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Stop Sh***ing On Yourself

52 Little Practices for a Year of Big Change

When you replace should with could (or would) you are challenged to own your actions, embrace your freedom and get clarity about what motivates you.

Shoulding (also shouldn’ting) is disempowering. By eliminating should from your vocabulary and your life perspective, you break out of self-imposed and cultural bondage and the limitations they force on you. When you use could (or would) instead of should with others, you invite them into choice, rather than shame them into compliance.

The word should tricks you into believing there is only one way to meet your needs. In fact it distracts you from the needs. It’s greedy. It keeps your focus on one specific strategy and pushes you forward without prompting you to question your why or how. Shoulding shuts down curiosity, possibility and potential.

When you tell yourself you should, you are setting yourself up to act out of compliance, not out of joy. Should implies there is a force outside yourself (a belief system, another person, a consequence outside your power) which you are following (blindly?) without choice. It is an act of allowing power to be used OVER you (or using power over yourself) or another. Anytime you use power over yourself or another you risk building resentment, defensiveness, hopelessness, fear and distrust, and destroying creativity, initiative, safety, collaboration, closeness and trust (just to name a few consequences).

This is not to say that directing your actions according to belief systems or values is disconnecting, harmful or disempowering. Changing should to could (or would) illuminates and intensifies the power of choosing to live according to values and beliefs.

I choose my actions not because I should (or else…) but because I want to honor a particular belief system, I want to live with integrity to my values. So instead of saying, “I should say a prayer before eating” implying, “or else I am (fill in the blank)” I say, “I could (or would like to) say a prayer before eating. I want to give gratitude to the food I am about to eat and all the love and effort which went into bringing it here before me.” Do you see how in this way I am moving TOWARD what I want (I want to honor something) rather than moving AWAY from something I don’t want (I am acting to avoid consequence).

Try this.

Close your eyes for a moment and say at least three times, “I should eat vegetables with dinner.” Notice what it feels like in your body when you say this. What do you notice? Notice any feelings which come up when you say this.

Now close your eyes and say at least three times, “I could eat vegetables for dinner.” What does that feel like in your body? Do you notice any difference? What feelings do you have when you say this?

Now connect your needs to your could. Close your eyes and say to yourself, “I could eat vegetables with my dinner. What needs would it meet if I did? Is this the way I would like to meet those needs?”

Try another option…”would like to”. To say “would” is to take personal responsibility.

Close your eyes and say to yourself, “I would like to eat vegetables for dinner tonight so that I take care of my body and have more energy.” What does that feel like?

You could also try “would” as a question. For example, “would I like to eat more vegetables tonight? If I did so I might have more energy.”

Eating vegetables is an example of a widely believed strategy for health and wellbeing. It contributes to a healthy body, energy and feeling of lightness after eating. That doesn’t mean eating vegetables is the only strategy for achieving a healthy body, having energy and feeling good after eating. It’s one of an infinite number of strategies! Perhaps I might discover I don’t want to eat vegetables for dinner, but I do care about being healthy and having energy and so I decide to find another strategy to meet those needs.

What other strategies have you been taught as shoulds? How about “get more exercise”, “say you are sorry”, “call your mom”, “say thank you”, “give so and so a gift”, “go to your best friends wedding”, “get a college degree”, “do the dishes”, etc….?

Imagine you are thinking to yourself, “I should apologize to my friend”. You catch the should and turn it into, “I could apologize to my friend.” And then “Why would I want to apologize to my friend?” Perhaps your answer is “I would like to apologize to her because I want her to know that this relationship really matters to me and I want her to be able to trust me. So, when I say ‘I’m sorry’ I’d like to find out what I can do to rebuild that trust.”

Can you see how much more beautiful that apology is going to be now? IF you decide to go forward with it (your choice because this is a could, not a should), you will do so willingly, not reluctantly. That in itself will create a different outcome. Also, you’ll be able to share with your friend why you are apologizing and ask them what they need to rebuild trust (the need behind your should).


Commit to no shoulds or shouldn’ts for one full day (or week)! Use COULD and/or WOULD instead of SHOULD.

Some example should replacements.

I should exercise today.

I could exercise today.

Would I like to exercise today?

You should take out the trash.

Could you take out the trash?

​Would you take out the trash?

​I should get this job done today.

I could get this job done today.

What would be necessary to get this job done today?

I should call my friend today.

I could call my friend today.

Would I like to call my friend today?

You should do your homework now.

How could I support you in getting your homework done?

When would be the best time to work on your homework?

This will take attention and diligence! Replace all your shoulds with either could or would. So “I should get up” becomes, “I could get up” or “I would like to get up.” “I should go to work now” becomes, “I could go to work now”, “I would like to go to work now” or ``Would I like to go to work now?” Let others know what you are doing so they can support you.

Pay attention to your internal thoughts! That’s where most of the work will be. You may not think you don’t should on yourself much but it wouldn’t be unusual to find you do it over and over and over every day. Most of us do it without being aware of it. It probably starts from the moment you wake up in the morning, “I should get out of bed now”, “I should take a shower this morning”, “I shouldn’t drink more than one cup of coffee this morning”, “I should do check my email”, “I should run this morning”, “I shouldn’t have a pastry this morning”, “I shouldn’t get on instagram.” The list could go on and on, and throughout your day. You might be surprised.

TAKE IT DEEPER (if you like)

Should’s always mask a need. Take your practice deeper by asking yourself what the need is behind your should. When you catch yourself saying should. Stop, replace it with could. And then follow up with, “when I told myself I should, what need was I trying to meet?”

For example, if I said, “I should get up now” and changed it to “I could get up now.” I would then ask myself, “what needs are telling me ‘I should get up’?” “Why does this matter to me?” Your answer could be surprising. Maybe the need is straightforward like, “Getting up now contributes to my need for exercise (because I am going to go for a run when I get up), and productivity.” But it could also be more covert like, “my mom told me that I wouldn’t ever amount to anything if I slept in.” In this case “I should get up now” could be masking a need for acceptance, belonging, and dignity. When you discover hidden needs like this behind your shoulds it can be transformational and powerful.

Let me know what you think!

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