Should (definition from Oxford Dictionaries);
Used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness typically when criticizing someone’s actions.
This one is simple, but not easy. It’s simple to pay attention to how often you say these phrases. It’s simple to pay attention when others say them to you. It’s also relatively simple to take note of how it feels when you say “I should” and when others say “you should”. What I have found to be not so easy, is to stop saying it. First let’s figure out why we say it, and if it benefits us and those around us to stop saying it.
Why do we “should” all over ourselves? For me this stems back to putting others ahead of myself. In the past, I found myself saying the “s” word if something I did caused other people discomfort or disappointment. Or saying I “should have” if I neglected to do or say something causing the same result. We are programmed from birth to behave in certain ways, to ensure we don’t cause ripples; in order to maintain order, calm and reduce upset. After all, we need to play well with others. Right? I believe we were taught the use of “should” as a social necessity. It’s how we manage ourselves and others. In The Four Agreements, it’s what Don Miguel Ruiz calls our “domestication”. Our parents, schools, churches and other institutions train us up in the ways of approved and appropriate behavior. Is that a bad thing? We do after all need to get along and “play well with others”. Maybe and maybe not.
So is it bad to “should” all over yourself? In my opinion there is a very simple way to answer this question; how do you feel when you say “I should”? If you’re not quite sure, here’s a better way to ask it; how to you feel when someone else says “you should” to you? I can tell you how it makes me feel. If I say it to myself, it makes me feel disappointment, regret, remorse, etc. When someone says to me it makes me feel embarrassed, defensive, incompetent, etc. Does saying that ever feel good or make you feel better? If the answer is “no”, then why do we say it to ourselves and others? Is it productive? Or constructive? What is the purpose of saying it? I believe we say it to shame ourselves. To put ourselves in our place. We don’t even know we are doing it. It’s what we are taught to do by observing others. It’s one device we use to fit into society.
Who’s fault it is? No one’s fault really. Most people say “I should” and have no idea of the emotional charge it has. It’s completely accepted and appropriate to say to ourselves and others. It wasn’t until several years ago, that I realized how it was making me feel when I said it and others said it to me. Why does it matter how it makes us feel? I think our emotions guide us. I believe our emotions show us the healthy path. Esther Hicks calls this our “emotional guidance system”, Jack Canfield calls our emotions our “gps”, Gabrielle Bernstein calls them our “ing”. They all teach that our emotions are a gift, and they guide us and help us. When I applied this idea to my own life, I quickly noticed how I felt when the word “should” was used. I started to find other ways to say things. I started to ask others not to “should” all over me.
The results were somewhat unexpected. First, I was surprised how often I said it, and how hard it was to stop saying it. It was such a mindless habit. Secondly, it was interesting how I had to rephrase the statements I was making. What was most unexpected about this aspect was; when I rephrased the statement it shifted from that of me being a victim to that of me being empowered. Are you surprised? I certainly was. I had no idea it would be such a significant shift.
Here’s an example:
“I should have called my mom last week”.
Instead you could say, “I didn’t call my mom last week”, “I could have called my mom last week”, or “I forgot to call my mom last week”, etc.
There is one main difference I see between the examples; in the first you are implying you didn’t have a choice; as if, for some reason you were unable to pick a phone and dial your mom’s number. Not only does this statement shame you, and paint you as a victim, it also allows you to not take responsibility for not calling your mom. This leads me to another of Jack Canfield’s main teachings; we need to take “100% responsibility for ourselves”. “Should” statements deflect all responsibility. I realized we use “should” statements to frame ourselves as the victims; which actually is emotional manipulation of others. Shocking? Yes, but think about it; if you shame yourself first, you’ve beaten others to it.
Not only does “should” create a shame statement, it dismempowers you and manipulates others. Needless to say, when I put all these pieces together I became determined to be more mindful of my words. I decided to see what it would be like if I stopped saying “should”.
It has been a challenge, but I’ve made it a game. I say to others “don’t ‘should’ on yourself” or “don’t say the ‘s’ word”. Now my family and friends remind me too. That has added an aspect of fun to it. On the more profound level, it has helped me to take more responsibility for myself. Now instead of saying “I should have done this”; I say “next time I may do that differently”, or “I learned from that mistake”, or “next time I’ll plan better”. There are so many reason why we say “should”. It covers a multitude of sins. It keeps us from really addressing the root issue of what has happened. Without the “should” crutch you are able to identify the root, become aware of it, have the information for future reference, and hopefully change negative thought patterns.
Removing “should” from your vocabulary is simple, yet can have a profound affect on your life, your behaviors and your thought patterns.
with love and belief- emilie