Letting Go of Should

“Stop should-ing all over yourself.”  Ever heard that one?

It’s not original, but it’s a statement I jokingly use often.  If you could eliminate one word from the English language, what would it be?

My word: SHOULD.

I can imagine many scenarios where the word should comes in handy.  “I should brush my teeth, lest they rot out of my head.”  But, even in those cases, do we really need it?  (Pause here, people . . . breathe . . . ask again: do we?)

The problem with using the word should is that it’s almost always accompanied with a heaping dose of guilt and/or shame.  It waves guilt and shame into the club, often breezing them by the bouncer like Harry Potter under his magic “you can’t see me” cloak.  Who invited those guys anyway?  Right, I remember.  Should did.

I’m not okay with this.

Here’s my biggest argument against the word should – it’s not truthful.  There are better ways to say what needs to be done that don’t incite an influx of non-productive emotions.  Before we continue leading ourselves down a rabbit hole of bleh and meh, consider that the word should isn’t true.  “This should happen, this shouldn’t happen, I should do this, I shouldn’t do that.”  Really?  Really?????

When we use “should,” we are setting ourselves up for a mental conflict.  Who needs that?  Maybe you, but count me out, homeslice.

Let’s use this example: “I should practice 3 hours per day.”  Okay, fine, maybe you should.  But, what happens if you don’t ACTUALLY practice 3 hours a day?  Yuck, now you’re trapped in a weird place where your thoughts told you one thing and you did another. You screwed up.  That sucks.  And, how do you feel when you say “I should,” or “he/she should?” Do you feel joyful?  Be honest, you probably don’t.  (Hello guilt, shame, anger and blame, you dear old friends, nice to see you again! Who let you in?)

Isn’t it more honest to use an if/then statement? 

Going back to our example, how about instead saying, “if I practice 3 hours a day, then I’ll get better faster.”  Now we have some truth going on, and a place to start working that’s based in honesty without an extra-thick-gross layer of emotional funk slathered on top. (Funk – the bad kind, not the good kind in this instance!  Good funk, click here.)

Other not-helpful and helpful ways to say things:

“This should be easy.”  Well, if it were easy it would be.  If it’s not easy, it’s not, so . . . okay.  A more honest and helpful viewpoint: “This doesn’t feel easy.  Yet. And someday it might, but right now it doesn’t.  And even though it’s not easy, I can work on it and it can get better.”

“My voice should sound different than it does.”  Should it?  No, it shouldn’t.  It sounds the way it sounds right now.  Use something like this instead: “My voice sounds or feels like it does, and I’m having an emotional reaction to it.”  Leaving the “should” out of the statement helps eliminate judgement and comparison in this case.  AND, by not judging your voice there is more mental/emotional room to get help or experiment with other sounds.

More love, not less, please.

When are used to shaming and guilting ourselves regularly, “should” is a good friend.  It gives us the opportunity to pile more grossness into our emotional lives, and therefore maintain the cycle of self abuse.  I get it, I was a master of cyclical self loathing at one point in my life.  All I’m pointing out is that “should” is a set-up, and if we eliminate it we can let more love in.

The practice is to notice it.

Listen closely for the word “should,” and see where you are using it.  If you tell yourself to listen for it, you’ll hear it in your self talk, from your own mouth, and from others’ mouths.  Be gentle on yourself and just notice where you are say it, then replace it with something more helpful and honest.  This is a practice, and empowerment will be the result.


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1 Comment

  1. I love this Liz!!!!!!!!! You can get somewhere with shame, but it’s probably not a place you want to go. And I LOVE the emphasis on questioning the thought; “This shouldn’t be happening” How do I know it should be happening? It’s happening!! i.e. this is the voice I have today. How can I appreciate it? Happy patients get better faster, and it stands to reason that happy singers are allowing more vocal health by giving up the ‘shoulds’. GREAT ADVICE!

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