Why and How to Rethink What We “Should” Do

Why and How to Rethink What We “Should” Do

By Beth Roessner

“Should” is a pretty common word in everyone’s vocabulary, and although it seems innocent, “should” is also a very dangerous word. It creates a culture of negativity within us. And now that we’re at the beginning of the year when life-altering goals are popular, do you find yourself saying any of these things? 

“I should do yoga today.”
“I should eat a salad, but I really want a cheeseburger.”
“You should be doing more squats if you want to make progress.”
“I should extend my run tomorrow because I ate like $h!t today.”
“You should go to bed now if you want to be in a good mood tomorrow.”
“I should put pants on before I leave the house.”

“Should” is problematic because when we use it, we detach ourselves from reality. We’re talking about things that we wish were true, but aren’t. It’s a reminder that we’re not doing something that we “should” be doing–running, yoga, dieting, putting on pants. 

“Should” brings about a slippery slope, and is pretty common in today’s diet-heavy culture. It’s a reminder that what we’re doing is not good enough and that we’re not good individuals because we are not doing a particular activity. We often feel discouraged, guilty or awful about ourselves. (I mean, has telling yourself “I should lose weight” ever motivated you to lose weight and made you feel good about yourself? Yeah…me either.)

And in my own personal experience, when I actually do the activity I “should” be doing…I don’t always feel my best doing it. And sometimes I don’t feel better later. It feels forced, unnatural and my mind just won’t shut off the negative chatter.

But, we use “should” in conversations with others, too. When you tell someone what they should be doing, you’re ignoring their decisions and right to be in charge of their bodies. 

When we constantly tell ourselves or others that we should be doing something, we’re reinforcing the negative. Instead of creating solutions, we’re emphasizing the problems. When we’re feeling discouraged and negative, we’re less likely to take action. 

It may take some habit breaking, but there are ways to stop using the word should. It’s about creating a new mindset. 

  • Focus on the benefits. Instead of saying “I should run longer today,” change up your thinking to focus on why you want to do something. “I enjoy longer runs because it allows me to get lost in my thoughts. And it’s a great way of viewing my city. It’s when I feel my very best.” Put emphasis on why you want to do something and the positive results that will come of it.
  • Focus on accepting reality. Meet yourself and acknowledge where you are right now. Don’t dwell on where you want to be, but focus on the present. If you ate a bit too much, now is not the time to exercise harder out of punishment. If you want that cheeseburger, then own that choice and get a cheeseburger. If you are truly tired, then go bed and get some rest.  
  • Take action and replace “should” with “next time.” When you catch yourself saying the word “should,” switch it out with the phrase “next time.” This phrase is more solution-based. “Next time, if I really want the salad, I’ll choose the salad.” “Next time, I’ll practice yoga, but today I’m tired.”
  • Accept people for who there are and where they are. We’re all different, and that is a beautiful thing. As much as it may anger us that our partner, colleague, friend, parent or child may do one thing when we’d like them to do another, we can’t force them to change. Just like we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, we should accept others for theirs. 
  • Don’t dwell on the past and instead focus on the future. Focus on what you want to accomplish and where to go moving forward. If it helps, replace “should” with “could.” When you tell yourself, “I could run longer today,” you’re reminding yourself of your inner power. And odds are, you may take those steps to extend your run because you understand the benefits.
  • If you really don’t want to do it, don’t do it. Simple as that. Don’t force yourself to do anything you don’t want to do. Free yourself from unwanted and unneeded tasks that don’t serve your body. (Unless it involves putting on pants…Those probably need to go on. Or maybe compromise and opt for a skirt instead?)

Next time you catch yourself saying the word “should,” try to flip it around and focus on what you’d like to accomplish and why. Remember, it’s about a shift in mindset. It won’t happen overnight, but with tiny steps, you can eliminate the word. 

Need help with mindset? Ask Beth your questions! 

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