Sometimes one little word can carry a whole lot of baggage. Many of us have no idea how much we should all over ourselves. I should start going to the gym. I should finish that article. I should eat better. It all starts innocently enough. We often should ourselves about things that may very well make our life a easier. We may start should-ing as a tool to combat procrastination, or to self-motivate for some better life habits. I encourage you to be careful with the use of ‘should.’
All too quickly our self should-ing becomes abusive. I should lose weight. I shouldn’t have eaten that cookie. I should never let that happen again. I should never speak up again in a meeting. I should stop eating sugar. I should learn to voice my opinion more. I should never voice my opinion in public… Whether or not your should-ing started out with good intentions, the word should carries a distinct baggage of criticism and self-shaming.
One definition of should: verb, used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.
Working with this definition of should, when we should ourselves we are often engaging in a subtle form of self-shaming for not living up to some ideal, expectation, obligation, or duty. These ideals/expectations may be our own creation, that of our peers, parents, or society.
A few questions to help understand your shoulding behavior:
- Does your shoulding relate to academic performance, beauty, health, career, marriage, or another standard that we judge our worth from?
- If so, why do you feel the need to should? Is the should really coming from your own desires or is an outside expectation being placed upon you?
- How does it make you feel to should on yourself?
- Does it help motivate you, or does it further spawn negative feelings?
I often find people should-ing on themselves when they are over extended and stressed. The should-ing goes hand in hand with unrealistic to-do lists or other unrealistic goals and expectations. Should-ing yourself is often a self-shaming activity that only increases your stress level, reinforces self-esteem issues, and continues to make you feel bad about things that feel out of reach.
The first step to correcting your inner dialogue is to recognize how often this should-ing behavior occurs. Next try to recognize where it is coming from. Finally, brainstorm different ways to talk to yourself to motivate or encourage yourself to make whatever life changes you are hoping for. Eating better and exercising are great goals. There is a very different feeling to positive motivation versus self-shaming with our inner dialogues. Stress often starts to dissipate when you can find positive and constructive ways to speak to yourself about goals and achievements versus the trap of should-ing.
Try to replace should with positive words or other motivating phrases. Cultivating a positive inner monologue can be one of the best gifts to yourself. It can also help mitigate daily stress.
I think us Westerners, especially those of us in the cities of the US do a lot of should-ing to ourselves. What are good replacement words?