Quit Shoulding on Yourself



How many times during the day do you “should” on yourself?

I should lose weight.

I shouldn’t have eaten that ice cream.

I should exercise more.

I shouldn’t stay up so late.

I should have gotten married and have children by now. 

I must never upset my partner.

I ought to have a spotless, clean home.

Should becomes an unhealthy negative thinking pattern (a cognitive distortion) when you start putting unreasonable demands and pressure on yourself.

First of all, “should” implies that you’ve done something wrong.

This leads to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, failure, and lack of control.

So now, not only did you do something bad, you must be bad or defective; this becomes the breeding ground for shame, anger, anxiety and frustration.

Those feelings breed inaction, procrastination and stagnancy.

You end up feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, depressed, discouraged and unmotivated.

You unconsciously continue to beat up on yourself without even realizing it.

Experience shows that the more you feel like you should or shouldn’t be doing something, the less likely you’ll actually do it.

This not only drains your energy but ultimately produces a never-ending, destructive cycle that leads to further despair and prevents you from making positive changes. 

You cannot “should” yourself into action. 

Should statements are usually followed by an unspoken message that implies you are not good enough; you should have known better, you should have tried harder, you shouldn’t have said that. Should statements shame you into feeling defective and always a failure.

Should is not as motivating as most people would believe it is. What it actually does is reinforce what you’re not doing instead of what you want to be doing. Should is inherently a negative word that helps beat you up for what you should have done or who you should have been.

Not all “shoulds” are problematic. For instance, “Don’t drink and drive.” The rules and laws of society impose shoulds in order to serve and protect us otherwise we would live in chaos. As the world changes, it is necessary to question them and ,if need be, modify them as things evolve.

We also have the personal shoulds. Most people are not even aware of them, nor do they question them or know where they came from. They originate from years of conditioning from our parents, teachers, peers, idols, society and culture telling us what is right and what is wrong. It’s amazing what we learn from a very early age, even before starting school.

You should brush your teeth, make your bed, respect the elderly, look both ways before you cross the street, call your mother every day, nice Italian girls don’t leave home until they’re married, etc… 

Some are useful, while others may be outdated. Perhaps, some time ago, in different circumstances, they may have served a purpose.

Do you know the story about the woman and her roast? 

When she cooked her roast, she would always cut the ends off her roast before putting it in the pan. When her daughter questioned why, the mother replied that her mother used to do it that way. The daughter then asked the grandmother why she cut the ends off her roast; she replied that in those days, they didn’t have a big enough pan, so they had to cut the ends off. 

This is an excellent example of how we sometimes cling onto the shoulds, even when they are well past their usefulness. Shoulds are like the commandments; case closed; no questions asked; therefore, no opportunity to analyse or consider other solutions. 

“I should” is usually followed by “but,” which then adds more insult to injury by making a personal attack on your self-worth. “I should have known better, but I’m such a loser.”

Consider changing “I should” to “It would be better if….” 

This allows you to start asking questions and analyze what the real reason behind is;

 “Why would it be better? What other alternatives do I have? ”  

You now have the choice to consider other options for solving the problem and moving on instead of being stuck in the past and paying for your sins over snd over again. (Guilt tripping)

Take a look at the following two sentences;

“I should leave my job because I won’t be able to get any more promotions.”

“I should have left this job years ago.”

In the first statement, you are looking into the possibility of changing your career path in the future. Whereas in the second statement, you are feeling guilty about the past for something you did or didn’t do. This remorse can prevent people from enjoying life since they feel that they don’t deserve to be happy because of what they did or did not do.

Shoulding takes you out of the present and into what you should have done in the past. This shuts down your ability to problem solve in the future. Since we unable to go back in time, we need to focus on what we can do now. In the the present moment, we can control our thoughts and make choices about the future instead of complaining about what did or did not happen.

How to Break Out of the Shoulding Cycle 

  1. Start with Self-Awareness – The first step in  breaking any habit is becoming mindful. Notice when you use the ‘should’ word and how often it. Take note and reflect on how it makes you feel; guilt? unhappy? angry? Feeling negative and helpless as you focus on shortcomings and failures can  undermine your ability to do what you want to do.
  1. Challenge your Should  – Question if it aligns with your values; is it what you really want or is it just something that I believe is expected of me?  Should implies something we believe we’re supposed to do or be, which puts the pressure on us. Where it starts to become unhealthy is when we place others’ wants and needs above ours. In some cases, we lose touch with our wants and needs all together. Ask yourself “Do I want to do it”? When your ‘shoulds’ don’t align themselves with your wants and needs, it’s time to let them go.
  1. Words Matter  –  The way you talk to yourself has a direct and instant impact on how you feel and in turn will affect your behaviour. That’s why it’s important to shift your mindset by using positive self talk. Reframe your negative thinking with positive affirmations.      

      Eliminate             I should. I ought to. I must. I have to.                                                                                                           

      Replace with      I want to. I will. I can. I choose to. I am. Next time.

  1. Be More Specific   –  Create a detailed plan and follow through with step-by-step action. Invest your time and energy into actions that will help you achieve your dreams and desires, instead of building resentment towards yourself and others that only leads you up ‘should’ creek without a paddle. Time to stop ‘shoulding’ and start doing what you truly want and commit to it. 

When we do things just because other people expect it, we give them our power. Blaming others and having to justify our behaviours makes us feel disempowered. Stop giving away your power. Give yourself a choice and switch gears. The more you fill your life with shoulds and other people’s expectations, the less you will be your authentic self and the more regrets you’ll end up having. 

Live your life to the fullest by aligning your values with what makes you happy. Let your values drive your life instead of should and shame. Instead of judging and devaluing yourself, learn to cultivate more grace, self-love and compassion. 

It is very easy with today’s cultural norms and social media to feel pressured and to perceive ourselves as less than, unworthy, inadequate, undeserving. Don’t be hard on yourself. Treat yourself with self-kindness, understanding and support instead of self-criticism. Treat yourself as you would treat those you care about. You are worthy and you deserve it.

Antoinette Giacobbe