How to Eradicate “Should” from your Vocabulary

Posted on

The holidays are such a joyful time of year – for some. But if all the organizing, cooking, and buying of the gifts fall into your lap every year, it can be one long month of stress.

All the best business managers delegate their workload. They assess their required outcomes and allocate tasks that contribute to the whole. They don’t do the whole lot themselves.

Because – let’s face it – a team is often better than a sole player. But, when we’re stuck with all the organization, we can feel like sole players – and it’s guilt that drives us to carry the burden alone.

It’s not how it should be. So – from today – let’s explore WHY we feel compelled to do things we don’t really want to do.

In this article, I will explore why we probably struggle to say no. And – just maybe – have a look at eradicating one of the most toxic guilt words from our vocabularies.

You should

It’s 5 pm, and you’re just about to shut your laptop down for the day. Then, you get an email asking you to “just gather some information together – it should only take ten minutes.”

What goes through your head?

You know that it’s going to take more like an hour. And you really don’t want to do it – you just want to get on with your evening.

And then it sneaks in – that feeling that you SHOULD do it.

You don’t want to, but you SHOULD.

Let’s break the word down for a second

If you look up the word “should” on, you get this definition:

auxiliary verb
simple past tense of shall.
(used to express condition): Were he to arrive, I should be pleased.
must; ought (used to indicate duty, propriety, or expediency): You should not do that.
would (used to make a statement less direct or blunt): I should think you would apologize.

Let’s pull that apart:

Used to express CONDITION:
If something happens, I should do it.
Should is conditional.
Used to indicate DUTY:
You should not do that.
You should do that.
Condition and duty. Wow. That’s some major passive aggression going on right there.

Condition and Duty

“Should” suggests that you do something not because you want to but because it’s expected.

It’s expected that you:

  • Buy your kids the best new trainers
  • Turn up to that PTA meeting
  • Bake a cake for the office on your birthday
  • Go out for drinks with your work colleagues
  • Take on extra tasks in the office
  • Say yes to hosting the family Christmas gathering

Now, I’m not saying that any of those things are bad things to do. There are times when doing those things brings genuine satisfaction and a spark of real joy. We can do selfless things and not expect anything in return.

But when there’s the heaviness of duty¬†deeply embedded into the demand, it’s hard to say no.

Should is a guilt word

When people expect something of you, they hold a kind of power over you. It’s a challenge:

  • Will they do this for our friendship?
  • Will they do this for their kids?
  • Will they do this for their job?

We hear ourselves saying it: I should go to that office party. I should decorate the tree. I should invite the family around for Christmas dinner.

But the subtext here confirms that you don’t want to go to that office party. If you wanted to go, you’d say, “I’m going to go to the office party.” Or even better, “I’m happily going to the office party.”

Not, “I should go to the party.”

If you find yourself saying “I should do this” or “I shouldn’t do that,” then question yourself for a second and think:

Do I really want to do this?


Free yourself from should

Should is a guilt word. Should emerges from expectation.

Think for a second:

  • What would happen if I don’t go to the party?
  • What would happen if I don’t host Christmas dinner?
  • What would happen if I said I can’t check that information until tomorrow morning?

Sometimes we assume there’s expectation. Maybe no one really expects us to go to the party. Perhaps they’ll understand that you just don’t fancy it (and not write it off as a character flaw).

And if they do write it off as a character flaw, it says more about them than it says about you.

If you don’t offer to cook Christmas dinner, what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe your sibling might offer? Perhaps it’s just that you’re always the first one to suggest that you take charge? There’s even the possibility that you might enjoy Christmas a little bit more if you don’t have to do everything.

And if you tell your boss: “Sure, I’ll check that first thing in the morning” – what can they really say?



Take the weight off

We weigh ourselves down heavily with what we think people expect of us.

Have you thought for a single second that there’s actually no expectation? Perhaps that feeling of expectation is coming from you?

There’s always the possibility that you feel that if you don’t do something yourself, someone else might do it better?

We all want to feel valued. We want our efforts to be recognized. We let “should” into our lives a little too often.

Stop saying “should”

In all honesty, it doesn’t matter whether should evokes guilt because it’s coming from someone else’s expectation or your own. The fact is: it’s there. And living with guilt is toxic.

So, next time you notice “should” popping into your thoughts or your actions, take a moment and consider:

  • Where is “should” coming from?
  • Is it coming from me, or is it coming from someone else?
  • Do I want to do this?

If expectation is being passively aggressively laden upon you, then quit it.


What is passive aggression, exactly?

Do some friends make you feel guilty even though they’re being nice? That’s passive aggression. They’re passively piling on the guilt to make you do something for them.

  • Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I enjoy sitting in on a Friday night on my own…
  • I really love that diamond ring. But it’s too expensive…
  • I wish I could bake cakes as well as you…

If it feels like a compliment, but it makes you feel bad, it’s passive aggression. If it feels as though there’s an ellipsis at the end of the sentence, it’s because they want you to offer to solve the problem.

Passive aggression is a pattern of behavior where somebody indirectly projects negative feelings rather than openly addresses them.

And none of us need that in our lives!

How to eradicate should from your vocabulary?

It will take some time. But whenever you feel “should” creep into your thoughts, stop: take a moment to consider whether you need to do it.

The sky will not fall in if you say no. You might discover that it feels good.

No more should.