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How The Little Word "Should" Causes Suffering

"I shouldn't eat that" sounds harmless enough, right?

In Steven Pressfield's words, "for anyone that is trying to do any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction, any activity whose aim is the acquisition of chiseled abdominals, any act that entails commitment of the heart", etc.,

"These acts will elicit resistance."

And that little word "should" is the biggest resistance pot-stirrer of them all.

If you would like to white-knuckle harder...

If you would like to fight against yourself...

If you would like to do things the hard way...

Use the word "should" often and at every chance possible with yourself and anyone else.

If you are one that would like to put that energy into moving forward toward your worthy goals, and I consider anything involving chiseled abs among them,

There is another way.

An easier way.

And for any of you that just discounted anything ( just a little) that is not hard work....we totally shop at the same belief store.

I still have to recognize the belief in myself that if it isn't hard then it isn't worth it.

Just hang with me for a minute.

Trust me on this one.

I bought that t-shirt and burned it and learned that

You're no shovel-leaner if you figure out a smarter way to get it done.

Here's what Oxford says about this innocuous little rascal that wreaks havok on our goals:

should /SHo͝od,SHəd/

verb used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions.

How do you feel when you are being criticized?

I'll tell you how I used to feel when I hear the words "obligation, duty, correctness, criticizing"....

I would feel rebellious.

And I often go in another direction when I would feel rebellious, especially if I'm not aware of what is going on right away.

The result was often NOT getting my goals.

Someone may try to point me toward another way by saying, "You should do this" and if I wasn't totally aware, I may have chosen to go another direction just to prove that they actually aren't in charge.

The words, "You're not the boss of me" comes to mind.

The same thing happens when you tell yourself, "I shouldn't do that".

That is self-judgement clothed in a well-intended statement of guidance.

Here is what typically happens when we feel judged:

I may start by eating more orange Lindt 60% chocolate bar than I planned

I think, "I shouldn't have done that"

I feel shame. Disappointment. Maybe some loathing.

When I feel ashamed I do one of two things. We all usually do. Hide or get my butt-kicking shoes on.

Not really, but I get defensive.

Neither of those give me the result of showing up 100% for my goal.

If the person criticizing us is ourselves we get defensive and angry at ourselves or we hide through distraction, which often involves things like more orange Lindt bars.

I propose we strike the word from the English language.

What would....what could we do...without the word should?

We begin using the word "could" a whole lot more.

Next time you catch yourself trying to use the word should...

Like, "You should eat better"

Try this:

"You could eat better"

And then represent BOTH sides with honesty

You could eat better.

It means that you may give up the doughnuts at staff meeting

And people may notice and comment and draw attention to it

And it may take more prep time to have healthy food available

And it may not taste as flavorful


You will not have to go through the blood sugar crash

You will feel so proud of yourself

You will lose weight

You will be able to do more once you lost weight. Things like play chase with the kids and get off the floor easier


You could continue eating the same.

It means you will probably continue to gain weight

You will still have trouble walking and getting off the floor

You will realize that you don't feel happier afterward

You'll feel inflamed and have a crash later


You will fit in more at staff meeting

It will taste a lot better than what else is there

It is going to feel really good for a few minutes

You won't have to pack a lunch

The thing about offering choices is that there is nothing to fight against.

No resistance.

Just a choice.

And usually when we are given the options clearly without strings attached we make really good, conscious choices.

Because what you resist persists. That, my love, is suffering.

One thing you can do today is to start noticing how you FEEL inside when someone, you included, tells you that you shouldn't be doing something. What comes up?


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