This was an anecdote or bit of advice that I heard sometime. It made some sense back then however I am still working on really implementing it. Recently I talked about my struggling to accept the fact that, while maybe I should have tried to sell some of the clothing that I donated, donating was actually the better choice.
Should – used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency (Merriam-Webster)
Should is loaded with judgement. Often it is external judgement. Other times it is external judgement that you are putting on yourself. You should do something because it’s expected, proper, the right thing. Who says so? Often it’s some vague other, “THEY,” society, social media, strangers. Other times it’s your closer friends, family, and trusted ones.
Note, even if the “THEY” telling you that you should do something is a trusted or loved one they are not you. Their experiences, expectations and values are not going to be identical to your own and should not claim superiority over yours.
Even if you agree with the statement and whatever you should be doing is part of your system of values and you really believe that it is important to do, using the word “should” brings down the sentiment. Should imbues the action or the preparation with a sense of obligation and judgement that often lead to resentment.
Rephrase your Shoulds
Here are some simple questions with entirely different tones.
- What should I make for dinner?
- What do I want to make for dinner? Or, what sounds good for dinner? Even, what am I craving for dinner?
The first question has a sense of obligation and expectation. What do “THEY” think I should make for dinner? The well balanced, complicated, time consuming meal? The alternate forms of the same question have a greater sense of lightness and joy, opportunity and excitement.
Guilt & Obligation
Sometimes I find myself guilty of should-ing about things I know I am going to do and but might not be super excited about. The should-ing makes something I’m not thrilled about feel even worse. For example, when thinking about my weekend plans.
I should do laundry and go to the grocery store and pick out a present for my cousin’s birthday.
Everything feels like a chore. Granted laundry and grocery shopping are indeed chores however the done doesn’t make them any more enjoyable.
I need to do laundry and grocery shopping and pick out a present for my cousin’s birthday.
This is simply a statement of fact. It’s not so heavy with the emotional blackmail and expectation. I need to do this; therefore I will do this. The second also had a sense of urgency and priority. I need to do this.
Disclaimer: I’m not a parent but I have spent a surprising amount of time reading parenting blogs and have spent a significant time around parents of young children. How many times does a parenting blog title have the word should or shouldn’t?
“10 things you should buy for your baby”
“15 things you should never feed your kid”
“Books every expecting mother should read”
It’s all over the place. This guilt and this pressure. Should is most often used in relation to things you don’t want to do. Or it comes directly from someone else in relation to something that you aren’t doing, or aren’t doing correctly, at least from their perspective.
Should-ing when it comes to parenting is so horrible. I’ve seen it many times from the outside. Parents want the best for their children, so they are especially susceptible to should. They don’t want to ruin their kids, and everyone has opinions about parenting. However, many of those opinions are contradictory, time consuming, and expensive.
Above all you want your kids to be healthy- physically, mentally, and emotionally. Even those goals can be reached in a variety of different ways. Reflect on the values that you have and that you want to impart to your child, make decisions with your partner (if you have one) and accept that there will likely be need for adjustments along the way. Each of us is human and therefore each opinion, and more importantly, each child is different. What worked for one family may not work for yours.
If you think the advice is sound try and turn it into a “non should-y” statement. For example, I shouldn’t let my kid watch too much TV. Instead you can try the more positive statement: I will encourage my child in creative TV free time for the first two hours when they get home from school. Or, you can even go with the simpler transformation of: I don’t want my kid to watch too much TV.
By changing it from “I shouldn’t” to “I don’t want” you take ownership. You have personal investment. It’s not about what “THEY” think, it’s not about what’s proper. It is taken more seriously and with a lighter heart when the “should” goes away.
But that’s enough parenting talk for now, I just wanted to address the topic for people I know who regularly talk about the things they should do with, or for, their children.
Change the Tone – Motivate Yourself
For a more universal example think about your teeth.
How many times has your dentist told you that you should floss twice a day?
How different does it feel when you tell yourself you need to floss twice a day? Or that you want to? For me it feels more personal, more urgent, more important. I might actually floss tonight.
Why are You Should-ing?
Try and keep tabs just for one day of the times you say “should” both out loud and in your thoughts. If possible in that moment, ask yourself why you are using should.
For example, if you are telling yourself that you should eat a healthy dinner tonight consider the following:
Is it something you want to do? If so say, “I want to make a healthy dinner tonight.”
If it’s not something you want to do ask yourself why you believe you are obligated to do it.
For example, if it’s your new year’s resolution to eat healthier. Then say, “I’m committed to making a healthy dinner tonight.”
Do you have health concerns that make this vital to your overall wellbeing? Then tell yourself, “I need to eat a healthy dinner tonight.”
Focus on Your Why
Consider your values, does making a healthy dinner align with any of them? Can you use that motivation to replace the vague social pressure of should?
For example, it’s more frugal to make a healthy dinner at home than to eat a healthy dinner out, plus you won’t be as tempted by less healthy options while you’re out. Maybe that’s your motivation for tonight.
Try going through some of these different statements about making a healthy dinner and ask yourself how you feel about them.
- I want to make a healthy dinner tonight.
- I need to make a healthy dinner tonight.
- I look forward to making a healthy dinner tonight.
- I’m committed to making a healthy dinner tonight.
- I value making a healthy dinner tonight.
- I will make a healthy dinner tonight.
For me the version with “want” in it feels exciting and empowering. The version with “need” feels vital with a sense of urgency and commitment. The committed version also feels resolute and strong. Even simply saying, “I value making a healthy dinner tonight” feels more personal and real in a way that “should” doesn’t.
How to Stop Should-ing
Should-ing isn’t a habit that you can or will get control of overnight. You might read this and think this sounds great and go on to should another 5 times today and only one of them will you even notice and think about.
Recognize your Should-ing
The first place to start is awareness. Just recognize that you are should-ing. It’s harder than it seems at first. But the activity below can help.
Anticipate Your Shoulds and Change Them
Another track that I have found helpful in the start is to anticipate the shoulds. At the beginning is is especially difficult to catch yourself in the moment. This activity both brings awareness to your shoulds, and helps you practice re-framing in a calmer more conscious place. Ask yourself what are three to five things I should do today or this week? Then take those items and change the statements to be non-should-y. This way when you catch yourself should-ing about them you already have a replacement thought ready and you are more likely to catch yourself should-ing to begin with.
What are the first things that jump to your mind? For me right now it’s the following:
- I should shower in the morning (I hate showing in the winter because it’s so cold. Cold and wet is not a fun way to start the morning. but going to sleep with wet hair is even worse for me.).
I’m going to shower in the morning, it’s a fact. I’m not going to go to work dirty. Who needs the extra resentment of telling yourself that you are obligated?
- I should do laundry this weekend.
I need to do laundry this weekend. It will happen, it always does, or if it doesn’t I make do. I’m still proper enough for my purposes.
- I should wash the car.
I don’t want to wash the car. I’m deciding right now that I’m not going to do it. The lines at the car wash frustrate me. I’m not going to let myself feel bad about it. Some other time when I value it more I will do it.
I feel like I’m already set up for less of a struggle when it comes to showering and laundry because I know they will happen. I’m not arguing with myself and debating it. There is no decision to be made. They will happen. As far as the car wash is concerned, I now feel a sense of release. I don’t have to fit this in my busy weekend schedule, no guilt.
Stop Should-ing in the Moment
Once you have spent some time recognizing your shoulds and practiced re-framing your thoughts you will be able to make more changes in the moment. I still catch myself frequently should-ing. However, I’m getting better at it. You will get better with practice.
Try simple swaps like changing should to need, want, will, value etc.
Or try consciously focusing of the vales and goals that are related to the thing you are should-ing about
Lastly, free yourself from the things you just don’t want to do, don’t value, and have no other reason for than you “should”.
Stop Should-ing on Others
This one is even harder for some reason. At least it is for me. I’ve gotten better about my internal thoughts and catching myself and stopping myself. However, so much of our conversation pattern is focused on telling people what to do. It’s often hidden as part of the job, or teaching children, or offering advice. And “should” is such a good and easy word for telling people what to do. In weird contradiction it both softens discourse while simultaneously burdening it with the weight of expectation and judgement.
“Honey, you should do the laundry this afternoon.” vs. “Honey, I want you to do the laundry this afternoon.”
The should-y version almost feels more friendly. However, this is also just a symptom of our society being less direct and honest. I am considered blunt and not in the habit of sugar coating things. And still this seems bossy and assertive (maybe that’s just another facet of the way that women are socialized, but I’m not going to dive into that beast).
Maybe, “Honey, can you do the laundry this afternoon?” is better. There is no should. However, it is a question not a statement.
Like I said this is harder. I don’t have a clear answer on this yet. I know that it feels bad with others should on me and I don’t want to make others feel that way too. My solution for now is to increase my awareness and catch myself and change my statements when I can with what feels comfortable and appropriate.
What struggles have you had with shoulds in your life?