We all have an idealized vision of how our lives “should” be – the perfect job, relationship, body, house, etc. But constantly comparing reality to this fictional ideal is an express train to unhappiness. As writer Elle Luna said, “We unconsciously imprison ourselves to avoid our most primal fears. We choose Should because choosing Must is terrifying, incomprehensible.”
Using “should” gives us an excuse to avoid taking action or making changes. After all, if things “should” be a certain way, then it’s not our fault they aren’t, right? Wrong. Saying “I should start working out” or “I should be making more money” puts the responsibility on some nameless force instead of yourself.
So what happens when we use “should” too much? Here are some of the most dangerous side effects:
- Procrastination and inaction. When you think you “should” do something but don’t actually want to, you’ll keep putting it off.
- Disappointment and frustration. Since nothing will ever be the way you think it “should,” you’ll always feel let down.
- Complaints and negativity. People who overuse “should” tend to complain more and focus on what’s wrong instead of finding solutions.
- Lack of agency. Saying “should” implies you don’t have control over a situation, which can lead to feeling powerless.
The next time you catch yourself saying “I should…” stop and ask why. Are you using it as an excuse not to take action? Are you complaining about things you can’t change? Chances are, there’s a more constructive way to phrase it.
Rather than: “I should be making more money at my job.” Try: “What steps can I take to earn a higher income?”
Instead of: “My partner should help more around the house.” Say: “I’m going to talk to my partner about dividing chores more evenly.”
See the difference? One puts the responsibility on you while the other avoids it. Life will never be the way we think it “should.” The sooner we stop using that word, the sooner we can take steps to create the life we want. Our time is better spent improving what we can rather than complaining about what we can’t.