The words we choose to use could be holding us back in our personal and professional lives. “When we use the word ‘should’, we create feelings of obligation and guilt, and stop ourselves from finding solutions,” says Toronto-based Psychotherapist Natalie Gold.
The word “should” can be especially prevalent at work as we decide which meetings to attend, the tone of an email, and how to give a team member constructive feedback. “I shouldn’t have sent that email,” “I should probably go to that meeting,” or “I should have started that project sooner,” are common examples we feel conflicted by on a regular basis. Underlying these phrases can be feelings of wanting or not wanting to do something.
A Good Versus Bad Should
Gold says it’s important to recognize the difference between a “should” that guides moral behavior, like arriving to the office on time each day or delivering a project on deadline. When a “should” gives us difficulty because, perhaps, we’ve set unrealistic timelines or goals, we need to eliminate that mental waste. “I should be the top star on my team,” or “I should be able to complete that project in two days,” can create more pressure than productivity.
Less Shoulds Start With Being Aware Of How You Feel
The first step is becoming aware of how you feel and what you choose to tell yourself. For example, perhaps you’re angry with a colleague and you think, “Oh, I shouldn't be angry at my colleague.” Well, the truth is you do feel angry. Saying you shouldn't feel this way is not helpful. Then you have to ask, “What am I going to do about it? How can I fix this?” Now you’re oriented towards a solution, adds Gold.
Ask Yourself These Questions To Recognize Your True Feelings
Once you become aware of whether you use shoulds a lot, create guidelines for what you want to do, don’t want to do, need to do, or aren’t going to do. There are two simple questions to ask:
1. Do I want to do this?
2. Do I need to do this?
When you answer those questions, you can say them out loud or write down the words, so you really own how you feel:
1. I want to do this, and I’m going to do this
2. I don’t want to do this, and I’m not going to do this
3. I don’t need to do this or I need to do this
Gold walked us through three common situations you might encounter at work:
I should have started that project earlier.
Analysis: Well, that might be true, and you didn’t. Examine why you didn’t start the project earlier, because there may be some good reasons. If you discover that you don’t have enough information, then you’re afraid of something: you’ll do it wrong, it’s a huge task, or your promotion could be hinging on its outcome.
Action: Now that you know why you haven’t started the project--perhaps you don’t like the project or it should have been someone else’s to complete--forgive yourself and get started.
I shouldn't have sent that email last night.
Analysis: You’re likely imagining the ramifications of that email. Look at what happened to make you send it. Was it an impulsive act?
Action: Don’t ruminate. It’s already sent and there’s nothing you can do about it. I like to use the word "and" to help correct that. “I shouldn't have sent that email last night, and I sent it, so now what? Am I sorry? Do I need to speak to the recipient? Did I leave out something or did I include something that wasn't a good idea?”
I should probably go to that meeting.
Analysis: Ask yourself, do you want to go? Do you need to go? Do you have a role in the meeting? Is there any fallout if you don't go to the meeting?
Action: Once you have answers to those questions, then the action you need to take will become more clear.
The difference in words we choose to use is really about whether we’re making a decision or wishing to stay stuck in a situation. Start taking action.
When do you find yourself saying should and how do you work through it? Share with us in the comments below