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Let's Stop Should'ing On Ourselves

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

How many times have you said “should” (either out loud or in your head) in the last 24hrs?

  • I should take a break.

  • I should set up that meeting.

  • I should talk to my boss about that.

  • I should play with my kids. (I should like playing with my kids.)

  • I should read that, do that, be that…

Should. It’s a sneaky and unhelpful little word that infiltrates our thoughts. It is unhelpful because It positions us as at a deficit and spotlights everything we’re not doing.

This kind of self-talk, the should’ing kind, is a very small but powerful way we put more stress on ourselves. It is also a sure-fire way to put stress on others: “You know what you should do?”, “You should really do that.” Etc.

As if we don’t already have enough external stressors right now, we pile it on with the words or thoughts in our heads. This is powerful stuff that comes with plenty of research showing how our thoughts impact our behaviors. I get to…

There are dozens of articles and opinions on reframing “should” to “get to”. When you say it out-loud, it does feel different. Try it. Instead of “I should pitch more ideas at meetings”, say “I get to pitch ideas this week.” It’s subtle, but altered because a natural next thought is “What ideas will I pitch?” That slight shift is now implying forward movement and progress because it is future focused language.

Here is how this reframing works with some of the previous examples:

  • I should take a break – “I get to take a break.” The momentum behind this statement can lead to looking for a time to take the break. It is more likely you will take a break if you plan it.

  • I should set up that meeting – “I get to set up that meeting.” This has a tone of ownership and initiative. These are two traits that lead to results.

  • I should play with my kids – “I get to play with my kids.” In full transparency, I remind myself of this one all the time. Alas, playing with the kids is not always what I want to do but when I reframe it into “get to”, it turns into a break from something else less desirable. It works for me.

Let that should go

Another implication of taking a “should on yourself” is the embedded reality that it is something you may not want to do. Such as working out, speaking up, or confronting something. In these instances, would it be more helpful to give yourself a break and not do it? What would it mean if you just let it go and took it off your list? I’m not talking about avoidance or denial but rather a prioritization of what will have more impact on your productivity and effectiveness.

Being in a “should state” rarely produces enthusiasm. It usually creates guilt, maybe even shame. Hardly a state for productivity and positive emotion. Every expectation we have for ourselves is worth revisiting and maybe it is time for that expectation to be let go.

Plan that should out

Or perhaps you are lacking a plan? You don’t know where to get started. That “should” is less of a feeling that you “have to” do something. Rather, you truly want to accomplish it but having trouble starting.

A goal without a plan is just a wish. I wrote an article called Planting Trees Now: Goals a few weeks ago that addresses how to turn your goals into actions. If what you are telling yourself you should do is only being held back because you are having trouble getting started, than this may be a good place to, well, start.

This week is a short and sweet challenge for everyone. Pay attention to how often you “should on yourself” or anyone else. How can you reframe it into an opportunity or let it go entirely and give yourself a break. You might need it.

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training, coaching, and professional development resources.


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