“I should be spending more time reading business books”

“He seems perfect on paper, I should consider myself lucky”

“I can’t start that new side-gig, I should be focusing on making money through my 9–5”

Any of those sound familiar?

Should is a dangerous word, and we need to start treating it like one.

Why is it so dangerous?

Should is an excuse, and a lame one at that. Should is the thing you tell yourself when you’re probably going to do the “other thing” anyways. Should is a lazy way of delaying the inevitable. Should is the thing we say when we can’t get out of our own way.

What I mean by all of this is that “should”-ing is our way of protecting ourselves from the things we don’t want to do. When we start using the word “should”, it’s normally a sign that we’re acting outside of our integrity. This means we’re focusing on trying to do the less painful thing, even if it isn’t in alignment with what we really want. In the examples above, that can be staying with the person we’re really not that into because they’re safer on paper. It can be settling in your corporate gig because you’ve been taught over time that it’s the only way to make a sustainable income. It’s about trying to convince yourself to improve habits that you don’t even want to improve.

In any of those situations, I can promise you this: you will most likely end up doing the opposite of what you “should” do eventually. When you say “should” to stay safe, you’re simply putting off the big change for a later time. That time will come.

The struggle I have with this word is that people use it all the time as a crutch. I’m not saying that it’s bad to focus on building a new habit that you don’t really want to do — maybe changing to a healthier diet is essential even if it feels like a drag. This isn’t a hall pass! What I am saying, though, is that if you look at tasks as a burden that you “should” or “should not” do, they’re going to start sucking the life from you. The 10 minutes you set aside for daily journaling will be draining if you feel like you’re forced. At that point, doesn’t the cost start out-weighing the benefit?

Working from integrity is the single best way to combat working on the “shoulds”. If you start committing to the actions you really want to do, you’ll have your own permission to focus on the fun stuff. You’ll no longer have to spend the day idly distracting yourself from your check-list of things you “should” do. Seems like a novel concept, right?

Let’s start now. Grab a notebook and jot down your answers to the questions below.

  1. Think about what is on your list of “shoulds” that is taking up a lot of your time. Write out the top one.

Example: “I should go on a diet to lose weight and get healthier, but it makes me feel deprived. It feels like planning my day around what I can’t have takes up so much time and mental space.”

2. Consider your motivation behind this “should”. Where is your motivation coming from?

Example: “I want to be healthier and lose weight long-term.”

3. Think about your answer to question 2. Are you OK with it, or do you want to replace that with a new plan of action?

Example: “I DO want to lose weight in a healthy way, but I am not happy with how this diet makes me feel. Feeling like I shouldn’t eat any carbs makes me feel like I’m missing out on fun, and makes me more likely to binge when I do have a treat.”

4. What is one more aligned action you can take instead of the “should”?

Example: “I’ll start losing weight in a way that works better for me. I’ll start going to the gym more frequently and eating more protein so I’m not hungry and loading up on carbs, but I won’t limit myself from all carbs. I will allow myself treats while focusing on balance.”

What do you think? Take a stab at the process above, and let me know what you come up with in the comments!

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Originally published at medium.com


  • Chris Castillo

    Career Coach and Founder of Empowered Achievers

    Chris is the founder of Empowered Achievers, where she works as a career coach helping ambitious women craft careers that they love.  Originally coming from the corporate advertising industry where she worked on clients like Google, YouTube, and Expedia, she traded in the agency life for the world of talent development and culture. She transformed her own career into something she loved, and is passionate about getting rid of the "Sunday Scaries" for each one of her clients, too.