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Jul 06th
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Free yourself forever from the smothering ‘shoulds'

admonishment_optBY WENDY DOLBER

Does this sound familiar? "I should really call my mother." "I should really cancel that subscription." "I should really study for that test now." "I should lose ten pounds." "I should work on my resume." "I should call the doctor." "I should apply for that job." "I should ... I should ... I should!''

And "I should not ... should not ... should not."

Whew! How exhausting!

Do you "should" yourself to death all the livelong day? Do you slap "shoulds" on others with abandon? Do you regularly enhance the verbs of your life with the word "should"? How's that working for you?

If you find yourself with an ever growing to-do list and a constant uneasy feeling of things undone – if the joy of doing has somehow dissolved into the ether – perhaps it's time to check out your vocabulary of intent ... the way you talk to yourself (and others) about the things you intend to do. About the things you tell yourself you want to do.

Don't let "shoulds" smother your intentions.

What "should" really means

What do you mean when you say, "should", and why do you use that particular word? Try asking yourself the next time you notice yourself thinking or saying you should do something.

Have you ever looked at the things you said you should do to see if you actually do them? And how you feel when you do them? Notice the difference when you do things you say you should do, as opposed to doing things you say you want to do.

When we say we should do something, it's like taking a giant step away from the object (the thing we say we should do). Keeping it at arm's length. It is not the same as saying, "I want to do something" or "I will do something." Or even "I'm thinking of doing something." Those words convey a message of action to our bodies. An intention to act. We think, "I want to pay my bills today," and our bodies move toward doing it.

"Should," conveys a completely different message to our bodies – a message that can actually cause stagnation instead of action. Saying "I should do such and such" is not the same as saying "I want to do it. I will do it. I am going to do it."

"Should" often means, "I am supposed to do it," which is not a statement of intent at all. Rather, it is the belief that if I don't do such and such, it will be bad for me in some way. I will feel bad if I don't do it. If I don't call my mother, she will be disappointed and I will feel bad about that. So I'd better call. Not very motivating, is it?

The question of whether I want to do it or not doesn't come up. Or to be more exact, we don't bring it up. In fact, the more overwhelming feeling is that I don't want to do it. So instead of signaling to our bodies that it is time to take action, we are sending a conflicting message. We say we should and feel we don't want to. What's a body to do??!! So we either do nothing or act under duress.

If and when I do call Mom, it is not going to be the same phone call that would have happened if I had simply said, "I want to call Mom. I'm going to call Mom." Imagine how the phone call would have gone if you were happily looking forward to a conversation with your mother. Instead of picking up the phone as if you had a gun to your head. How satisfying is that call going to be, for either of you?

So look at what just happened. We told ourselves we should do something. We either didn't do it or we forced ourselves to do it. We never got in touch with whether we actually really wanted to do it or not. If we didn't do it, we are most likely worried since we believe it's bad not to do it. If we did do it, did we get what we wanted, other than to check "calling Mom" off the list? We don't really know because we never let ourselves even know what we wanted. Are we happy? What do you think?

Where would I be without my "shoulds"?

If you live by should in any area of your life, maybe it's time to reassess what your values are and whether you are committed to them. The fear often is that we need our "shoulds" to keep ourselves in line. As if we wouldn't naturally live according to our values. As if we are suspicious of the quality of our own values.

Can we trust ourselves to do what we believe is right? And what do we mean by right? If we believe we need to do what is right to avoid unhappiness, we are living in a fearful state. Can we take ownership of our choices without having to resort to the threat of unhappiness? Why not?

When we cherish what we value and take responsibility for our choices, our vocabulary of intent changes naturally. We are clear and upfront with ourselves about what we want and don't want. We don't need the overlay of a separate admonishing "shouldmaster" to ensure that we act according to our values.

Without our "shoulds", we would be simply left with our desires. We would have to rely on what we want and don't want to determine what we will actually do. The truth is, the only thing that ever moves us forward is our desires. A should never moved us an inch. Perhaps it's time to fire the "shouldmaster"!

Wendy Dolber is an Option Method practitioner and owns Dialogues in Self Discovery LLC, dedicated to teachings in the Option Method. The Method is a personal growth and development tool, and is not a psychotherapy. Wendy has been involved in Option Method training and consultation for over 35 years and was trained by Option Method founder, Bruce Di Marsico. She was his associate and close friend for 25 of those years. She is the author of The Guru Next Door: A Teacher's Legacy, a fictional work based on his life and teachings. She welcomes all comments and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . More information can be found on the company website at and


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