Throwing Away Should

Photo by Pyrosky/iStock / Getty Images

Do you ever "should" yourself?  You know, I should have done more, said less, spoken up, done it differently.  I should work out, eat better, spend less, give more.  I should (insert your own phrase here).

I had an experience a couple of weeks ago that reminded me that "shoulding" is a lot like worrying.  It gives me something to do but it doesn't actually get me anywhere.  In fact it doesn't change the outcome or situation and it drains my energy.  It takes my focus off the possibilities ahead of me and keeps me looking backwards.

Here's the story:

I was leaving the house to visit a friend and her new baby.  As I was walking to the car the voice inside my head sounded something like this; "You should have cooked a meal to bring to them.  You should have at least baked some bread.  You had plenty of time yesterday to prepare for this visit and you didn't do anything.  How thoughtless."  Yep, pretty harsh, right?  I know.

This friend that I was visiting is a close one.  So close that I was showing up in my "only in my own home" look.  No frills.  No makeup.  Snow boots, comfy pants, sweatshirt.   And when I got to her front door guess what opportunity presented itself to me?  The chance to shovel her front walk and sidewalk.  We had gotten one of our few snow falls the night before and the shovel was sitting right outside the door.  I guessed that getting two boys off to school and a new baby didn't leave a lot of time for this new mom to get the shoveling done, but it did present a great opportunity for a visiting friend who just happened to be dressed for some outdoor work. 

When I finished and went inside, here's what she said, "I was watching you out the window and feeling such gratitude for your help.  You took care of the thing that felt overwhelming to me today."  She didn't say, I wish you would have brought a meal or baked some bread.  Nope..not even a mention of the things I had spent time worrying about.  The things I thought I should do.

I've been reflecting on that day.  All I needed to do was be open to what the day presented to me.  I could do something when I was paying attention.  That time shoveling was time well spent...productive, energizing, fulfilling.  And that time I spent "shoulding" on my drive over was quite the opposite...draining, wasted.  The difference between could and should is a pretty powerful one.  

Try out the phrases below.  How does each one make you feel?  What comes up when you say them out loud?

  • I should be working on that budget that my boss wants from me on Friday.
  • I could use this open time on my calendar to dig into that budget project.
  • I should call that friend who I haven't talked to in a month.
  • I could call my friend tonight on the way home from work.  It will be great to catch up.
  • I should be going to the gym more often.
  • I could start taking the stairs up to my office to get a few more steps into my day.

For me the could statements are inspiring.  I feel excited about the opportunity in front of me.  I see possibilities opening up.  

I notice that my clients use should a lot in the beginning.  They've taken the bold step to engage in coaching and they have a focus on moving forward.  Not surprisingly, the place where they feel stuck comes with some self judgement and "shoulding".  Here's what I suggest to them and to you: Throw should away.  That's right.  Stop using it.  When you are talking to yourself internally or to others find another word or way to express what you want.  Replace it with could, want to, get to.  

It will take some time.  For awhile you'll probably say something and then need to ask for permission to rephrase it.  And sometimes you'll forget and let it back in like I did when visiting my friend.  But I know from experience that after some time it will become a habit and you'll start to see the world in a more positive light.  Full of opportunities waiting for you to grab ahold of them.

I'd love to hear from you when you experiment with this and discover how it changes your outlook or approach to situations.  Send me and email at and tell me your story.  If you discover a great technique for throwing out should I'll be sure to share it with the SHINE community.  We're in this together so let's all do some throwing away today!

Worry is a misuse of the imagination.
— Dan Zadra