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Don’t Should On Yourself

dont-should-on-yourself-dan-pearce“Don’t should on yourself.”

When I was dating Tweni, she said it to me all the time, and for a reason. I have a serious habit of shoulding on myself, which really isn’t a good habit to have. And, the more I listen to those around me, the more I see a world full of people shoulding all over themselves and others.

I should have. I shouldn’t have. When is the last time you said one of these two phrases? Probably much too recently.

Looking back over the last 24 hours, I should on myself several times. I should have gone to the gym. I should have gone to bed earlier. I should have called my brother. I should have eaten healthier. I shouldn’t have watched as much television as I did. I should have taken the dog for a walk. I should have buckled down a little more.

In the past week there was even more shoulding going on. I shouldn’t have led that girl on by telling her I’d go out with her again. I should have mowed the lawn. I shouldn’t have let the dishes pile up. I should have been better prepared for that radio interview. I should have been more disciplined with my time. I shouldn’t have spent so much money at the outlet stores. I should have worked out every day. I should have walked to the park instead of drive. I should have spent more play time with Noah. I shouldn’t have wasted so much time sitting around when I could have been working and writing.

In the past month there was more. In the past year, I can think of hundreds of things I should have done or shouldn’t have done. Maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job. Maybe I should have put more time into a, b, and c. Maybe I should have been a better brother, son, and friend. Maybe I shouldn’t have let a particular girl slip through my fingers. Maybe I should have kept my truck. Maybe I shouldn’t have written that post. Maybe I should have visited my grandparents more often.

No wonder I smell like should. I’ve should all over myself and I stink to high-heaven of it.

In all reality, of all the things I’ve ever taken from anyone else, this lesson has rang the most true, even though it is the lesson I have struggled with most. I love to beat myself up over past mistakes and blunders. I second-guess decisions I’ve made. I continually think and rethink what I should or shouldn’t have done.

Now, on first thought, perhaps it doesn’t seem so unhealthy to constantly think about what you should or shouldn’t have done. After all, don’t we improve by doing things better than we know we “should have” the next time around? Not really. In fact, rarely, if ever, does shoulding on yourself actually help anything.

I should have exercised. When’s the last time you said that? Did saying it motivate you? Did you jump up and run to the gym? Did you throw on a headband, grab your boombox, and run to the park for some hard-core breakdancing? If I had to guess, you probably did what I usually do. You said, tomorrow I’ll do better. Tomorrow I’ll go. And then tomorrow comes, and you find yourself covered in should all over again.

What if instead of shoulding on ourselves, we step over the should and move on? What if I were to rethink each of the paragraphs above, and simply phrase them differently? Whenever I find that I’ve been shoulding on myself too often, I do this simple two-part exercise. First, I change all the should statements into statements of fact.

In the last 24 hours, I didn’t go to the gym. I didn’t get enough sleep. I didn’t call my brother. I hurt my body by filling it with crap. I wasted too many hours in front of the TV. I let Buddha down. I wasted too much time.

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73 comments
Kristen Hazlet
Kristen Hazlet

I learned a couple years ago to stop shoulding on myself, but then I stopped doing nearly anything atol.

Jo Clark De-Palma
Jo Clark De-Palma

My favorite saying... Instead of "oh no"... I say. " oh well". Same with shoulda.... Oh well. Tomorrow is another day...

Aondrea Leigh Bartoo
Aondrea Leigh Bartoo

The main thing for me is that I rarely dwell on shoulds. I have a deep aversion to them. If you start living your life in tune with who you are, the honest you, assuming you are capable of being aware of yourself, the "shoulds" will fall away. Try it!

Aondrea Leigh Bartoo
Aondrea Leigh Bartoo

This concept I have turned into my lifestyle. I almost don't even think about. When a "should" comes up about a past event, I give some thought to it briefly, and gently. What were the choices? Would making a different choice have been in line with my morals? How might I want to deal with something similar in the future? Normally, I don't have too many shoulds, as when faced with choices, I usually listen to my instincts. They rarely do me wrong.

Ty Tripp
Ty Tripp

I call my change "brutal honesty" pisses some off but I don't think so much about what ifs anymore.

Paula Popper
Paula Popper

I had a psychology professor who shared a saying he received from his mentor...one of the most important, but too often forgotten, commandments is "thou shalt not should upon thyself." The class laughed, but the saying has stuck with me. Thanks for sharing your struggle with "shoulding."

Deanne Rogers Spuhl
Deanne Rogers Spuhl

That is exactly what my first therapist told me some 20 years ago. Stop shoulding on yourself. It's a very hard habit to break and even harder to show those around you that they need to stop shoulding on me and themselves!

MaggieRaab
MaggieRaab

Mister Pearce: 

You proven a good point. I've been shoulding on myself for years and I've always had poor self-confidence. When I found this article it was almost a relief to know someone felt the same thing. Thanks for the insight.

~ Maria L.

Jorge De La Torre
Jorge De La Torre

I've recently become aware of how bad it is to should on yourself. Over the past few years I've learned that I am in charge of my regret. And regret is not the boss of me. I try to make every decision consciously knowing that I won't regret it because it is my decision, and I made the best decision I could using the information I had at that time. I think this way of thinking parallels the ideas behind "shoulding on yourself". I love hearing perspective from intelligent people and affirming or modifying my thoughts. Live everyday without regret and without should. 

cjnoble71
cjnoble71

I believe I have raised shoulding on myself to a religion. The thing is I know I need to stop it, but it is a hard habit to break. I think about every little mistake and how it led me to where I am. I don't suppose this would be so bad if I actually took that as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. 

hkenagy
hkenagy

When we "should" or "shouldn't" we are arguing with reality. And when we argue with reality we lose, but only 100% of the time. Being "real" means not arguing or judging that which is real for us. I work at this too, every single day. But I try not to argue with reality; after all, the truth is we are here now, and every moment is a gift; not using the gift of the present by living in the past and future is a tragedy for the present moment given to us.

troismommy
troismommy

I should a lot, too. I've learned somewhere along the way to cut a lot of it out, though. I don't know how. I don't think I even did it consciously. I think I just found that it isn't very productive or helpful in any way. It's a good thing to try to do - forget about the shoulds!

Xandra
Xandra

I do should a lot. A LOT. Thank you so much for this post, it is exactly what I needed to read. :)

Lauren
Lauren

Shoulding on yourself has a very close relative- his name is Musterbation. Too often, we tell ourselves that we "must" accomplish A, B, or C in order to feel successful, happy, relaxed, or fulfilled. In actuality, if we simply focus on the moment and try to see the positive we will begin to notice that we are happier people.

sweetdeanie
sweetdeanie

For the most part I would agree, except when people act unreasonably by showing ignorance, I believe people 'should' not show ignorance or be judgemental. I say this from personal experience raising children with special needs and facing the judgements of others, people who tut and shake their heads because they can't see my child's disability that causes them to behave the way they do...I believe these people shouldn't be so judgemental and I think it is important to raise awareness about special needs in order to stop the stigma.

My new blog about raising awareness about special needs: http://specialsaturday.org

createlittlemonsters
createlittlemonsters

I think this is the best post you've ever written.

By the way, sounds like you could use a (((HUG))).
My recent post Fess-Up Friday

kimkircher
kimkircher

Great post. Why do we do this? You're right. It doesn't motivate us. Thanks for pointing out a way to rephrase the "should dilemma" and make it a motivating force for good.
My recent post Win an Advanced Reader Copy of The Next Fifteen Minutes

teachinfourth
teachinfourth

This girl I used to date once told me (after I'd told her that I'd only gone to the gym for about 20 minutes and I felt like a loser) "Well, it's a lot more than you did yesterday, which was nothing."

And that, my friend, is something to celebrate...right?

That's what I think.

When I think of Bob Wiley from What About Bob? I realize that it's often all about baby steps after all...

My recent post The Game/Contest

Cynthia Ryan
Cynthia Ryan

One more way to look at it: turn your "should have's" to "could have's". Instead of "I should have gone to the gym today," turn it to "I could have gone to the gym today." Then ask yourself, "Why didn't I?" Then consider the answers. Your answers can tell you a lot.

Casey Fogle
Casey Fogle

Thank you. Today I was "shoulding" a lot, shoveling it pretty deep. Thank you for the reminder that it gets me nowhere, but making concrete plans about my life will take me everywhere.

Little by little, your blog is changing lives. I hope you see that.

Casey Fogle (PS I've begun a very little blog if anyone wants to see-- it's in the very-new stages and there is a lot of work, but I'd sure appreciate comments. passagesbrink.blogspot.com Thanks.)

Mom2boys
Mom2boys

I normall don't should myself, but I did yesterday. Yesterday was my pity party day. See, I found a house I love, one I want to call home w/my kids. I put in an offer 2 days ago. Yesterday I found out so did 3 others. I kept going over in my head that I should have put in my offer last week. I knew that I couldn't change anything. What's done is done. I don't regret anything. But, I did need some time to have a pity party, as my Pastor advised. I needed one day to vent, cry, be upset, worry and so forth. I woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to move forwards. If this house is meant for us, then we will be given the house. If it is not, then there is another house out there waiting for me to find it. It will all work out. It always does.

Thanks for the post Dan. I sure found it amusing. :)

Zombie
Zombie

I just love coming by and reading your awesome posts!! :)
I hope to be as big as you some day in the blogging world.
My recent post 8-Bit Zombies

Tyrean
Tyrean

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! You are awesome! Not should be, just are!
I call it the "shoulda, woulda, coulda" problem and I've had it all my life. It's a doubt, worry, anxiety list that gets me nowhere but down. I know better. And so, thank you for the reminder to put those "shoulds, or would have's or could have's" out with the trash. Yes, maybe if I was perfect I could have done better, should have done better, would have done better. But I am not perfect. I am just me, and being me works.

redneckprincess
redneckprincess

Hmmm...I do that all the time and never even thought about it, I will now though. Thanks Dan :)
My recent post Girl power…

Lola
Lola

My whole life has been a "should." Thank you for the reminder!

DibanisaWay
DibanisaWay

Interesting: In psychology, what you talk about is called the "tyranny of shoulds". The shoulds vs the wants.

My recent post How NOT to protect your child from harm: Illustrations included

sillyna511
sillyna511

Great post today. I am all too guilty of shoulding on myself far too often. And yes, I also should on my husband and my friends. Thanks for pointing out how damaging the shoulds and shouldn'ts are. Because of reading this post, I will pay more attention to the things I say to others, and I will try to stop shoulding on myself as well!
My recent post It's Official! We've having a....

contrapuntalplatypus
contrapuntalplatypus

Love this post! Inspiring, humorous & very well put.

The biggest & most prevalent should in my life has been the should that afflicts so many teenagers and young adults: you should look like everyone else. Act like everyone else. BE like everyone else.

You shouldn't be different. You shouldn't be geeky. You shouldn't be "weird." And if you are different, then above all, you shouldn't let on to anyone else. Do whatever you need to do, cover up, put on an act.

It took me about nearly 30 years to embrace the fact that I *am* different from "everyone else", and thank God, because if I wasn't something would be seriously wrong. EVERYONE is "different". There IS no "normal". "Normal" is a fantasy. We're humans, each creative, unique and one-of-a-kind.

And better yet, there's lots of people out there. Maybe 90% of them aren't at all keen about the things that interest me...which is fine. Because there are, say, 9% that are moderately interested, and 1% that think the stuff I like to read and write (like on my blog) is fascinating. And 1% of all the people out there...are an awful lot of people. :D

Tomi Ann
Tomi Ann

Yay for this! It's a funny way to put it, and oh so true. Shoulding just causes paralysis instead of growth and keeps you from discovering the true meaning in your own life. Doing things (or not) just because you think you should will never help you BECOME anything (except burnt out and unhappy). And the whole point of this life is what you become!
My recent post The difference between "owning it" and "you're on your own."

momof3girlz
momof3girlz

I find "should" to be a swear word in my world.... I try very hard NOT to say it. And, when people say it to me, "you know, you really should......" the little hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up!!!
My recent post sigh

kenny
kenny

Hi Dan,
A post of two halves. I certainly agree that we all give ourself a hard time sometimes and a turning negative thought process in to a statements of fact can change the perspective and your approach to a positive process. However, near the end you say that " In order to be truly happy, and truly... free, you have to live for yourself" regardless what your parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins. ,neighbors, boss, colleagues, ,whoever think it's right. This is the part I have a little bother with.
consideration of other is and always should be a way of life and sometimes you have to go in a different direction because of the people you love and who depend on you.
I get you point though but take care, think of how your actions can affect others before you go changing a life to "all about what I want"
My recent post Taking The Good With The Bad

~L~
~L~

I'm sorry, but never make it a goal to "convert people to your religion". That is highly offensive. Spirituality should be personal and come about by natural means and if someone chooses some religion other than yours, that should be fine and their choice.

I was once a Christian, years ago. I was very much into "converting people" and thought people "needed to be saved". I realize now how many people I pushed away from myself and maybe even the possibility of finding any spiritual path whatsoever, because who wants to find a spiritual path with weird, pushy, cultish, Bible-toters in your face? People sometimes no longer even wanted to speak to me or be my friend due to my friendly "witnessing". I was just trying to do what I thought was right at the time, but wow was I wrong. People don't want to hear it. They shouldn't have to and don't want to hear you preach to them, and honestly, no one has given you the right to tell people which path to follow and which ones are right or wrong.

You seem like a well-rounded guy with your feet on the ground. Please don't let religious zealotry turn you into some sort of weird church-sheep.

If you want to convert people to your religion, no matter what it is, then shut up about it. SHOW them you are a good person and a good friend who will respect and accept them no matter what their flaws or screw-ups. Eventually, if they decide to seek a religious path, they will come to you when and if they decide your beliefs might be for them. But as a now non-Christian, spiritual, but not religious person, it's not only highly uncomfortable, but down-right creepy when people (even people I know well of family) try to "witness" to me...Makes me wonder if kool-aid is next.
My recent post Thrifting

perilsofdivorcedpauline
perilsofdivorcedpauline

I needed to read this today. I dwell in a dark valley of shoulda-woulda much of the time. This piece reminded me that doing so is not only a waste of time, but crippling.

Buttahfly
Buttahfly

Ok, I just have to say how much I love this ... especially the little word play - so appropriate (thanks, Tweni!)

A few months back I wrote a piece about the words we use that are most damaging to ourselves ... and should was definitely one of them (read that piece here: http://floatlikeabuttahfly.blogspot.com/2010/11/7... ).

It's so easy to say, so easy to feel, and so hurtful and limiting ... so thanks, Dan, for showing a more positive way to spin it!

Becki
Becki

Amen, Ditto, Thank you, etc. I find myself doing that too, but it has gotten easier over the years because there are so many things I can't change, and so many things that have become more important to me. I can't waste my time regretting my past, cuz I hear that "ticking clock" that tells me I have a limited amount of time to do the "important things" like spending time with my family, staying in touch with the people who are good for me and letting go of the people who make my life less enjoyable.

Marisa
Marisa

I love how you are able to take everyday feelings, situations and break them down to make people look at them another way. So simple but so amazing!

Nisaa Shuvani
Nisaa Shuvani

Wonderful blog today. Thank you. I have been plagued by this mindset for quite some time and struggle daily to give myself permission to re-prioritize.
I wish to share with you one of my first published pieces from my road to healing.

"Embrace your bold adventurer on this exciting journey. Grab
opportunities with both hands, entwined in seductive allure and firmly
commit to pressing your heated intentions to the rewarding and
exhilarating outcome. Throw off shy reserve, cautious wary, timid
trepidations. Seek your wanton treasures, your rapturous possibilities,
eradicate "would have", "could have", "should have" from your regrettable
vocabulary."

Mary
Mary

I've been waiting for this one and I give it two thumbs up! Keep on kicking butt, Dan.

I recently fell into the "should" habit again, partly due to a bad relationship bringing me down. When I finally caught myself, I kicked the habit (and politely kicked the relationship). The worst shoulds for me are shoulds from others that you get so caught up in you think they're you're own. They are hard to recognize and hard to get rid of. Now, instead of shoulding all over my day, I'm going to go make a list and get shit done.

Melissa Benham
Melissa Benham

I have should on myself far too often. I've spent my whole life shoulding and it's really gotten me nowhere. I like your approach to it and I think it's something I'm going to try to work on, too. Thanks for your post, Dan.

Jennifer JCD
Jennifer JCD

When my brother was in a car crash in which his passenger was killed and my brother was critically injured (he's okay now), the 'should have, could have, would have' game started like nobody's business. Same as the 'What If' game. What if I left five minutes earlier, I should have taken the truck instead of the car, what if the car had airbags... (The police told him none of that would have helped.) Both games are futile and disastrous. The psychologist told my brother that these games must stop IMMEDIATELY as they only make ANY situation worse. The psychologist said many of the things you wrote about today, and how thsoe games are never good, ever. Live the day for what it is, and if you start saying should or would or what if, take action on it to make it happen or clear it from your mind, don't dwell on it.

Thanks for the post. This made me remember just how powerful those words are, and how we need to stop saying those things. They can be some of the most hurtful things we can say to ourselves (and others.) Keep your chin up and sieze the day for what it is; make the best of it!

Debbie
Debbie

Don't should on your kids, either. "She's almost 11 years old, she SHOULD be able to..." Says who? And so what if she SHOULD? She's NOT, that's the point! It's so much easier to love your kids when you stop shoulding all over them.

Xandra
Xandra

It seems to me that the point is that the 'shoulding' is not motivating. Instead of telling someone they "should" do something, why not tell them what they *are* doing? "You are being judgemental". To me, that would have more impact than "you should not be so judgmental".

I agree, intolerance is awful. But it is also the case that you cannot control anybody but yourself. Raising awareness is very important, but there is a certain point when you have let people get there themselves. Shoving them in that direction is not actually going to change anything *inside* them.

carolyn
carolyn

I agree. There are also some things that might go against what you 'want' that are simply the right thing to do. I think most everyone will agree that there are things you do and don't do. Laws are generally made along these lines. Obviously a majority of people agree that stealing is wrong and therefore there are laws against it. Yet there are people who follow only the "what's best for me' motto and steal anyway.
Doing what you 'want' might also be bad for yourself. I understand that you're using the statement for the good in this situation, but making a blanket statement about the liberation of acting only for yourself leaves many openings for misinterpretation. Like Kenny said, you must think of others that are important to you and whether or not your decision will affect them in the future. If you don't, then you must at least be willing to suffer the full consequences of making that choice for only yourself when others were involved.
All in all a sage post, we shouldn't should on ourselves. Just keep in mind that there are always consequences and living only for the here and now and only for me will never filly your life with true joy, only temporary happiness!

Tomi Ann
Tomi Ann

I don't think you read Dan's post clearly -- he said that that was a "should" from his past, something he learned was inappropriate. Sharing beliefs from love is not wrong or creepy, but turning people into a number in your formula (convert x people per year, etc.) is definitely wrong. I think that making others feel like they're doing something wrong by sharing what is deep in their heart is just as wrong on the other side of the scale.
My recent post The difference between "owning it" and "you're on your own."

t5winmom
t5winmom

Glad you've found peace in your spirituality. Please don't take offense to Dan's desire to share his beliefs. I don't think anyone can "convert" someone else - their change of heart comes from within, not from the force of witnessing. Or the witness-er's blog. And whenever someone witnesses to me, I take it as a sign of their desire to share the happiness they've found with me. I am flattered, & take it as a compliment. Force = bad, share = good. And I don't think I've ever read anything in Dan's posts that feel like "religious zealotry". Have you? Blessings/peace/good karma to you, fellow Earth-traveler!!

Meg
Meg

This was beautiful and very eloquently stated, I will repost on my FB status and give you credit.
I really love the Positiveity (sp...if that even a word? LOL) of this affirmation. Many thanks, Meg

sillyna511
sillyna511

So true!!
My recent post It's Official! We've having a....

Dana B
Dana B

wow. this comment hit me so much more than Dan's entire post. I was crying last night to my husband about all of the things I feel my 4 year old should be doing by now. My husband stopped this discussion in tears saying this: 'I'm not going to tell my son something is wrong with him. Because there is nothing wrong with him. He is where he needs to be now. If he needs help with something, we'll help him. But I am NOT going to compare him to other kids and make him think something is wrong with him. He is fine with who he is. He doesn't see anything wrong with himself. If he's happy, I'm happy. You need to be happy too'

I will not should all over my son or my family.

Thank you!!