Break free from the “shoulds”

Should you read this? Do you have a lot of “shoulds” rolling around in your head? If the answer is “yes,” I wrote this article for you.

I give talks about high-pressure words and low-pressure conversation. Whenever I ask the crowd for examples of high-pressure words, should is always one of the first named.

Should is a high-pressure word.

Many of us are plagued with it. It’s an epidemic. There was a time in my life when I had so many shoulds in my brain that if they were represented as polkadots on my body, I would have been walking around with something we might call “should-itis.”

The shoulds came in three forms:

1. Things I thought I should be doing differently. Like this:

I should work out more and eat healthier.
I should be a better mom and have a cleaner house.
I should take care of my aging parents more.
In the past, I should have done that thing differently.
In the future, I should definitely do that thing.

2. Things I thought others should be doing differently. Like this:

My kids should respect me more.
My husband should be a better dad and a better husband.
My neighbor shouldn’t do that thing they do.
My parents shouldn’t have done that thing they did in the past.
In the future, my parents should definitely do that thing.
That guy on the news should be doing something different too.

3. Things I thought others thought I should be doing differently. Like this:

My work-out teacher thinks I should go to class more often. They also think I should try harder.
My friend thinks I should try the new diet she likes.
My parents think I should be doing more for them.
My kids think I should buy them that trendy thing.
God thinks I should be a better person, and go to church more.

Wow. In writing this, I realize this is just the tip of the iceberg. If my shoulds were polkadots, I would have had enough to infect a whole army with should-itis.

The shoulds pushed me around and put a ton of pressure in my life. They blinded me from the life I was actually living. I was so busy focusing on the shoulds I had trouble focusing on what was right in front of me.

And then, one by one, I learned to let go. First, one or two. Then a few more. I noticed the shoulds and swatted them down, like swatting mosquitoes. It took practice at first, but now I’m pretty good at it, and there have even been a few moments where avalanches of shoulds went tumbling out of my life. And you know what I’ve found?

Freedom. Joy. I can focus on the life I have.

If you’ve read this far, maybe you’ve found your freedom. Or maybe you’re looking for it.

Do you find yourself wondering: What would life be like without all the shoulds?

Here’s an idea to help you get started:

Get a piece of paper and a pencil.

  1. Write “The Shoulds” at the top.
  2. Make a list of your current shoulds.
  3. For one week, when you notice a should, add that to your list. Notice the three kinds of shoulds — when you think you should be doing something differently, when you think others should be doing something different and when you think others think you should be doing something different.
  4. At the end of the week, look at your list. Cross off the things that aren’t have-tos. And really think deeply about the ones you think are have-tos. Circle them. Sleep on it. Look at your list again. Are the have-tos really have-tos? If they are, they might be important. Pay attention to them. Change those “shoulds” to “I will…”

So, who are you under there under all of that should-itis? Let’s clear it up and see what happens — with less pressure, you might gain a whole new perspective.

What is one should you are ready to be free from? 

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