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Sometimes I think we’d all be better off if we stopped shoulding on ourselves. As in, “I shouldn’t have done that.” Or, “I shouldn’t feel that way.” Or, “I should lose weight.” And, at the same time, we’d be happier if we stopped shoulding on each other.  As in, “You should be more careful.” Or, “You shouldn’t speak to customers like that.” Or, “You should have been more considerate.”

One of the greatest impediments to changing an undesirable behavior, a habit, or a situation is the word “should” and the sentiment it conveys. 

(“Should not” and “should have” are simply variations of “should” and are equally toxic.)

What good is “should”? What good does it do?

“Should” basically implies that whatever we’re currently doing, thinking, or feeling — when compared to some ideal of perfection — is wrong. It’s bad. It needs to (it should) change.

But “should” rarely does lead to change. It merely makes us aware of some inadequacy, and it does so in a way guaranteed to make us feel judged and belittled and, paradoxically, less inclined to change.

“Should” denies reality. Or, at least, it denigrates reality. But the only way to make a change, any kind of change, is first to acknowledge what is: what we’re actually feeling, thinking, or doing. Then, and only then, can we make a free and honest assessment of it, examine its causes and contributing factors, explore realistic and incremental ways to change it, and commit to making that change.

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