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I recently came across this as a statement and instantly loved it.
It succinctly sums up my feelings about “shoulds,” having eradicated that word from my life’s language as I undertook my journey to freedom.
“I believe the word should is one of the most damaging words in the our language. Every time we use should, we are, in effect, saying ‘wrong.’ Either we are wrong or we were wrong or we are going to be wrong. I don’t think we need more wrongs in our life. We need to have more freedom of choice. I would like to take the word should and remove it from the vocabulary forever. I’d replace it with the word could.” ~ Louise Hay
In the past, “should” was a word that I consistently allowed to speak for me. It emerged from a fluency in “not good enough“ and eagerly contributed to a growing vocabulary of self-limiting and self-destructive language. Having brought awareness to its undue recurrence in my mind and its connection to how I was feeling and acting, I realised how little it served me to continue to speak it.
It wasn’t freeing or beneficial or a part of positive growth for me, and as such, it had no place in either my own self-talk or my outward conversation. Bit by bit, I made sure that this word was replaced with many other more suitable, self-supportive, and encouraging alternatives.
Why? Well, because “shoulds” are sh*t.
Our language has incredible power as a creator in our lives and sh*t words are simply not likely to create positive things for us. And we deserve to enjoy positive things!
Here are three questions to see if “shoulds” are sh*t for you too:
1. How does it feel?
Words have a powerful impact in positively or negatively shaping our feelings. That’s because thoughts create our feelings, so if our thinking is steeped in negativity, we’re of course going to find our feelings following suit. For me, “should” always felt heavy. It was a pressure, a word laden with expectation, obligation, and judgement.
“Shoulds” hold hands with the self-destructive beliefs that create a current of “not measuring up.” They feed into our perfectionism, our comparison, and our feelings of inadequacy. “Shoulds” feel sh*t because they are suffocating; they steal the breath of possibility and choice.
To me, it’s not a word of lightness, enjoyment, or freedom—it’s more harsh and demanding. It feels like who we are and what we’re doing needs constant improvement. I recall it feeling like the fuel for the fire of panic, anxiety, and an attack of inferiority, all of which do not belong in a free and content life. It’s not motivating or uplifting or inspiring; if anything, it detracts from my energy and puts my creativity, vitality, and gusto on a standstill.
How does this word feel for you? When your mind tells you that you “should” be this, that, or the other? When you imagine scenarios of where you should be at, what you should be doing, how you should be? Does it feel good? Is it conducive to a supportive, positive mind?
2. Where does it come from?
The thing I’ve realised about “should” is that it primarily stems from my beliefs about what others expect. It’s an expectations word. By that I mean, it’s not coming from what I’d like to do, not from my passions or internal zest for life—it comes from societal norms, expectations, or external pressures.
It comes from what we perceive others to be judging us on—our decisions, our appearances, our skills, our worth. “Shoulds” don’t represent how we actually want to live our lives. They represent where we don’t feel like we’re measuring up. They piggyback on perfectionism and instil a belief that what we’re doing is wrong and absolutely not good enough. From my experience, “should” came to represent the stick I’d beat myself up with for not being good enough in any area—physically, mentally, socially, emotionally.
What are your most common “should” thoughts? Do they represent a free and content you? Where do they come from? In whose eyes are they true or accurate or fitting for your life? Would your most authentic, secure, and free self be saying this?
3. What are the alternatives?
Of course I recognise that we all have responsibilities and realistic duties to uphold in order to maintain a functioning lifestyle. There are certain things we must do.
But I’d rather litter my life with the “coulds,” and the “would like tos.” There is always choice and consequences.
I want to fill my vocabulary with open, recharging language that leads me to potential and possibility rather than regiment and expectation. Realistically, I can still pay my bills and work and do what I need to without feeling as though I “should,” instead seeing that I want to and I enjoy the benefits of doing these duties.
The words we use can be a fountain or a drain. We can flow into positive, enthusiastic language, using it to our benefit in freeing and unleashing us into the reassuring and supportive self-talk that will truly serve us. Or we can drain our dreams, our individuality, and our raw authenticity in the “shoulds”—a fluency of berating, judging, and comparing that extinguishes our own beautiful fire.
To me, “should” is a word we can employ if we wish to live our lives by the rules of others. “Should” will make our vision small and our minds heavy. It could minimise our efforts, our capabilities, and our unique drive into something that doesn’t seem to be enough—and that’s why it’s sh*t.
Because we all have lives beyond “shoulds” that are so beautifully bound with potential, adventure, and new experiences that are much more than enough.
They are ours. They are free. They are plentiful in possibility and choice and the opportunity to enjoy both in our very own, limitless way.