Did you know that waking up early gives you a lot more time during the day? You should totally do that! Also, have you heard about the benefits of daily exercise? You should do that, too! What’s more, how about eating more fruit and vegetables, while cutting down on snacks? Get on it because this is something that you should definitely do as well!
Okay, stop. What’s with all these shoulds?
Of course, I get it. If you see things that seem like they will improve your life somehow, it is natural to think that you should do them. I see it all the time, also in reaction to our posts. On the one hand, this is great. It makes me happy that there really seems to be value in the things we are writing about.
On the other hand, I’m not sure about all these shoulds. What does it even mean when someone says they should do something?
First, should highlights they are not doing that thing right now. It may seem obvious, but it is also important to say. Anything you should be doing is something you are not actually doing.
Second, should implies that you are not actually going to do it either. Saying you should do something is different from saying you will do something. It has a built-in exit route, so to speak. Try this: Right now, think of something that you should do. Then, in your head, say that you will do it instead. Notice how different that sounds and feels?
Third, it is painful. Perhaps not overtly, like someone pinching you really hard. But painful in this subtle, draining way. If there are things you think you should do, chances are that they keep coming up in your head. Occasionally you remember them and think that yes, you should do these things. But you also remember that you are not actually doing them. If this works for you like it does for me, this creates a disturbing flinching sensation, either in your head or in the pit of your stomach. That’s not very encouraging.
I’m not a friend of should. Saying “I will do XYZ” is already better because you are setting a clear intention for yourself. It makes it harder to mentally wriggle your way out of doing it. This can be effective, but it can also be even more jarring if you still constantly find that you are not doing the things you told yourself you will do.
For me, the best solution is this: Instead of saying should or will, try want. I want to wake up early. I want to do some exercise. I want to eat fruit and vegetables. Again, try saying it in your head and notice the difference. Just like will, it gives you an intention, but in the most positive way – subconsciously, it becomes appealing. This also means that you remove many of those mental barriers that usually stand in the way of changing your habits. Alternatively, I choose to can work just as well.
So, if there is anything that I would say you should do, it is to remove should from your internal monologue as much as possible. Every time you notice yourself using should, gently replace it with want or choose and see what happens.