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  • Writer's picturejonwilson3

Beware the Shoulds!

Beware the Shoulds: This might just be my favourite personal development statement!

Well, that’s almost certainly not true as I’ve just thought of two others 😄

However, it’s been an ally of mine for many years and it opens the door to a test.

“I should get a new job”

“I should clean the dishes”

“I should be more considerate of other people”

“I should get in touch with Bob”

“I should have a website”

“I should do internet marketing”

(or their “You should” equivalents from well-meaning and not so well-meaning others)

And the test is simply: Why should I?

Similarly: I must. I ought to. I have to.

Why must you? Why ought you? Why do you have to?

Notice the energy around “I should”. Notice the obligation or expectation it creates - to yourself or others. Notice that it can feel like effort.

Did a little deeper and you’ll hear the voice of the inner critic in many of the “should” statements that you hear and that you say to yourself.

For example, in my business: “I should do internet marketing”. Why should I? “Because that’s what the internet tells me I should do every day and I feel like I’m not a real entrepreneur if I’m not embracing what everyone else seems to be doing”.

Urgh! It’s ugly, disempowering and demotivating. My inner critic is telling me how I’m not good enough compared to others.

So: Beware the Shoulds. It’s not saying all shoulds are bad, just that it helps to be alert to our language as it often hides the voice of the inner critic. Sometimes we will use it when we really mean “I want to”, or “I love this so much I absolutely have to”, but in my experience of myself and others, this is rare.

A really simple exercise to help you with the “shoulds” in your life is this:

  • Grab a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle to create 2 columns

  • At the top of the first: “I choose to …”

  • At the top of the second: “Because I want …”

  • Write down everything you are doing in the first column - you can choose to go as deep as you like, you might want to try it with a subset first, say everything you do from waking up to starting work: wake up to my alarm, kiss my husband, feed the dog, eat scrambled egg for breakfast, have a cup of tea, check Facebook, shower and clean my teeth, get dressed in a smart suit, walk to work… For bonus marks, include your ways of being, for example, I choose to be angry/forgiving/loving/critical.

  • Fill in the second column with your honest answer. Question the answer if possible: I choose to wear a smart suit because I want to look good at work. I choose to look good at work because I want to be seen as a model employee. I choose to be seen as a model employee because I worry what others might think if I’m not. Or, perhaps it is: because I want to inspire others. Feel the difference in the last two statements!

I recognise that “I want” may sound self-centred but I don’t see it that way. Being clear on what you want is really important. How will you ever get what you want if you’re not clear on it yourself? Nelson Mandela had a very powerful and clear want that served an entire country. His “I choose to do…” exercise would have been very clear and I bet there weren’t many “shoulds” in his life!


This article is part of 100 Days of Creation, my challenge to myself to write 100 articles in 140 days, each taking no longer than 30 minutes to write and publish.

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