No, it isn’t what you are thinking. In my opinion one of the worst words in the English language is “should”. I am super aware of using it – so much so that it is almost awkward when I go out of my way not to use it.
I detest the word “should” because it puts unrealistic expectations on ourselves or others. For instance, how many times have you caught yourself saying, “I should really go to the gym more often” or “My kids should listen to me more” or “I shouldn’t have eaten that”.
Yes, maybe it would be great if all of these things happened for you. But, why should these things happen? Where is this imaginary and inexhaustible “Book of Shoulds”, as I call it?
Breaking Away from the “S” Word
How do we break away from this? I like to switch things around and instead ask why isn’t what you think “should” be happening, well, happening? Using this logic the questions are “Why am I not going to the gym more often?” or “Why did I eat that bowl of pasta for dinner?” Your answer may surprise you.
Maybe it is because you go to the gym four times a week already and don’t want to go anymore. Or, maybe you ate the bowl of pasta because you wanted to eat the bowl of pasta because you like pasta. Who doesn’t? Why aren’t your kids listening to you? Well, because they are kids and kids don’t always listen (I am not quite sure if that is the appropriate answer but when I figure it out, I will get back to you, LOL).
You get the point. “Shoulds” don’t help you solve the problem, they highlight them. What we really need help with is leaving the “shoulds” behind. Because regardless of if we should or shouldn’t have done something we did. So let’s figure it out and move on.
Become a Problem Solver
Let’s take a scenario that happens all too often. You tell yourself, “I shouldn’t have eaten pasta for dinner?” To become a problem-solver instead of a problem-involver change it around to ask yourself, “Why shouldn’t I have eaten the big bowl of pasta for dinner?”
Your answer may sound something like this, “I want to lose weight and eating a big bowl of pasta for dinner isn’t appropriate for weight loss because I know I don’t feel very satisfied for very long and I tend to overeat it.” OK. That is on the right track.
The next step in your line of questions may sound something like this, “So, why did I eat the pasta for dinner?” And the answer may be, “because I love pasta and I was very hungry; too hungry to think clearly to make a choice consistent with my goals.” Awesome, you are aware that pasta isn’t in line with your personal goals, given how it makes you feel. What can you do differently next time?
Keep in mind that you are not going to be able to change the fact that you love pasta. What you can do instead is make sure you don’t go to dinner that hungry again. To do this, it might help to plan ahead and have a snack so you don’t go to your favorite Italian restaurant overly hungry. If you do this, you can order a meal where pasta is your side dish and not the main event. You can stick with your weight and health goals and still enjoy the pasta.
In my dictionary “should” is a dirty word because it is a burden, it’s a guilt trip, and a scolding. It simply gets in our way of being productive. In other words, it doesn’t encourage change. “Shoulds” don’t propel us to do better they push us down and diminish our self-esteem, when we hope it would do the opposite.
In order to inspire positive change, we need to pay careful attention to the words we use. By substituting “it would be great if” or “it would be better if”, for the word “should” it puts the focus on the desired result instead of placing blame. You should (sorry, I had to go there) try it. You may immediately feel a positive shift in your thinking and as a result your behavior.