Blast from the Past: The Power of the Should

Blast from the Past: The Power of the Should

This week, while I am still in recovery mode I thought I would share some oldies but goodies from the the archives.  This was originally posted in March, 2010.

Should.  It is such a powerful word.  The statement ‘don’t should all over yourself’ is one that is pervasive in the self-help/therapy community. Yet these shoulds come out all the time.  I should clean the house, I should be playing with my daughter, I shouldn’t watch TV, I shouldn’t eat this pizza, I should be a better listener, I should be more social, I should be less social, I should work out more and on and on and on.  Ad infinitum, these shoulds invade our psyche.

The problem with shoulds,  is they disguise themselves as helpful, when in reality they are merely forcing us to do something outside of ourselves. They are forcing us to be externally controlled.  Usually the voice of the should is from someone we know from our past, a parent, a teacher a personal trainer, or a therapist. It is rare that the voice of a should is our own. Also, these shoulds tend to snowball.  From one should, “I should workout”, comes a giant slalom of hammering that ends up with me being the world’s unhealthiest women, who is homebound and miserable.

So the secret is to break down the should.  First step is to start bringing awareness to how much you say the word should.  For me, it tends to break into my psyche more when I am feeling tired, insecure, and disconnected from myself.  In short, the shoulds come out to play when I am running on auto-pilot.  When I catch myself acting out a should, I notice I am half-hearted, not as engaged in the activity because I am doing it out of an external control. When I engage in a should activity, I usually end up feeling resentful and bitter.  So if we can catch ourselves in a should before it starts snowballing we can start to develop other ideas for how to handle the should.

For example, you are busy with a deadline at work and you realize it is your night to make dinner.  You tell yourself you SHOULD go home and make a healthy dinner but really you want to pick up pizza and call it a night.  Maybe it would be the 3rd night in a row that your family has eaten take out so they really SHOULD have a healthy meal, after all your mom cooked you a healthy meal every night of the week, that’s what you get for working from home, you are such a bad mom and now we are off to the races, hammer, hammer, hammer.  All from one little should, one little meal that you are too tired to cook and suddenly you are the worlds worst human being.  First off be aware you are shoulding–you know what you SHOULD do but what do you want to do,  you want to order pizza, but your kids deserve a healthy meal.  So you start thinking of compromises; you can get a pizza and make a healthy vegetable to go with it, you can pick up take out that is healthier than pizza, you can leave work early and cook a good dinner because in reality it would be nice to cook a meal for a change and you have a new recipe, you can just order the pizza and recognize that tomorrow is another day and maybe your kids didn’t get the healthiest meal today but tomorrow you will pack them a healthy lunch.

In my mind, there are three negatives to SHOULDs:

1. They put us in black and white thinking and remove any alternatives.

2. They force us to be controlled by something outside of ourselves.

3. They snowball and can become evil tools for us to hammer ourselves.


So, the next time you catch yourself ‘shoulding’:

1. Remind yourself that it is coming from something external.

2. Give yourself some options around the should.

3. Ground yourself and decide which option makes the most sense for your current circumstances.

4. Let it go. (I admit this one is the hardest part.) But the more you practice it the happier you will be.

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