Cut that should out

I’ve always been fascinated by words. Long before I started my career in communications, I would pay close attention to the specific words people would use to speak. Words can influence the way we feel and the mark we make. They can rouse us to great applause and move us to quickly grab a tissue, because well, mascara.

Words have weight. There are some light words and some particularly heavy ones. There’s one particular word I hear time and time again from clients, myself and just about everyone, which feels like one of the most weight-y words around: S-H-O-U-L-D.

This word evokes images of prison shackles. Yes, that image is daunting, but let’s take a closer look at the hidden meaning we’re expressing each time we launch a should into the universe.

It’s rooted in consequence and self-judgment

While we don’t always voice the associated consequences and judgments, they hover around like pesky mosquitoes. Here’s an example, “I should open social media accounts on every platform for my business.” The lingering consequence and judgment might sound like “…or else I’m going to fall behind everyone else and fail.” It might sound extreme, but I encourage you the next time you use the word should to ask yourself “or else, what?” What comes up for you? And how motivated after that are you to do the thing you think you should do? Chances are, not very.

It implies that we’re less than

Comparison is the accomplice of should. When we say something like, “I should be married by now” or “I should be more successful” what we’re really doing is putting ourselves down in comparison to other people, who we see as having those things, while we don’t. We’re not good enough is the message we’re communicating.

I had a networking coffee with a lady I met at a recent event. Throughout our conversation, she kept mentioning she should read more books, so I asked her why she thought she should do this. Her response was reading would make her smarter – meaning she didn’t see herself as smart enough. She didn’t choose words like “to expand my knowledge” or “to learn new things”, which was unfortunate, because she came across as a well-spoken, intelligent person.

Whatever that thing is we think we should do or be is an elusive pursuit of being more. We are already enough.

An invitation to open our minds and know and trust ourselves a little more

When we’re should-ing on ourselves, we’re other focused. We neglect our own spirit. Unknowingly, what we’re doing is trying to meet the expectations others have of us.

Going back to the lady I met a while back, she also mentioned in our conversation that she disliked reading anything that was longer than a few lines. Now imagine not enjoying reading more than a few lines, but sentencing yourself to read more books, because you’ve determined it’s the way to make you smarter? That’s a recipe for self-sabotage.

So I ask this: Why does it have to be THAT thing we think we should do or be? Why can’t it be audio books instead of traditional reading or a running club instead of the gym or relationship building instead of selling? Should invites us to dig a little deeper — understand who we are and what we’re all about a little more and then trust what we discover. Be that. When we make decisions from this empowered space, we’ll quickly change should to “I want to” and “I will”.

My challenge to you this week is to pay attention to the way you speak. Where are you using the word should in your life? When you catch yourself using it, pause and take a moment to inquire what it’s all about. What you find will help you to move much more swiftly towards your goals.

If you already know where you’re using should in your life, share in the comments below. Let us know how you plan on cutting that should out.