Are you going crazy over the million things you should be doing? What if I told you that there’s only one ‘should’ worth your while – giving yourself a break for once!

When you continually emphasize what you’re not doing, you’re not just sh*tting on yourself — you’re ‘shoulding’ on yourself. So here are 3 reality checks to shed unnecessary obligations and improve your mental health.

1. Who Says You Should?

When you feel like you should be doing something or acting in a certain way, the first and most important step is to check your assumptions. Why ‘should’ you? Who says?

In Lifeskills for Adult Children, Janet Woititz and Alan Garner lay out the most helpful reasoning to confront yourself with:

“Ask yourself: ‘Who made up this rule?

Chances are you will find that your mother, a teacher, or some authority figure in your early childhood told you to follow this rule. Tell yourself that it was just their opinion. It was just something they made up — or, more likely, learned from their parents. It isn’t carved in stone anywhere. It isn’t any great piece of wisdom. And, there’s no reason for you to go on obeying it. Tell yourself you’re an adult now and you can make up your own mind.”

2. ‘Shoulding’ Can Hurt Your Productivity

If you asked yourself why you should, and you came up with an actual answer, great – maybe that’s a new item on your to-do list. But there is still reason to tone down the pressure on yourself.

By putting so much emphasis on what you’re not doing, you make yourself feel like a disappointment or even a failure. And that self-inflicted wound hurts your self esteem while crushing productivity.

Just because you tell yourself you “should,” doesn’t mean you’re helping yourself: “This is a common thing that people actually think is a good strategy for self-discipline, but it seems to backfire more often than not,” shares Dr. Robert Duff, (aka Duff The Psych) author of F*ck Anxiety

When you “should” on yourself, you’re introducing a moral judgement to how you spend your time. We don’t think that’s productive, and indeed, that pressure may make it harder for you to do what you actually need to.

3. It’s Not Just Yourself You’re Judging

If you can’t stop ‘shoulding’ for yourself, do it for your relationships

The ‘should’ impulse doesn’t shut off, and when we do it a lot, we become unconsciously judgmental toward others. 

When we tell ourselves often that we should, we’re operating from our inner critic‘s point of view. And when we routinely give our inner critic so much power in our lives and over what we do, we can’t direct what or whom the critic attacks. 

In this way, ‘shoulding’ bleeds over into close relationships and interactions with strangers. We start to interpret everything we see through the lens of ‘should.’

We can’t keep focusing on preconceived notions of how things should go. This leads us to be less satisfied with our friends and partners, with ourselves, and with everything around us. Perfect fodder for depression and anxiety.

If you can’t stop telling yourself you should, think of what it does to people around you. The land of ‘should’ is a lonely place.

In Conclusion

If you’re ‘shoulding’ on yourself, make sure it’s for a real reason, for a cause worth your time, and that you’re not just in the unconscious habit of judging yourself and others. 

If, after these checks, you determine you really should do that one thing… well, actually do it!

Some of the worst guilt comes from missed opportunities and broken obligations. So when your better judgement tells you that something really needs to get done, don’t let it sit while the guilt festers.

Turn your “shoulds” into better decisions more productive conversations with yourself. When you throw off self-imposed and senseless burdens, your mental health will thank you.