Shutting Down the “Shoulds”

Melissa and I had some returns to do at IKEA. It’s about an hour’s drive from our house, so not a quick trip. We arrive, do our returns, and then look at each other.

“Is there anything we need here?” I say to Melissa.

“Not that I can think of,” she says.

“Well, we drove all this way. Do you think we should at least look around?”

“We could,” Melissa says.

We both just stand there not sure what to do.

“This is ridiculous,” I say. “Just because we had to drive a bit to get here doesn’t mean we should waste time looking around and likely end up buying something we don’t need. Let’s just go.”

This is just one example of how easy it can be to let “shoulds” rule our lives.

We “should” look around since we drove so far.

I “should” go to the barbecue even though I don’t want to.

I “should” go to the gym.

Or the time when Melissa and I were on vacation and we decided to leave our bed and breakfast three nights early because the area was nothing like we had hoped. Instead, we headed to our next destination and stayed there longer.

Did we eat the cost of those three nights of lodging? Sure, but sometimes it’s better to forfeit financially to gain joy. And in fact, the rest of the trip was so much more than we could have imagined. A vacation that started out with fears of regret became the trip of a lifetime! I’m sure glad we didn’t let the “should” monster keep us there.

The word “should” in and of itself can be clutter, stopping you from taking action to make the changes you want in your life. It can become yet another obstacle on your journey.

So how do you know when it’s clutter and how do you clear it?

  1. Start by recognizing when you fall victim to the “shoulds”. How often do you use the word? Do you let it drive your decisions? Or demotivate you from taking any action at all?
  2. Think back to when you learned about this particular “should.” Who taught you that this is something you should or shouldn’t do? The pressure that comes with the word likely originated from someone else. Spend some time with your journal recalling stories and examples of when this conditioned response has played out in your life. It’s unlikely you’ll use the word about something with which you are completely aligned so it’s no wonder you rarely feel motivated by it. Take the “should” a step further and ask yourself why. For example, if you say “I really should exercise,” connect with your “why.””I really should exercise because I want to feel better.”

    And why do you want to feel better?

    “Because I’m over these aches and pains and I want to feel strong.”

    Why do you want to feel strong?

    “Because then I feel more confident which makes me more likely to make big moves.”

    And so on….

    Connecting with your intention behind a should is a great way to gain clarity and reclaim power.

  3. Another tactic is to replace “should” with “could” and see how different you feel. “Could” shifts things from feeling like a command to feeling like a choice, and as a result reclaims your power. Check in with your body as you read the following statements: I should be writing right now.
    I could be writing right now. Did you feel your muscles relax a bit? Maybe you found yourself being curious instead of reactive.Pretty powerful, right?

The word “should” often feels as if someone outside of you is telling you what to do and you’re simply to obey the order. As such, your resistance is going to rebel and you’ll find yourself stuck in this place trying to decide if you should or shouldn’t and ultimately making no move at all.

The language you use matters. You use it to give yourself permission or an excuse, and you rob yourself of the choice. So when the Should Monster rears its head, stop, check in, and do a word swap. Then you’ll know what you really want to do.


11 replies
  1. PS
    PS says:

    THIS is so true!! “I should”……. always makes me feel guilty and yes rebellious! Changing the language and the conversations I’m having with myself!!! Thank you!!!

  2. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Yes I am definitely caught in the midst of the “shoulds” and feeling overwhelmed to the point of frustrated and stuck. Since I am running this operation (household) and have a 16 yr old at home, I had to sit him down for a talk. We are both in our summer holiday mode (He is a student and I am a teacher). He started his first job and is working all the time, so summer doesn’t look the way he thought it would.

    I too had plans for summer…creativity. My vision of summer was that I would get up and go down to my creative space and complete the art for a friend’s children’s book one page/day at a time, and add more art to my website…a week has already passed and nothing… no progress on the home chores, the book, or my art.

    I have been driving my son to work, picking him up from work (happy to do so. This is a wonderful opportunity for his growing independence and to save for post secondary), and doing entertaining things with him at his request so he doesn’t feel like he missed out on summer – simple good stuff like board games, movies at home, etc, – time that we appreciate together.

    What has taken most of my time is an online course that I am taking in the hope of developing skills for a side income to make retirement in the next seven years an affordable option. I hadn’t anticipated how much time that course would take.

    In the morning, I have established a routine of chakra balancing meditation before getting out of bed (I am definitely not cutting that out 😉 As a result of picking him up late at night, sleeping in to compensate, the morning routine breakfasts get started later and then by the time I am done cleaning it is time to consider what I will make for lunch, and the days are slipping by at an alarming rate.

    After the talk it was decided that my son would take care of his own breakfast and not simply skip it and leave it for me to make a bigger lunch, and I would prepare the other two meals.

    So tomorrow, no more shoulds. Instead, I “could” work on art and I will with a clear slate until lunch prep. Now I’ll say I could clean the house and see about making progress there 🙂 My goal at this point is how to do all that needs to be done with more efficiency.

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Sounds like you’ve made some important adjustments, Dawn. Well done! Keep expectations realistic with your art and house cleaning so your resistance doesn’t throw a temper tantrum. 🙂 For some ideas on productive planning, check out this replay of a Facebook Live I did on turning your To Do list into a Ta Da list.

  3. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Thank you so much for the practical tips Kerri! While I listened to the next recording I created my Ta Da List based on your idea of a master list, the daily lists of the week, and the manageable bite size bullet point “Pom rounds.” I think my overwhelm comes from seeing all that I have to do then my brain shuts down. I will tweak my productivity list to meet the needs but it looks like one of those half doors where you can open the top and close the bottom. There is a full size sheet that has the master list visible on the top half then on the pages before that there are half size sheets for the daily tasks. I put it in a binder so when I turn a page for each day The master list is always visible on top. It is just the half sheets that get turned each day until that week is done. The next week will be laid out the same way…on a large master with four daily half sheets (once you turn to the last day it is on the bottom of the master sheet and it’s time to create the set for the next week. I’ll also be checking out and!

  4. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Finally wanted to say you are an amazing coach; you bring what makes sense to light. I am back on track with the tools you have so generously offered. All the best to you, Melissa, the pets – the whole loving household/team.

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Thanks so much, Dawn! We appreciate YOU! I would recommend not having your master list always visible. Just the day’s list. Otherwise, it’s easy to peer over at the master list and get overwhelmed. When your brain starts buzzing, bring yourself back to the day’s list and focus on just one of those items. It’s a practice of managing your mind. Keeping the master list out of sight is a way to set you up for success. A final tip, when your mind is racing, do a brain dump — pen to paper; 5-10 minutes; write down anything and everything on your mind. No rhyme. No reason. Just empty it. Often times I shred mine after! It’s a great way to get some files off that computer of yours so you can up its processing speed!

  5. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Thanks finally for that most helpful critique of how I structured my master list and the daily to do lists Kerri. What you said made so much sense right away. In llight of the fact that I do get overwhelmed by an overhanging to do list, having the masterlist always in my face would overwhelm me, and yes, my ‘mind does race, my brain does buzz, and I do need to release papers in a good cleansing shred.’ It’s like you know me! Lol 😂

  6. Sarah Wing
    Sarah Wing says:

    “Should” to “could” – that definately resonated with my body. I’ll be passing that wisdom nugget along to friends and family. I came here to send your website to a friend and bumped into something practical and also intuitively felt in my body (within minutes). That combination is why I flock to your radio show/words and tell my friends and family -that are clutter clearing- to discover what you offer.

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Hey there, Sarah!

      Thanks for joining the conversation. I’m glad this idea resonated with you. It’s a simple yet powerful shift, eh? Thanks for sharing my site and listening to my radio show!

      Here’s to space and clarity,

      • Sarah Wing
        Sarah Wing says:

        Definitely powerful. It’s easy for me to imagine feeling guilty or shame and a sinking posture vs. sitting up (even looking upward) as the wheels of possibility start turning. Like “to-do” into “ta-da!”.. Lol


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