Here’s How to Stop Should-ing On Yourself

The word “should” pollutes our vocabulary with unnecessary obligation—here’s how to omit it.

Yes, you read that correctly. It’s time to stop should-ing all over yourself.  No need to be embarrassed about it—I’ll be the first to admit that I still engage in this subtly toxic behavior from time to time. But recently I’ve made an effort to omit the word from my vocabulary, and let me say this: Life becomes much more fulfilling once you make the choice to intentionally monitor your consumption of the word “should.”

Making the decision to stop should-ing all the time is a fun first step in creating a conscious practice with your vocabulary. Engaging in conscious communication with yourself and others is one of the most effective ways to transform your life. One of my friends brought this habit to my attention—and then later promised to punch me in the arm every time I said the infamous word. He continued to do this for a year until I almost exploded in frustration with how deeply I had encoded myself with shoulds.

How often do you say any of the following? I should go to the gym more often. I should meditate more regularly. I should save more money. I should drink more water. I should try to attend more events. I should network. I should have bought that dress when it was on sale. I should never have bought this dress.

“I should, I should, I should, I should.” It’s a staple of our verbal diet and it makes us ill. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As a lover of words and the power they have to dictate our choices, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and do something about my overuse of the word “should.”

The Origin of Should Statements

The best way to cure something is to find the true origin and pull it out at the root. So, I did the first thing we all do when something we don’t understand comes to our attention, I consulted Google. Should led me to shall, and then suddenly everything clicked. Here’s what I discovered…

Old English sceal, Northumbrian scule “I owe/he owes, will have to, ought to, must” Ground sense of the Germanic word “I owe,” hence “I ought.” The sense shifted in Middle English from a notion of “obligation” to include “futurity.” Cognates outside Germanic are Lithuanian skelėti “to be guilty,” skilti “to get into debt;” Old Prussian skallisnan “duty,” skellants “guilty.

The shame of my “shoulds” revealed itself to be much more profound and profane then I had imagined. I quickly came to realize that the subtle yet sinking feeling that came each time I used this word originated in the energy of debt. Every time I should-ed myself, I was digging my debt hole deeper and deeper. The weight of my duty to undo this self-created debt was heavy and getting heavier each time I unconsciously uttered the word.

Here’s the thing with should: If you are saying you “should” do something then, plain and simple, you are not actually doing it. Each “should” you pile on yourself, adds another unpaid obligation you now have to undertake to come into an integral relationship with yourself. You are creating the energy of owing something to yourself, something you “ought” to be doing but you aren’t and to top it off, it denotes that you are very guilty.  

Omitting the word, however, feels amazing. Try these tips to start eliminating “should” from your vocabulary.

1. Make the choice to stop.

The first step in taking your power back from any situation is to realize that you always have a choice. Make your choice and follow through. In this scenario, firmly declare that you will now be deleting the word should from your vocabulary for the next 30 days or longer in order to experiment its effect on your quality of life. Remind yourself of this choice daily.

2. Ask a friend.  

Quite simply, get help! Admit to yourself that stopping your addiction to using this word compulsively may surpass your own heroic abilities and ask for support. Often we don’t even realize how habitually and stealthily we “should” ourselves. Ask a willing participant to kindly point out any time he or she notices you use the word “should.” A tip to the wise: Do not blame or get annoyed with this person for doing what you have asked her to do, just smile and say thank you.

3. Notice how you feel.  

When you or your accomplice does catch an occasional “should” from your mouth, stop for a moment to check in with how it makes you feel. Stressed? Inadequate? What is it you really want?

Make a list of everything you feel you should or should not be doing in your life right now. Read the list to yourself and take notes on how you feel about each of these statements. What stories do you tell yourself about the things on this list and your ability to accomplish them? Do you authentically want to do them? If you are not 100 percent vibing the feelings you’ve conjured during this exercise, use them as motivation to go back to step one of this list and repeat it with even more commitment.

4. Locate the origin.

As I stated earlier, the best way to cure something is to locate the true origin and pull it out at the root. Every single “should” you have pronounced upon yourself did not initiate itself from within you. “Should” is not a word of the soul. That is why “should” is so sneaky—somehow, someone planted a seed of suggestion into your fragile mind and it has been rooting there ever since.

Regardless of how it began, “should” is an imposter. It cleverly sets up shop inside your psyche and pretends to be your own inner voice. It is not. Genuine, internal guidance does not use the word “should” because it knows it is not effective unless fueled by guilt. Your soul does not guilt you into doing or not doing things. Imbalanced parents and teachers, effective advertising and nosey old ladies use guilt to impose their will upon you. Locate the seeds of your “shoulds” and tell them to go grow somewhere else.

5. Clean the slate.

Forgive yourself and your debts.  Now that you are realizing the depth and scope of all your should-ing, don’t freak out—just forgive yourself so you can start anew. This forgiveness includes three parts: The first is to forgive yourself for unconsciously accumulating a “should” list in the first place. The second step is to truly forgive the debt. This means to eliminate it completely. Use your gracious generosity to absolve yourself from the obligation of all past “shoulds.”  

For the third part, go through the list you created in step three of this article and release yourself from every “should” and “should not” you have committed yourself to. When you have genuinely completed this part of cleansing, you will likely feel a deep sense of inner peace.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to forgive yourself for should-ing on all the other people in your life too!

6. Have fun finding creative replacements.

Rewiring yourself with language is an infinitely fun and creative process.

Instead of saying I “should” drink more water, say something more positive. I could drink more water. I’ve been thinking about drinking more water. I’ve heard drinking lots of water makes you feel great. I’ve noticed I only drink two glasses of water per day. I would like to drink more water. I like the idea of drinking more water. Water is awesome.

Thirsty yet? You get the drift. Now off with you to the office cooler to discuss what you have learned with your colleagues.

Have fun un-shoulding yourself and may your thoughts, words, and actions be in harmonious alignment with ease and grace.

Naada Guerra is a Wanderlust mentor. See Naada and other luminaries as part of the Speakeasy lineup at a Wanderlust festival.

Naada Guerra is a highly skilled energetic healer and intuitive who identifies subconscious blocks and helps transform her clients.She has a B.A. in Consciousness and Human Evolution from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, studied Yogic Philosophy at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and is trained in Vipassana meditation in the lineage of S.N. Goenka. In addition, Naada is a graduate of the Swedish Institute of Massage Therapy and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has been assisting leaders in embodying excellence and aligning with their highest truth and happiness for the past 10 years.