It’s time to have a conversation about “should.”
Let’s first look at the aversion to the word should:
I get why we have had a pushback against “should” in recent times. We needed it. We needed the catalyst and the language to pause and redirect our energies toward something more compassionate and less judgmental.
I remember when I first embraced the ‘anti-should’ movement. It felt empowering and liberating, kind of like how saying “no” feels. At one point I turned to someone who was suggesting ways for me to behave, and I said, “Don’t ‘should’ on me.”
It was that simple, that clear. Someone else was should-dumping all over me from their perspective without taking time, empathy, or compassion to understand mine. Standing up for myself and putting a stop to it felt great.
Eventually, it trickled down into telling myself to stop using the word should as well, which was even more empowering. Then, eventually, I started asking my clients to pause and redirect when they used the word themselves. I had all but obliterated “should” from my vocabulary.
For me, “should” was a bad word, with bad consequences and shameful connotations.
But wow, is that a whole lot of judgment to be placing on 6 little letters. So, it’s time to take a step back. Thankfully, a recent conversation with a friend helped me clarify the dreaded “should” and come to a new understanding.
Let’s call this “Should version 2.0.”
First of all, there are two kinds of “should” in our lives. One is spirit-enhancing and the other is spirit-draining. So, what’s the difference?
The spirit-enhancing should is value-aligned. That means that the “shoulds” we tell ourselves are in alignment with our core values and serve to help us live more fully from a values-driven direction. Examples of this might be:
- You SHOULD kiss your partner goodnight every night (IF a core value is expressing love in relationships).
- You SHOULD return a phone call in a timely manner (IF a core value is being prompt and/or respecting others’ time).
Shoulds that reinforce value-aligned actions would be spirit-enhancing. They serve as loving reminders. Yes, “should” can be loving.
Alternatively, the spirit-draining shoulds are judgment based. That means that they are infused with shame and carry a subsequent judgment of good or bad with them. Using the same example:
- You SHOULD kiss your partner goodnight (because you’re a bad person if you don’t).
- You SHOULD return a phone call in a timely manner (because if you don’t, you’re lazy and disrespectful).
The defining phrase it what changes the should, and it’s always there. You have to look for it and cross-check it against your core values. Furthermore, it’s nobody’s decision but your own what your core values are. So, “should” when delivered by an external party is almost always judgment-based.
This is the key point: if your “should” is based on external directives that you haven’t filtered through your own core values, then it’s most likely not in alignment and therefore spirit-draining.
So, if you find yourself saying “I SHOULD do this,” or ” I SHOULD do that,” the first question to ask is whether this suggestion comes from within you or outside of yourself. If it’s from outside, chances are it’s draining you.
If it’s from within:
- look for the qualifying phrase after the should and identify it, and
- run it through the filter of your core values to determine if it’s in alignment.
If it’s not, let it go and find something that is aligned. If it is aligned, embrace it for all its worth!
P.S. If you want to learn more about identifying your core values, let me know. I have a system in place that will help you and empower you through all your decisions in life.