Quit Should-ing On Yourself

Learning to improve your awareness of the effect of “should statements” can have a significant impact on your mood and behavior. Reducing the frequency and number of “should statements” and increasing the use of “want statements” will help to increase motivation, improve self-direction and further improve constructive decision-making skills.

EXAMPLE: “I should not skip this hill workout,” versus, “I want to improve my ability to perform on the run consistently well.”

Sometimes we try to motivate ourselves by saying, “I should do this,” or “I must do that,” or “I should feel this or believe that”. These statements are often based on rules and expectations we have created for others and ourselves. These statements may also come from beliefs about what other people expects of us.

Consequently, should and must statements are a way of telling ourselves that we are obligated to act, feel, and think in a specific, pre-determined manner.

As a result, should statements can prompt unnecessary emotional distress. When we use should statements, the emotional consequences may be increased guilt and lower confidence. When we use should in thinking or dialoging with others, we may experience increased resentment, anger, and frustration.

When you find yourself using should statements, try changing the word “should”, to “want” or “choose.” When we want to do something or choose to do something, we can gain better control of the situation, which is then transformed into a more positive experience! Look at the examples below and begin to see how the shift to personal responsibility can change our emotional response:

STATEMENT: “I should do my swim workout tonight.”

RULE: “If I do not do my swim workout, I am wrong or bad.”

STATEMENT: “I want to do my swim workout tonight.”

RULE: “I have interest in doing my swim workout tonight.” And I’m interested in completing it tonight for any number of reasons, including but not limited to the following:

  • So I don’t have to do it tomorrow.
  • So I can get it done and gain benefits from my work.
  • So I can improve my technique, speed, and endurance.
  • So I can feel less stressed about rearranging my training plan.
  • Because I will enjoy doing it.

STATEMENT: “I choose to do my swim workout tonight.”

RULE: “I can decide whether or not I do my swim workout.”

The idea of choice moves us closer to actually taking action. A should typically leads to guilt whereas a want or choice permits better motivation. It is wise to think about the consequences of an action (the costs versus the benefits) before committing yourself to a choice. What you choose to do, and then do, can help you feel in charge of your behavior and your life. What you “should” do is likely to leave you chronically frustrated and feeling you are repeatedly disappointing yourself and others.

Think about the obligations that are currently present in your life and ask yourself the following questions. Remember, obligations are actions, emotions, or beliefs that feel required; they do not feel optional.

  • Are these obligations realistic?
  • How well does each example above match with what you want or your current values?
  • How can you restate these to reflect your choice or what you want or value? 

More often than not, should statements decrease our motivation to fulfill a task or can result in avoidance or procrastination. Motivation is highest when we feel empowered to make a choice, have a desire to follow through, and value the process and outcome.

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hi, I'm Amanda

I am a licensed therapist and certified mental performance consultant with a strong calling to empower others with the knowledge, awareness, and skills needed to navigate life on their own terms.

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