s give it a try.

One of my not-so-favorites is “I should work on my novel.”

First, I eliminate the word and substitute it with another. My first thought is to use “will” in its place. Immediately, “will” sends up a flare of alarm. That word sets up a new way to add pressure. Bye-bye, “will!”

However, “I can work on my novel” tells me that I think working on my novel is possible.

Now I ask why.

Why can I work on my novel?

Because I can physically work on my novel. I can sit down at the computer and type words into the document and write my novel. It’s a possibility.

Why am I not working on the novel?

Because I work hard all day and I’m tired at night. And on the weekend, I have to do my chores and recover from the week. And I’m at a place in the novel that is hard to write.

Now I have some good information! Instead of just feeling guilty, I can start to delve into the reasons behind my excuses. And I can find solutions to the problems.

  • Maybe I can ask my wife to help with the chores and free up a little time for me to write on the weekend.
  • Maybe I can rise early in the morning to write before work since I’m tired at night.
  • Maybe I can let myself off the writing hook for a couple of weeks until this super-stressful deadline at work has passed.
  • Maybe I can begin writing that difficult section by committing to write just one sentence a day. Or every day-ish.

Options exist. A potential solution reveals itself.

And the “should” no longer controls my thoughts.

The practice of stopping your “should” cycle is one that you will find needs constant attention, especially for the first few weeks. Once you start noticing your “shoulds,” they will surprise you with their frequency. Over time, their presence will slow to a trickle, but never quite disappear. 

Perfection in this practice may not be possible (I certainly haven’t found it yet!), but committing to the practice of inquiring into your “shoulds” can empower you to make progress toward your dreams.

“Should” happens. Inquiring into each “should” reveals the reasoning behind the expectation. Facing the actualities of each “should” reveals a list of barriers that you can overcome to achieve your real goals. Delving into the options each “should” reveals empowers you to take action.

One final thing—sometimes what the “should” reveals is that you don’t really want to pursue that goal. It’s just a goal that other people expect you to achieve which doesn’t align with your heart. 

Or it’s a thing or action that someone has told you that you need to get to your goal but the action or thing doesn’t ring true for your journey. If the answer you discover in your inquiry is “That feels wrong to me,” respect the voice of your soul and find another way.

So, for this new year, resolve only to inquire into your “shoulds.” Begin where you are. Define the expectation. Ask “why.” Try not to judge yourself for falling into the “should” trap of expectations.

We all do it.

And the lessons we learn from those “shoulds” empower us to make real change and achieve the goals of our hearts.

***This piece applies Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching Tools™Tell us in the comments: What are you going to use instead of that word?

LA (as in tra-la-la) Bourgeois empowers you to embrace JOY as you manifest your creative goals through her Creativity and Business Coaching. Battle resistance, procrastination, and overwhelm with her at your side, gently encouraging with humor and heart. Discover more at her website, labourgeois.biz. You can follow LA on Facebook or Instagram.

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