“Should” – The Two-Minded Monster

“I should get more exercise/do volunteer work/stop eating sugar/call my mother/have coffee with that person I don’t really trust/ get-off my hand-held and give my full attention to… .”

We know we should; we know we ought to; we know we must, but we don’t. Why?

We don’t want to face the cost of saying “no”. And so we dither. We say ‘yes’ when we want to say ‘no’, and ‘no’ when we want to say ‘yes’. And in this two-minded way we become conflicted. The conflict is distracting: it muddles decisions; cripples our ability to shape or change our lives; causes us to mistrust ourselves.

But the nagging should-voice is a mere mouth-piece—it’s the underlying pressures that give it force. For instance, almost all of us feel the pressure to conform at work, or the pressure to meet the real or imagined, spoken/unspoken demands of a boss or colleague. Outside of work, we feel the pressure to do the good, right, moral, politically-correct thing; the pressure to unnecessarily sacrifice our own well-being for the sake of others, or the pressure to ignore our instincts in the face of false-friends or harm-doers.

That’s quite the pressure cooker. No wonder it’s hard to ignore a “should”.

But pressure cooker forces don’t exist in a vacuum…they need fuel. They need FEAR: the fear of losing a job or a promotion; the fear of someone’s hurt/angry reaction; the fear of being less compliant and…less likeable; the fear that a vow to change won’t hold; and most definitely, the fear of seeing ourselves as not-good/not-nice/not-successful people.

Whenever you hear the should-voice, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What’s my pay-off ‒ what will I get if I cave in to the ‘should’? e.g., I’ll be able to see myself as a good, or better-than, or holier-than-thou person.*
  2. a) What’s forcing my should?  b) Is the pressure societal or self-induced?
  3. FEAR is triggering the pressure. What’s my fear?
  4. If that fear came true, why would that be so bad? And, what could I do to adapt and be ok?
  5. I give-up a piece of myself when I give-in to a should. What do I give-up?
  6. What would happen if I was my powerful authentic self?

*  Caveat: If saying ‘no’ to a should puts an unfair burden on someone else, then either a discussion, negotiation, or change in thinking is needed: i.e. On the homefront: “I should pitch-in with chores” to “Of course I pitch-in with chores”. At work: “I should do my part” to “Put me in, Coach…”

Your answers will bring clarity. The conflict in your mind will begin to dissolve, leaving behind sure and agile thinking and a decision that works for you. That clarity will also free-up the kind of energy you’ll need when implementing the decision. For making a decision doesn’t stop at the yes/no, or ‘vow’ stage. Once it’s made— expect a challenge…meaning the shouldpressurefear will rear its head in a last-ditch struggle for control.

Take heart: that challenge is there for a reason—as it is in all our decision-making processes. For in conquering the challenge, we entrench the decision. And bury the should for good.



  1. A very timely article, as I have a client who is plagued by the “should’s”. In his case it’s less about what HE should be doing, and more about how OTHER people “should” be, do, say, or believe. It is, in turn, creating in my client a bit of a hopeless / victim mentality and shutting down the conversation that would help him even more: “Given my reality that these people are NOT doing/saying/believing what I think they should, what can I do to change or influence the situation?”

    Thanks for offering this food for thought!

    1. Hi Stacy,
      Thanks for your comment! I’m very glad it helped provide some food for thought. Hope all’s well for you.

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