I really should.




How often do we tell ourselves what we should – or shouldn’t – be doing?


Sometimes, with good cause: to keep ourselves safe, to evade possible risks, to avoid causing ourselves harm, to do the right thing. I should arrange that check-up. I should keep my distance. I should pay that bill.


But all too often, that little word is used to self-sabotage.


In resilience sessions, and coaching, we talk about the problems with that little word. And for me, it is this: should – or shouldn’t – is imbued with expectation and judgement. We set ourselves up with the use of ‘should’ – and when we fall below these expectations – expectations we possibly may not even really desire or aspire to – we find ourselves wracked with guilt and disappointment. We use ‘should’ to set standards for ourselves, and when we don’t achieve them, we feel that we have failed. It can be utterly miserable.


And why don’t we achieve them then, these things that we tell ourselves that we ‘should’?


Because frequently the things that we feel we ‘should’ be doing are not necessarily the stuff that we ‘want’ to be doing.


A really simple and everyday example. The other lunchtime, I told myself I ‘should’ go for a walk. It was a sunny day, perfect for stepping out for some fresh air. I had a break between meetings, a great opportunity for a post-prandial stroll.


But, I didn’t want to. Instead, I wanted to sit on the sofa and watch the latest episode of the box set I’ve been engrossed in. Even though I ‘should’ really be having a walk….


So I did what I wanted instead of what I felt I should. Albeit with a flicker of guilt.


And that’s the thing with should: how often do we use it to stop us from doing all that we really want to do? Not just watching TV, but following our ambitions?


How much are we using ‘should’ as a barrier to hold us back from following our dreams?


Or doing the stuff that makes us feel good? Have you ever found yourself thinking that you’d like to take a break, read a book, call a friend, but you really shouldn’t because there are too many chores stretching away in front of you?


Are we using ‘should’ to stop us from feeling good?


Or, perhaps worst of all, have we ever told ourselves that we ‘shouldn’t feel like this’ when we’re sad, or angry, or scared? And in doing so, not only are we still feeling sad, angry, or scared, we’re also injecting a great dollop of guilt into our feeling mix.


The fact is, whatever we feel is ok: there is no ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t about it.


So the key really is looking out for should, noticing when we’re telling ourselves what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Recognising it. And then challenging it.


  • Is this should helpful or keeping me safe?


  • If not, what is it that I really want instead?


  • Is this should keeping me from the things that I want?


  • What would I do if I wasn’t telling myself what I should be doing?


And then, when we follow the path of doing the things we really want to do – whether sitting down to watch a box set or pursuing a long-held goal – it’s about being kind to ourselves. Knowing this is ok. The same as it’s ok whatever we’re feeling at, any time.


Because ‘should’ can really limit us if we let it.

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