The Blog

'Should' Doesn't Feel Good!

My shoulds (and I'll go out on a limb and say your "shoulds" too!) make me feel like I haven't done a good job, whether it's my own self-talk, or whether I'm hearing it from someone else.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

"IT SHOULDN'T BE THIS WAY!" was what my friend Matt exclaimed to the group during our coaching call. It was in reference to a situation with his brother in which he helped his brother start a business, his brother became a multi-millionaire, but then his brother did not share any of the money generated. Understandably, my friend is beyond pissed. And has been, for the past twenty-five years. His anger and resentment have impacted family gatherings, his relationships, and obviously, his relationship with his brother.

There are many different ways my friend could show his upset. Matt is typically very passionate in his expression. If he's happy, you know it. If he's upset, you know it too. Personally? I love it, since I don't like guessing what's going on with someone. But... his passionate self-expression has led to breakdowns in his family gatherings, and he has begun to be excluded from events as a result, because he just can't let it go, and frequently brings up his belief that he has been wronged.

Matt was such a beautiful example of his "should" dictating his responses that I told him I was going to write about him! Matt has some deeply held beliefs (what I'll call "shoulds") about how people "should" treat each other, and his brother's behavior 25 years ago violated one of those beliefs. And Matt does NOT feel good about this one! His "should" was very obvious, and completely dis-empowering.

Usually our "shoulds" are a lot less obvious, but just as dis-empowering. Mine typically sound like this:

I should exercise every day.
I should get to bed earlier.
I should eat better (or less, depending on the day).
I should meditate regularly.
I should be more patient with my kids.

Noticing a theme? My shoulds (and I'll go out on a limb and say your "shoulds" too!) make me feel like I haven't done a good job, whether it's my own self-talk, or whether I'm hearing it from someone else.

Have you noticed that your world is full of opportunities to feel "less than" about yourself? Your Facebook feed doesn't typically have your friends' posts acknowledging their imperfections, since we usually put our "best food forward" when posting publicly, and it can have the effect of making us feel like we aren't doing what we "should" in order to have that perfect life.

So I recently banished the word "should" from my vocabulary, since I noticed it felt so dis-empowering!

But... nature abhors a vacuum, so if you take "should" out what goes in its place?

Try this:
I feel better when I exercise every day.
I have better energy when I get to bed by 10 pm.
My digestion is improved when I avoid sweets.
I have fewer breakdowns with my kids when I take a deep breath before speaking.

NONE of these statements infer that I'm doing something wrong. They simply point out what works better for me, and provide an opening for me to then generate a structure to fulfill on this. Since I feel better when I exercise every day, what are the ways I can ensure I do it? If my energy is better when I go to sleep by 10 pm, what structures do I need to put into place to make sure I'm actually IN BED at 10?

SO, let's take one of your "should" statements...
Does it have something to do with dating? Like: "I should date better partners, or should STOP dating jerks (or alcoholics, or emotionally unavailable men, or married men, or...)?"
Or does it have to do with money? Do you think: "I should save more money?"
You can fill in yours here: ________________________________________

Now take that, and convert it to a positive statement that makes you feel good and creates some space for you to make it real.

If it's about money: My life works when I save "X" percent of my salary every week.
Notice that your replacement statement often has something specific in it! "More money" really doesn't allow you to determine whether you've succeeded in your goal! But "x" percent is something you can monitor, touch and reference.

So let's go back to my friend Matt. His "should" is a tough one, right? But what if it's not that tough? What if his "should" could be converted to something that gives him freedom, and allows him to forgive his brother?

To me, Matt's "my brother should have given me money when he became a multi-millionaire 'should'" could actually sound like this: I feel better when I forgive, and my life works when there's harmony my family.

Betrayals, disappointments, failures and terrible things DO happen in life to each of us. But that they happen is not what matters. What really matters is how we choose to interpret them, and what "shoulds" we put around those bad things.

Partner cheated on you and you can't get past it? Your "should" says that people shouldn't cheat. But people don't often act consistent with our "shoulds!"

I invite you to take your thorniest "should" and see if you can convert it to a statement that gives you some freedom to plan, act or move forward. Let your "shoulds" go... they don't feel good!

Struggling with this one? Contact me directly at for coaching.

Before You Go

Popular in the Community