What to say instead of “should”

We use the word “should” all the time: “I should clean my car,” “You shouldn’t say that about yourself,” “We should try something new.” But should is kind of a useless word; it’s often a substitute for “I think this is what’s expected of me” — a reflection of social expectation, rather than tuning into our own feelings.

I tell my clients no “shoulds” are allowed when we’re working together, because it distracts us from listening to our body’s “yes”es and “no”s. That means we both have to call each other on it when we hear the other person say “should.”

When we say “should,” we’re using shame and guilt to motivate ourselves, which rarely works at effecting change. With a simple rephrase, we can discover our genuine feelings, and usually find a lot more motivation to do things differently.

Instead of should (“I should really exercise more”), try saying . . .

  • “If I ______, I’ll feel _______.” (for example, “If I exercise, I’ll feel happier.”)
  • “______ gives me ______.” (“Exercising gives me joy.”)
  • “I want to ______ because ______.” (“I want to exercise because it will energize me.”)

If you’re struggling to fill in the blanks, or you discover when you fill them in that your motivators are all external (“I want to exercise because dates will find me hotter”), it’s likely that you don’t actually want to do this activity. And if that’s the case, maybe it’s time to drop the “should” (and the self judgment) altogether!