Should: A Word That Ties Us Down

· October 8, 2016

“I should start a diet.” “I should call my mom.” “I should tell my boss that I deserve a raise.” “I should exercise like my doctor told me to.” A large number of “shoulds” torment us each day, turning into genuine obstacles that trap us and survive based on that chance that they never happen.

This “should” turns into a sort of utopia, into unfulfilled dreams, into unbreakable laws, and into barriers that do not let us move forward. Without any room for doubt, “should” is a word that ties us to our fears, insecurities, and lack of action. So, it is necessary for us to get rid of that weight named “should,” which has the power to make any path much more torturous.

Should + (fill in accordingly)

How many times have you said the word “should” (or should have) in the last few days? I assume that you have not tried to count them, but I would bet that you have said it more times than you needed to. “Should” is undoubtedly one of the words that shows up the most in our inner dialogues.

This verb form is tied to irrational ideas, those beliefs that bother us and do not let us live satisfactorily. These beliefs are very deeply rooted in our thoughts and govern our existence. But instead of being a point of departure to obtain something larger, what it does is exactly the opposite: it blocks this tendency towards action.

“Should” or “have to” tend to come along with “always” or “never.” Nothing is that definitive and strict. Many people use these words as a way of lying to themselves. They think that by imposing a task upon themselves with a condition, they are highlighting it in red in their agendas, when the reality is that they are giving strength – with their inner discourse – to the chance that they will not do it.

Should does not create action, but rather negation

When we indicate that we should do something in particular, most of the time we are not expressing this as an immediate action. Instead of that, everything remains an unfulfilled promise, an idea given over to chance, or even an unconscious way of “convincing ourselves” that we will change.


For example, if you say “I should lose weight because the doctor told me that my last tests are not looking good at all,” you are thinking about the problem. That’s fine. But you are not thinking about a solution. Maybe the sentence goes on, “I should go on a diet” or “I should go to the gym.” Both are theoretical actions, with more chances of being rejected than accepted.

Pointing Fingers

If, instead of continually adding so many conditions to the future, we would say, “I will start that diet” or “I will sign up at the gym,” maybe it would be easier to carry the action out. However, that is still not ideal. The best thing to do in these kinds of situations is take the first step: empty everything not included in our diet from the fridge or put on your tennis shoes and start exercising.

Get rid of the “shoulds” and live easier

Returning to the example of the person who goes to the doctor and is recommended a series of measures to lose weight, measures whose usefulness the patient questions. By not understanding the logic of what the specialist is proposing, he cannot take control of the situation. Maybe if the doctor explained in detail the science that lies behind the relationship between exercise and health, the patient would say “I must” instead of “I should… but I do not see a reason to do it, besides it being a task imposed upon me.”

Irrational pressures and thoughts that start with the word “should” are pushed into our minds from an early age. “I have to get good grades.” “I have to obey my parents and my teachers.” “I have to graduate.” “I have to start a family.” And a long list of others.

Why “should” I do each of these things? Because that is what culture, society, or tradition tells us! That is not a sufficient answer. What if we understand that passing a test, always saying yes to our elders, choosing a good university degree, or getting married “should” not be bundles on our backs?

When “should” makes us feel guilty and afraid

Societal norms have been in place for a long time and this is why most of us do not question them. Those “shoulds” that are imposed on us by moral or cultural rules were not thought up to bother or persecute us, but they are there and they often interfere with the chance to make our own decisions.

Book, Gavel, and Scales

What happens if we do not fulfill those “shoulds” that we have been taught since we were born? It scares us, even if they are stopping us from being happy. The “shoulds” that we do not fulfill make us feel guilty. 

The thought that says that, “when we break a social mandate, we are harming our own society,” is not true on many occasions. By not studying and getting a university degree, we will not stop being good people. By not getting married, we are not turning into a threat to the community.

Keep in mind what actions will make you happy, even if they do not carry the weight of that “should.” Put your hands to work and turn your thoughts into actions. Irrational or inherited ideas are continuously the greatest obstacle to living a fulfilled life.