Eliminating “should”

Recently, I have been reading a wonderful book by Louise Hay titled, “How to Heal Your Life.” It is both a guide and a workbook to rewiring the brain to serve your best interests. It is amazing how societal conditioning teaches us to be our own worst enemies; we engage in self-doubt and entertain limiting beliefs. At the end of the day, our ingrained thought patterns hold us back from the limitless potential found in all of us.   

One of the simple changes she pointed out was to stop using “should” to describe future actions. At first, when reading this, I was quite skeptical. How would the absence of a single word help anything? Even if that seemed plausible, why in the world would “should” be a bad word to use?  

While reading her reasoning, however, it all made perfect sense. “Should” is a comparative word; it would not exist without the implication of something other. In the context of a sentence, “should” is used to compare your current actions or state of being with your desired state of being. It implies the other state is ideal, which, by nature, means ours is not the ideal.    

When we are told that we “should” do something or act a certain way, we are being told that something about us is wrong. There is an ideal of behavior and action that we are not meeting at that moment. This causes us to feel guilt afterward for not achieving what we “should’ve done.” In a society that conforms to this ideal, Hay has taken it upon herself to point out this need to make everything right. In a world that seems to pride itself on differences, how could we possibly think people should be some specific way?  

I now believe that the word “should” is damaging. The constant comparison to some unknown standard is unhealthy. It is internalized as a source of self-hatred and a lack of self-worth in most people.   

How many times have you wanted to pursue something you are passionate about and thought to yourself: “I shouldn’t,” or, “I should do this instead?” Think back to when an internalized standard has prevented you from living freely simply because you feel you should conform to these standards.   

Kids learn from a young age the “correct” way to act in society. In theory, this is important to their development and can prevent behavioral issues in adulthood; but with these standards of behavior comes a standard for life. There are textbook paths for successful adults, and deviations from those paths are frowned upon. Pride is placed on the conformists, and we are told we “should” act like them to find our own success.   

Why is it wrong to choose our own standards and values? Must we truly adhere to these silent judgments?   

Honestly, we “could” do anything we wanted. The issue is that “should” is so deeply ingrained into our vocabulary that we forget the choices that come with the word “could.” We automatically assume that we “should” live a certain way rather than understand that we “could” live in any way we desire.   

I think it would benefit everyone to try using the word “should” less in conversations with others and themselves. This is only a small piece of thinking that could free the mind from the cage of societal conditioning, but one that could easily be explored.