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Why To Let Go Of “Should”

Oct 26, 2023

Words are powerful. A word can make you feel empowered. Another word can make you feel hopeless. Switching just one word in a sentence can generate a completely different emotion.

As physicians, we give advice to our patients all the time. How many times have you used the word “should” with your patients in the past three days?

If you are also a parent, it is likely that you are “should-ing” your children frequently.

I have also heard about friends and family members using the word “should” – “You should go see a doctor.” “You should get a second opinion.”

The word “should” is an interesting word. As someone who learned English as a second language, I translated in my head “should” as close to “ought to” in Chinese. It is actually a more neutral interpretation of “should”. I did not really think much of the word “should” until I started to pay attention to it.

According to the definition in Oxford dictionary, “should” is used to imply there is an obligation or a correct way to do things. It is used especially when you are criticizing someone’s actions.

If you say to someone, “You should be doing the dishes.” The unspoken meaning behind it is that the person is not doing the dishes. “Should” has a judgmental tone to it. It is easy for the receiving end of the “should” to feel inadequate or guilty. There is a set standard and that person is not doing it. “Should” when is said to someone else, is like you are setting a standard for that person. It is as if you are demanding that person to live according to you.

While it is vital for children to follow a certain standard, and to know right from wrong, using the word “should” is not the best option. “Should” implies you are doing something wrong. While this is probably true, the emphasis is applied to the doing wrong part instead of the better way to do things.

“Should” is like a demand. It can make someone feel inadequate because they are not doing the thing they are ‘supposed to do’. “Should” also implies that is someone else’s idea, and you are supposed to follow it. That feels somewhat restrictive. There is also the guilt trip – you “should be” doing this but you are not.

“Should” has an overall negative connotation. It implies that if you do not do it that way, you are wrong. Imagine the emotions generated when you are confined to doing something a certain way. You are likely going to feel stressed, anxious, or guilty because you are not doing what you are supposed to.

Instead of “I should”, change your sentence to “I could”, “I will”, “I’m becoming” or “I’m working on”. These alternatives are more neutral. They are more active. It implies you are the one in control.

Instead of saying, “I should be more efficient at work”, say instead, “I will be more efficient at work”, or “I’m working on how to be more efficient at work”.

Focus on what you want to accomplish. Instead of saying, “I should lose weight”, emphasize on the reason behind the desire of weight loss. “I will lose weight to be healthier.”

Once you learn something, it is in your memory bank. The word “should” has become part of your vocabulary ever since you learned it. That does not mean you cannot dial its volume down. The less you use it, the more it will fade away. The saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is true.

There will still be times when “I should” come up. When it does, realize it as it is. Be curious and question yourself why you are thinking that way. Is it true? What emotions does that sentence generate? Is that “should” sentence serving you? If that “I should” is generating unpleasant emotions, is not building you up and is not serving you, then come up with an alternative sentence. What is a more helpful way to think of the situation?

There are many words in the English language. “Should” is a word that is okay to avoid using.

Are you ready to stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Are you ready to have more time to do what you want?


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