Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself

Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself

You should know…I hate the word “should”. As in, I REALLY find it problematic in many ways. In fact, in our house, we work very hard to avoid using it. Why is the word such an issue? It’s just a word, right? Actually, no.

First, “should” is a very judgmental word. Stop and think about it for a second. When someone says, “you should do…,” what’s your first reaction? Do you feel as though someone is wagging their finger at you? It can come across as though the person you are interacting with (or ourselves when we use it for our own behaviors) automatically knows more and has more expertise than you do, even if that’s not true or accurate.

Second, using “should” can make you feel less than. We’ve already established that it is a judgmental word. Judgements cause us to question our thoughts, feelings and actions. To be fair, this can be a good thing at times, as it may help us make better and more skillful decisions. At other times, it can negatively impact our self-esteem and self-confidence, causing us to shrink away from things or avoid engaging for fear of repercussions and negative responses.

When we get caught up in the “shoulds,” we lose sight of what we need. Our focus is about pleasing others rather than pleasing ourselves. We forget to stop and think about what’s important to us and what we want. We are living in a state of comparison rather than a state of ownership.

So, how do you shift from the “shoulds” to the “needs”? The first step is recognizing when you get caught up in the word. Notice that you are “shoulding” on yourself. Pay attention to the feelings that arise. Note when it feels uncomfortable and when it feels like an obligation. These are reactions that are important to pay attention to if you want to change the focus.

Next, notice if the things you are doing are things you need or want to do. Remember though, that needs and wants are different. Sometimes we need to do things we may not want to do, but we still have to do them anyway. Shifting to the use of the word “need” from “should” helps you to feel a sense of agency and control. Things feel less cumbersome and overwhelming if you feel as though it’s your choice to make.

Lastly, slow down. When you get stuck in the “shoulds”, stop and take a breath. Using “should” can cause your anxiety to activate, which speeds you up. If you slow down, take some deep breaths and refocus, you can shift to what it is you need. This can help you prioritize, reset and keep moving.

Obviously, we can’t stop using the word “should” entirely. However, if we can shift to thinking about what we need to do, we may feel more committed to the change we are creating, allowing it to be more long-lasting and meaningful.

So, stop “shoulding” on yourself! It’s not helping you move forward. In fact, it may be keeping you stuck.

Authored by: Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD