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“You should totally do that.”

– a well-intentioned friend

I remember one day long ago, I was venting to a friend about something I wanted to say to my boss at the time.  I was angry, so I was just mouthing off – letting off steam, as it were.  However, after I shared my unfiltered diatribe, my friend who was kindly listening to me said, ” you should totally do that.”

It’s one of the absolutely worst bits of advice I’ve ever received.

No.  No, I should not do that.  Thankfully, I knew better, and found a much better path forward.

Another time, a friend of mine was sharing that they went to this amazing restaurant and their brussel sprouts were “ah-mazing.”  I followed up with a quick declaration of my dislike of brussel sprouts.  **gag**  And then my friend said, “You should try them at this restaurant… you’ll love them.”

Again… one of the absolutely worst bits of advice I’ve ever received.

I went to that restaurant and tried their brussel sprouts, because, apparently, that’s what I was “supposed” to do.  The result?

No.  No, I should not have done that.  This time, I didn’t know better and I was bitter that I’d wasted $8 on icky brussel sprouts when I could have had another cruciferous veggie that tasted much better to my palate.

Of course, not all cases of the “shoulds” is a minor event.  If you pay attention, you’ll notice people “should-ing” on each other on all matter of topics – from: decisions to end a marriage to quitting a job, to flirting with a coworker to using (or not) drugs.  Oy!  The dangers of should/n’t.

Does “should/n’t” ever work out?

You know, doing/not doing something that you “should/n’t” do definitely works out sometimes.  Just like anything… of course it does.

The problem is that doing things you “should/n’t” do feels shitty.

Why Does Should/n’t Feel So Shitty?

Whether you are telling yourself that you should/n’t, or you’re being told by someone else, at the heart of it… it feels the same.

There’s a deeper principle here which is at the heart of this.

The use of “should” (and “should not”) in directing someone’s behavior violates a need that we have for autonomy, choice, and respect.  So, when we’re told we should or shouldn’t, our autonomy to openly choose is taken from us, and therefore, we may feel subtly (or overtly) disrespected.

Have you ever been out with a group for a meal, the dessert menu has been passed around, and when asked if you’re going to order, you say, “I shouldn’t.”

Or maybe you’re running your business and someone tells you, “You should have a Facebook page!”

Feel into both of those for a moment.  Can you sense how there’s a subtle violation of your free will going on there?  There is clearly an assumed “correct path” according to your self-talk or someone else, and now, if you don’t take it, you’ll be guilty or ashamed.

Ugh!  No fun.

Start to notice when you hear yourself telling others what they should/n’t do, or when you’re being told by others.

  1. Just start noticing when the word comes up.
  2. Begin to feel into the subtleties of what’s really going on.
  3. What do you notice?

The Remedy for Should/n’t

What might be a healthier choice for you than should or shouldn’t? Is there a better way to guide, direct or influence yourself or others?

There are a couple different scenarios to consider.

When you “should” yourself.

Let’s first talk about what’s going on with self-talk “should/n’t.”

When we’re in the midst of our own private self talk and the “shoulds” happen, we’re usually in the process of making a choice.  In this case we’re actually leaning into our own will, our ability to choose, our autonomy.

If we use the word “should” with ourselves, it means that we are choosing something that we are telling ourselves that we don’t actually want to choose.

Let’s take doing our bookkeeping. Have you ever not wanted to work on your financials, but told yourself, “Yeah, I should do that.”  It sure doesn’t feel like an incorrect statement, does it?  In fact, it’s really hard for me not to write, “Yeah… in this case, you actually should!”  ha ha ha.

However, when you’re working internally, there’s still a subtle shift that will help with this.  What’s really going on?  Why, if you know it’s a good thing to do, are you making it into a “should?”

There could be a lot of reasons that it feels like a should:

  • It’s difficult to do.
  • You don’t know how to do it.
  • You don’t have a system in place to support you.
  • You don’t have time.

Those reasons, and a host of others, could easily turn this task into a “should.”

And, in listing out the specifics of the issue at hand, do you notice how the energy shifts from “I should do my financials,” to something far more productive, such as, “I want to learn how to make this easier, ” or, “I am going to schedule some time to get this done.”

Now, instead of this task being against your will, you’ve identified why and how to take action that is within your will.

One other way to work with this is to self-identify what’s more true than this being against your will.

For instance, you may really dislike doing your bookkeeping, and so doing it always feels like it’s against your will – like you “should” do it, but you never want to.

I recommend finding something you do want, and tying the task to that thing.  In this case, bookkeeping, can we agree that it’s a healthy thing to do for a business?  Yes?  Do you really want your business to be healthy?  Then don’t do your bookkeeping because you should, do your bookkeeping because you want your business to be healthy.

Do you feel that?  It’s subtle, but can make a real difference in how this feels.

When others “should” on you.

You can’t always control when other will tell you what you should/n’t do.

The first step is to start noticing.  Let the word “should” become a signal flare that pops off in your brain to alert you to pay attention.

What I do to combat this both internally and externally is respond, “Hmmm… I’m not sure if I should/n’t. I’ll consider it.”

That doesn’t discount or neglect the input, and yet also reclaims your autonomy and choice while maintaining your own self-respect.

If you’re the one telling others they should or shouldn’t… may I encourage you to stop – as in, cold-turkey, stop?  Please?

An easy new way to combat the “should” is to simply choose the letter “C” instead.

“You could do that,” instead of, “you should do that.”  Totally different, right? It’s just one option.

In Summary

As I always say, “There is no good should.”

Start noticing when you or others use the word “should,” and see how it feels.

Respect your own and others’ needs for autonomy and choice by using more honest and/or curious language.

This post is an expansion on a Heart Note that I sent out.  You can get your own Heart Notes too!

May the will of Love be done, all-ways.?