Replacing ‘should’ in my vocabulary to cause less shame and encourage more meaningful action

Should‘s a funny word.”

That’s what my college roommates and I would say to each other in our responses to invitations to an evening out. “Well, I should write a paper/study for a test/go to bed early buuuut… should‘s a funny word.”

Isn’t it? Should implies that it’s not something you want to do and often isn’t necessary for your survival, but rather something that you believe someone else expects of you or that might make your life easier (but clearly you need convincing of that or you’d be more interested in doing it).

Lately, I’ve been catching myself saying should all the time. “I should do my physical therapy exercises”, “I should go to bed now”, “I shouldn’t eat this cookie”, “I should put my laundry away”, etc. Most of the time, my brain responds to this with “…but I’m too tired.”, “…but I don’t want to.”, “..but I’ll do it later.” (spoiler: I’m likely not doing it later). I think the reason it’s so easy to dismiss should statements is because this phrasing both presents the activity as a chore or something unpleasant and also something that I don’t have to do, or don’t have to do right now.

So now when I catch myself saying I should do something, I’ve been practicing reframing it to something I want to do and reminding myself of the benefits of doing it. After all, there are real reasons why they are on my should list. And if after acknowledging and listing out these reasons, I decide I’d still rather not do the thing, at least I’ve more carefully considered the risks and benefits of doing or not doing the thing. Maybe it’s something I’d be better off taking off my should list so I can stop avoiding doing it and then shaming myself about it or maybe I need to find more compelling reasons for doing it. I mean, there are plenty of things I don’t really want to do but do anyway because I really don’t want to deal with the consequences. For example, I clean my cat’s litterbox regularly because when it’s dirty she uses the carpet as her litterbox and that is much more inconvenient to clean.

Instead of, “I should go to bed now”, I’ve been trying, “I want to go to bed because I feel happier, am a more patient mom, and have better ideas when I’m well rested.”

Instead of, “I should do my physical therapy exercises” I’ve been trying, “I want to do my physical therapy exercises to prevent pain and avoid needing surgery.”

Instead of, “I should write this email” I’ve been trying, “I want to write this email because it won’t take very long and will feel so good to have it done and off my plate.”

I don’t always fully buy that I want to do it, but it’s definitely been much more successful at motivating me to power through doing the thing. So the next time you notice you’re shoulding yourself, pause and check-in.. why should you? What are all the benefits of doing it? What are all the consequences of not doing it? Then do it. Or don’t….

“I should skip the cookie….I want to skip the cookie because… you know what? I don’t have any good reasons. Fuck it, the cookie is delicious and I want it in my mouth.”

Either way, take it off your should list.

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