Shoulda Coulda Woulda©

I believe in words—the power of words—and their ability both to empower and to disempower. The reason is simple: you listen to the words you say, so you believe them and then they become true for you. One of the very subtle disempowering words that we often use (without even recognizing its limiting potential) is “should.” In fact, “should” limits us in three different ways. First, notice how we use “should” to avoid making clear commitments:

  • I should get organized
  • I should call my parents
  • I should start exercising
  • I should take more time for myself
  • I should read more

I should, I should, I should. You know what I’m talking about. When you hear people say that they “should” do something, do you get a strong sense that it will be done or, like when people say they’ll “try,” do you conclude that it probably will not happen?

The opposite of “should” in this context is “will.” When you state that you “will” do something, you are committed to it, and you can now be held accountable for that commitment (by others and by yourself). Perhaps that is why we seek the safety of “should”—to avoid making commitments for which we can be held accountable. Whatever the underlying reason, using “should” this way keeps us stuck and leaves our lives right where they are (potentially forever).

Second, this use of “should” is also a constant distraction because it allows us to pile up long lists of “shoulds” (in our heads or on paper). Without clear commitments, these shoulds are always lingering somewhere in our minds, keeping us from focusing on what we are committed to and often keeping us from focusing on anything. We meander through our days keeping busy with many things (often things that have no meaning to us), but we never get down to business, commit (“I will” versus “I should”), and take action to change our lives, our businesses, or our relationships. The “I should” in your life is like ever-present shiny objects that distract you from your true path, from your true self, and from the relationships that matter. Are you ready to stop talking about change and commit to it with a firm and accountable “I will”?

The third way in which “should” disempowers us is when we do things that we think we “should” do rather than doing things that we truly want to do (or were meant to do). I am not talking about ignoring our responsibilities (although responsibilities are all based upon each person’s perceptions and stories), but most of us spend our lives always doing what we think we “should” or what we are “supposed” to do. It’s funny—when most of us are told by someone else that we “should” do something, we have a natural desire to reject the “should.” We easily recognize the “should” when it comes from someone else, but we often fail to realize when we are putting the “should” on ourselves!

For example, when a parent tells us that we “should” call a sibling, we often push back (at least inside) because we feel like we are being told what to do. You are probably like me in wanting to do things because you want to, not because you are told to (or even because it’s suggested). When someone else tells us what they think we should do, we feel like they are telling us how to live our lives and pushing their own agenda on us. We do not like it, yet we often live our own lives in a state of always doing what we think we “should” do.

When I turned 40, I decided to get involved with a non-profit, believing that it was time for me to give back. While I loved getting involved and was passionate about the cause, one of my key drivers was to do what I thought I “should” do at that point in my life. Years later, I now feel even more engaged and committed to things that I am involved with, but I still have situations where I continue to do what I think I should do in terms of my non-profit involvement. I recently decided to resign from a couple of Board positions because I was not feeling as engaged and committed as I had at the beginning, but it took me over a year to decide to resign and act upon it…because I felt like I “should” stay involved so that I did not disappoint my fellow Board members.

There it is—doing what I should so that I do not disappoint others and risk having them not like me. So many of our “shoulds” are not our own, but are driven by others without them ever saying a word. We may not be told by others what we should do, but we choose (mostly unconsciously) to do things because we think we should, and we are doing it to please others (even if they have not asked us to do it). How crazy is that—doing something to please someone else when they have not expressed a desire that we do it, suggested we do it or even hinted that they think we should do it!

Stop doing things to please others, to avoid disappointing them, and to live the life that they think you should live. This is YOUR life and your experience of this life, and you deserve to live it according to your own heart’s desires.

By the way, this is my own form of a should directed at you. I AM suggesting that you stop living your life according to someone else’s standards, which unavoidably gives you someone else’s standard to live by—my own—so feel free to tell me to shut up. I will fully honor you telling me so if that is your choice. It is up to you if and when you change your life. It is your decision as to when or if you start living the life that God proclaimed for you. It is your choice to be awake or asleep. My only invitation is that you make a decision instead of rolling along on autopilot and living a life full of shoulds.

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