Would you like to know why I have banned the use of the words: “I should”?
I Should (Audio)
If you were to observe your language, how often would you notice your use of the words: “I should”? Depending on the context, can you feel the feelings of guilt it can engender? You know, “I should be doing this assignment, but….”? Doesn’t the word “but” quite often feature together with the use of the word “should”? It is the futility of these little words I’d like to discuss today.
What you are really saying…
Thesaurus suggests the word “should” is used to express an obligation or duty (I should really call Mary). A good synonym is “ought to”.
They can also express or conditionality or contingency (Should they not arrive, I’ll be affected), or to suggest a probability or expectation (They should arrive by noon).
In all of these, we are speculating on something in the future, aren’t we? Conversely, when denoting the past, like “I should have called Mary”, we are looking back, and lamenting something we “ought to have done, but didn’t”.
There are many more contexts in which the word “should” can be used, however it is in conjunction with expressing an obligation or duty that I wish to focus briefly on “should” or “ought to” today.
I believe that used in the above context this word conjures up a sense of guilt and consequently should be avoided, particularly in our self talk. There, I’ve even used it myself…
Help me out here please. Think about it – what is the point of saying to yourself: “I should be studying”? The way I see it, you would probably be doing something else, and alerting yourself to the fact that you ought to be doing something more important, such as studying.
I see a few possible outcomes here:
a) You drop what you are doing instead, and start studying – probably the better outcome (if you really should be studying)
b) You rationalize (as in procrastinate) why you aren’t studying – thereby buying into the secondary gain of what you are currently doing provides you.
(You do remember me suggesting that to rationalize is to tell yourself “rational lies”, right?)
I believe that if used constructively in the former case a) that would be a positive use of the word, in which case it would have served its purpose – to galvanize you into action.
However, the latter example b) implies guilt somehow, doesn’t it? It could suggest that you are using Procrastination and engaging in “self sabotage”. In a stronger sense, it could also imply the start of “beating yourself up” for not doing something you know that you “ought to” be doing.
I have addressed the topic of Self Talk in many of my blogs, where we could choose to acknowledge something we did or didn’t do and move on or allow it to berate us and “put ourselves down”. Our left brain mind chatter is famous for this isn’t it? I believe using the words “should” and “ought to“ plays right into its hand.
“Should” can imply a form of worry, and in my blog on Dealing with Fear suggested that worry is using your imagination to create something you do not want.
Also, adding the word “but” after a “should” is often used as a justification. I have often said we could avoid using the word “but” and replacing it with the word “and”. “But” can have the affect of invalidating everything that was said just before it. It’s a great word to rationalize with , isn’t it?
Would you agree with me that most of us would tend to use the words “should” and “ought to“ in the latter context b) more than the former? I can assure you from my almost 1000 hours of coaching, mentoring and grooming that this is the case.
So how do we do this?
(Remember that asking “why” is never as useful as asking “how” we do something).
If we use “should” and “ought to“ in a future sense, we can easily fall into the futility trap outlined in b) above, right? It is speculative, can be an example of “worry” and “made in the mind”.
If we use “I should have” in the sense of looking back, it implies regret, doesn’t it? I also often encounter that famous phrase: “if only….”.
If only (should) I had bought shares when Frank Lowie started Westfield I’d be a squillionaire today.
If only (should) I’d have kept a cool head, I wouldn’t have….
Other than taking a learning from that regret, what is the point of dwelling on it?
Using “could” instead
I have learned that replacing the word “should” with the word “could” has many benefits.
I believe it suggests that I am more in control – that I have options or choices. To me saying to myself: “OK, I could have called Mary, but didn’t” seems softer and a little more rational. It seems more resolute. I feel it removes some of the guilt edge.
That’s looking back. Looking forward and saying: “I could call Mary” takes the blame out of it and leaves you to choose whether or not you will call Mary.
Can you see the difference? Can you hear how different it sounds? Feels better, doesn’t it?
So what if you observed your language this coming week (or asked someone you trust to help do so with you) and looked out for when you use the words “should” or “ought to”?
What if you considered the context of its use and if you find it was in the unsupportive manner, to remind yourself next time to use “could” instead?
Or if you noticed having allowed it to be a catalyst to get you “doing”, to acknowledge yourself with praise?
I have heard depression described as “the illusion of a lack of choices”. What if you avoided the words “should” or “ought to” and you replaced the implied shame or guilt or “beating yourself up” with acknowledging your new awareness that you do in fact have choices – better choices?
What if you could?