Stop using the word “should”

I discovered recently that the word should does not help AT ALL. Not one tiny little bit.

I usually say things to myself like:

I really should phone my mum (of course I should – I haven’t spoken to her for ages!)

I really should go to the gym (again – yes, I definitely should. I haven’t worked out for ages, and I’m feeling flabby!)

I really should be more confident/relaxed/caring (yes, I should – everyone else can manage this so why can’t I?!)

The thing is, I thought these sentences in my head were helping me. But really, they’re just making me feel crappy. I thought they were giving me an incentive to get things done (and therefore making me a better person!), but really, they were just pointing out all the things I haven’t done. Which makes me feel worse… which makes it even harder to get them done. Geez!

So now, whenever I hear myself saying a should sentence, I’m trying to change it to could. Easy, right?!

So not “I should phone my mum”, but “I could phone my mum.”

Yes, it would be a nice thing to do, and she would love to hear from me. But if I have things that I need to get done first, it’s okay to do them. I could also do nothing, or send her a quick text for now. I could write her a card or letter. I could let myself off the hook (no pun intended), and phone her when I have a bit more time.

The result

The result is that I’m moving from constant guilt about all the things I should be doing, to feeling positive, and acknowledging that I am human and I’m allowed to make mistakes.

Swapping the word could into my self-talk means I feel a little more in control of my life, and this makes me feel more positive. (E.g. I could go to the gym. To me this feels freeing, and kind of wonderful – yes, I could go to the gym if I wanted! Maybe I will! I have all kinds of options – and going to the gym is one of them.)

Of course, I know that this little word-switch doesn’t physically transport me to the gym. (But it’s not making me go less, either – I wasn’t going at all when I felt I “should” be going, so I haven’t lost anything; only gained in positivity!)

And now I’m not beating myself up so much, or creating an extra item on a to-do list that probably isn’t going to get done. And that can only be a good thing!

Taking it further

I’ve ALSO started removing the have to’s and need to’s from my life. (I know, wild!)

Because there’s something important to note:

We don’t have to do anything! Hooray! 🙂

Yes, I hear you – “I have to go to work, I have to do my laundry…

But think about if that is really true or not. We don’t have to go to work – we choose to, because we get paid money and that means we can buy the things we want, or do the things we want to do. But no one has a gun to your head telling you to go to work.

We don’t have to do laundry – it’s just preferable to have nicer smelling clothes. (Really, very preferable.)

So I’ve been trying to switch the words have to with want to (and then adding a positive reason for doing so). This small shift in my internal dialogue has made me feel a lot better. E.g.:

I want to do my laundry (because I want to have nice, fresh-smelling clothes to wear).

I want to go to the bank (rather than have to), because I will feel happier when I have sorted out this issue with my account.

An extra bonus

I find I’m also ignoring books, articles, and headlines like:

50 books you should read before you die! 

30 countries you should visit before you’re 30!

10 things you absolutely must do today before it’s too late!

Oh shit. I’m already 30, and I didn’t visit those places… and I’m still in my pyjamas, so I probably won’t get those ten things done today.

Ah, it’s okay! I’ll live without doing any of those things. And I’ll read the books I want to read, and go to the places I want to go to… and if not, I’m happy to deal with the consequences 🙂

Thanks for reading. And challenge yourself not to say should, or have to, or need to in your internal dialogue or conversation with others.

You really should, you know 😉

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