I would love for us all to stop saying shouldWe are all guilty of saying should far too often. It is not an empowering or motivating word. In fact, it generally has the opposite effect. It is negative, limiting and often aggressive.

Let’s have a couple of examples.

You are worried about your child. Maybe the baby is crying a lot. Maybe your four year old has bitten another child. Maybe your teen has been secretly smoking. And you phone your mum, or a friend, or sit in the office and have a bit of an “OMG I don’t know what to doooooooo” moment. And you are met with a barrage of (often conflicting) shoulds. “Oh you should try letting her cry it out, you should pick her up and cuddle her (baby).” “You should punish/talk to/ hug it out with your four year old.” “You should ground your teen, you should explain the dangers of smoking…” And blah blah blah… Tuned out yet? I have!

In these cases what is the underlying message? It is that you are doing something wrong. And you never know, in some cases whoever it is might be right and their advice might be platinum-plated diamond-encrusted gems of awesomeness. But it is all about the delivery, and raining shoulds down on you won’t help you do anything about it, because it will make you feel worse. You will feel disempowered, and quite possibly judged.

How about if the advice isn’t asked for? But you get the shoulds and shouldn’ts anyway. “I think you should stop smoking. You should re-word that. You should try feeding your baby this way, or that way. You should apply for that job. You shouldn’t be doing it like that. You should get out more.”

See above, but a gazillion times more frustrating. All the person is doing is making you feel rubbish, and, if you are anything like me, you will switch off and not listen. By pointing out what they think you should be doing, they are telling you again that what you are doing isn’t right. Unwanted advice from strangers is the worst kind of advice when raising your child. You’d be amazed how often even family and friends also mistakenly believe they are helping when in fact they are probably just reaffirming your own belief that you aren’t doing, whatever it is, right. They may not see it, and may well be offended that their well-intentioned advice would make you feel this way, but you feel they are judging you. Your effort. Your choices. As a parent, as a colleague, as a person. Whatever the situation.

How about when you use it on yourself? I know you do it. You might tell yourself “I should go to the gym more. I should eat more greens. I should get up earlier. I should eat fewer Twixes. I should prepare better for meetings. I really should stop spending so much time on Twitter.” In this case you are bringing yourself down and making yourself feel worse. You may think you are motivating yourself, but just like when you are bombarded with shoulds by others, you are not helping yourself in the slightest. Because what are you actually saying? “I should get up earlier.” What is the point in saying that to yourself? You may as well complete the sentence: “I should get up earlier but I won’t.” All you are doing is reminding yourself that you aren’t doing what you want to be doing which isn’t motivational at all. And it does a big fat ZERO for your self-confidence.

Are you ready to stop saying should? Let’s talk about the alternatives.

If you catch yourself using should on you then stop. Think. Get real. Let’s take the example of “I should get up earlier”.

Ask yourself:

What will be the benefit of getting up earlier? Time to do more before leaving the house? Feeling less rushed? What would be the result, and is that result something you really want? If there is something to be gained by setting your alarm clock for half an hour earlier then decide:

I will get up at 6.30 tomorrow morning instead of 7, so that I can go for a quick run and improve my fitness.


I will get up half an hour earlier so that I don’t feel rushed in the shower.

You can then think of other things you can do to help you achieve your new goal. Going to bed earlier, drinking less caffeine, not watching TV late at night. Whatever.

Making that decision, empowering yourself with the knowledge of how you will benefit, and what steps you will take to help you get there, will help you just effing do it. Trust me, you will feel so much better taking that control back, rather than sitting thinking about what you should be doing.

What about if you are using should on others? Firstly, think about how you feel when you hear a stream of shoulds coming at you. Under attack? Cluttered and confused? Patronised? Judged? How about listened to? Empowered? Helped and supported? I am guessing it more of the first lot than the second. So, stop, listen. Is the person you are talking to asking for your advice? If not, you don’t need to give any. Listen, empathise, and maybe ask them a question: what can I do to help? But mainly just listen. People like to talk things through and the greatest gift you can give them at that time is a non-judgemental ear.

And if they do ask for advice, then there are loads of ways you can give advice in a positive away without should. How about:

– When I was in a similar situation, I…. and that worked for me.

– I once read something about this and they suggested…

– Have you considered … ? Could that work for you?

See? Lots of ways to stop saying should. Let’s get rid of that bossy, limiting and negative word. Give it a go and your friends, family and yourself will thank you for it.


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