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Anyone who knows me well knows that ‘should’ is in my top 10 most disliked words. It’s not that I want it totally gone, it does have its place, but it is so overused and abused. The fact that we overdo it with should leads to misunderstandings, false expectations, pressure and so much more. Well here’s my thoughts on should and on what you could do about it.

In life we have so many responsibilities and things that we feel we need to do. Don’t we all catch ourselves saying that we should do this, or someone else should have done that? But what are we actually doing when we should all over ourselves and the world around us? Let’s break down where the should comes from, what it’s doing to us and how to turn it into a more positive word…could. 

The trouble with should

Behind the word ‘should’ hide expectations and responsibilities (both real and assumed). This all can easily lead to disappointment and resentment. What we’re really saying when we say ‘should’ is that there is an expectation to upkeep. Why is this so troubling? It’s important to be careful in identifying when we are using ‘should’ instead of ‘could’. The way we phrase our statements, or how we allow others to phrase what we ‘should’ do, has a huge effect on us.
Our outlook, emotions, and actions are all touched by the initial setup of ‘should’ over ‘could’. By using the word ‘should’, we point out that something HAS TO BE done. This is because there is an expectation or responsibility for that person (or ourselves) to meet. By accepting the use of the word ‘should’, we place the responsibility/expectation on ourselves (or others). This locks us into thinking that we do not have a choice, but that instead, this ‘needs to happen’. It also has the potential to remove some, or all of the joy in doing that action; because we feel like we didn’t actively choose it…we were told to do it.

Some of the effects of should

It can also lead us down a road filled with negative emotions and outcomes. Resentment and anger are big emotions that come out of ‘should’. This could be resentment and anger from lack of appreciation. It could also be negative emotions from someone who placed the ‘should’ on us; in the event that we did not accept their ‘should’.
Another effect that ‘should’ can present is procrastination or poor execution. If we don’t want to do it, our heart is not in it, and we do not even feel like we chose this for ourselves. It can be hard to muster the care to still do a good job, and do it on time. ‘Should’ can also lead to lies and deceit. If we feel like we cannot do what is expected of us or we just really don’t want to, we might turn to dishonesty to get out of it or avoid conflict. This is not only toxic to ourselves but also to the situation or whatever the ‘should’ was attached to. This is especially heartbreaking when it affects relationships.

Should in action

So, let’s look at an example of a distant friend asking you to help her move to a new apartment. It’s totally last minute, and you kind of don’t want to do it because the timing is really bad for you. So the sentence playing in your head might be: “I should help my friend with her move”. Although you still know at your core that there is an option not to do it, the pressure of ‘should’ weighs on you. So you might feel that the choice is limited or non-existent.
Now, if someone was to ask, “well, why should you?” The answer would probably be, “because it is the right thing to do,” or “because she needs help”. These have a negative tint to them, since they originate from a sense of requirement. So when we say ‘should’, what are we really saying? “I don’t really want to. If I could choose freely, I would choose to do this differently or not do it at all, but I have this sense, pressure, expectation, or responsibility so I will do it”. This then comes with a negative tint of this pressure, and from the sense of having to do it, not truly wanting to or choosing to. 

Could it be more positive?

Yes! By using the word ‘could’ we are opening ourselves up to opportunity and choice. We pretty much always have a choice. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it because the other option is so bad, or wrong, or even illegal; but when you peel back all the layers, you do have choice. Acknowledging that fact makes all the difference. When we use ‘could’ we acknowledge that we are actively choosing for ourselves. We are not simply accepting the pressures, expectations, or responsibilities placed on us. When we use the word ‘could’, we bring many positive aspects to our situation, instead of the resentment and anger that comes from the ‘should’ thought. When turned into a ‘could’, we find joy, and encouragement and appreciation in ourselves and our interactions with loved ones.

Let’s take the example of ‘should’ bringing procrastination and poor quality of work or action. Turning it into a ‘could’, we find that we complete the action with more pride, higher quality and care. This is because we chose that for ourselves after considering all of the aspects and possible outcomes. In regard to lies and deceit, there is much less pressure in the ‘could’ option. If we acknowledge that we ultimately always have a choice, we can be honest about not being able or willing to do it. This can spare everyone involved from dishonesty and breaking of trust. By shifting from ‘should’ to ‘could’, we give ourselves the opportunity to be honest with others and ourselves.

Could in action

So, using the example above again, let’s see what happens if we turn it around to “I could help my friend move”. This flipped into an acknowledgment of opportunity and then a deliberate choice. Meaning, “I could help her move, since I have time and I ultimately want to help her because I care about her and want the best for her.” Or perhaps we find ourselves saying “I could help her move, but it is such a bad time for me right now and I am just too busy or not feeling well. Perhaps I can support her in another way.” Whether or not the ‘could’ choice leads to the same physical action as the ‘should’ (helping her move). By changing from a place of ‘should’ to ‘could’, we acknowledge that there is a choice.

With could we feel free and don’t have some invisible, heavy pressure or expectation weighing on us. We recognize that we can choose to not do the action. This then leads us to maybe choose another way we can help or contribute. We might still choose to take action, in which case we’ll do it with more joy, clarity and determination. This is because we recognize the true underlying reason for our choice (that we care deeply for this friend and want to be of help).

How Life Coaching Could Help

This is one of those great insights that you will learn when you receive life coaching. It is a perfect example of a long-held, deep, underlying belief that life coaching helps to uncover. In my sessions with clients we work on examining and reevaluating thoughts like this to see if a reframe can help you see things differently and ultimately feel differently. You can read more about my coaching approach. There are many layers to this which is why coaching can be so beneficial, I did however want to give you a little nibble of how you could start to reframe this for yourself.

Baby steps to turn should into could

Here are just a few questions t help you get started. These steps are not only helpful when we use the word ‘should’ they also help when there is resistance, dread or any negativity around an action or activity.
– Do I want to do this? Or am I doing this because I feel that I ‘should’ do it?
– What is behind my feeling that I somehow have to do this? Is there a hidden long-held belief or expectation there? Is this expectation placed on me by someone else or by myself? Does it still hold true? Can it be reconsidered and/or rewritten?
– How important is this to me? (either the action itself or the person it is attached to). Often finding that we care about the person behind (or attached to) the should, makes a big difference. It alone can mentally allow us to move from a ‘should’ to a ‘could’. Because we want the best for that person and want to be of help to them.
– What am I benefiting from taking this action? Does that make it worth choosing to do the action?
– What are the possible consequences of not doing this action? Am I willing to take on these consequences? Considering the possible outcomes and how they would affect our loved ones, work environment or ourselves can help. We can use this to shift from a ‘should’ to a ‘could’.

The Mindshift

Can I find that I have a choice here? Can I reword this into a ‘could’? How does that feel now? Will I still do the action or not? This is the big step! All the work done from the questions above leads to this. The moment of releasing the ‘should’ and accepting the ‘could’, and accepting the possibility of choosing for ourselves.

You’ve got the power 

We hold the power over whether we want to live in ‘should’ or ‘could’. We can reframe, and work through our emotions to find peace and comfort in the things that we choose to do. Even if they aren’t our favorite things to do. In identifying why we do it, we can find the true drive and deep reason we need to do it and do it with a full heart. We can also deny the weight and pressure that others place on us with their ‘shoulds’. That also goes for the shoulds we place on ourselves by exploring where these ‘shoulds’ come from and how they can either be denied or changed into ‘coulds’. So go out and change your should to could and see what it does for your outlook, and happiness. 

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