Stop “Shoulding” On Yourself

How many times have you thought or even said “I really should…” in the last 24 hours?

I should have taken that job

I really should get more sleep

I should have committed to less

I should…


We’re all guilty of saying (or thinking) these phrases. Known as the “s” word of busy people, the act of “shoulding” all over ourselves and others is the fastest route to blame, guilt, and even shame.

Yes, being reflective of our actions is essential to live a thoughtful, intentional life.

But holding ourselves emotionally hostage for situations that didn’t turn out the way we wanted doesn’t change anything (except our attitude!)

Instead, imagine what it would be like if you embraced more self-compassion and ditched this default reaction of “shoulding” and ruminating on what didn’t happen or hasn’t occurred yet.

Dr. Kristin Neff studies the science behind self-compassion and found through her research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.

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“Our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be,” Dr. Neff shares. But is that really how we want to live and the example we strive to set for our children?

We’d like to believe that being thoughtful, kind, and compassionate is the legacy we should leave.

Changing Our Internal Script

We spend so much mental energy focusing on judging what we should have done in the past or planning what we should do in the future that we miss out on being authentic and available in the present. Let’s examine types of “shoulding” and the impact it has so we can break the cycle and embrace more compassion instead.

Types of “Shoulding”

  • Past-Focus – I should have... where the primary motivation is judging

  • Future-Focus –  I should... where primary motivation is planning

Chronic “shoulding” is largely a first-world problem and is often driven by FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). In a report by ScienceDaily, Dr. Darlene McLaughlin shares that “the problem with FOMO is the individuals it impacts are looking outward instead of inward. When you're so tuned in to the 'other,' or the 'better' (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world."


The Real Impact of "Shoulding"

  • Defers your happiness

  • Promotes self-judgment

  • Increases negative emotions like frustration, exhaustion, striving, and proving

  • Constructs an obligation mindset

  • Gives away your power to what you haven't done

  • Creates a life based on scarcity where you never have “enough”

And our “shoulding” is cyclical. It feeds itself as it becomes a habitual way of life unless we intentionally BREAK the CYCLE.

A Better Way

Instead of “shoulding” all over your life, let’s consider four positive solutions that help cultivate more self-compassion and positive mindset.

1. Know Your Triggers

While there are many things that induce “shoulding,” here are some of the main motivators. Take a mental tally of the key culprits in your life that cause you to say “should.”

  • Obligations

  • Expectations

  • Anxiety about what you’ll miss (FOMO)

  • Reputation management

  • Seeking approval and acceptance

2. Set Your Boundaries

What you assign urgency to is what you do. Take time to distinguish if something is truly urgent, or just feels that way. When you prioritize what is most important – not just what appears critical in the moment – you are able to set boundaries that are in line with your values. And when you have clear boundaries that define values-based intentions, the “shoulds” don’t have as much mental airtime to broadcast.

3. Create Your “Ta Da” List (not just your “To Do” list)

One of the recurring themes we hear from working parents is feeling a strong level of frustration and even guilt when they didn’t finish everything they thought they “should” be able to do. This is especially resonant for new parents who are adjusting to what “normal” looks like when caring for an infant! Instead of letting your “to do” list determine your success, try creating a “ta da” list at the end of each day with everything you completed and then celebrate what’s done!

4. Honor Your “Enough” Point

Don’t let the powerful “shoulds” place efficiency over sufficiency. Begin to determine what “enough” looks and feels like for you with each tasks or commitment. Before you reach your capacity, consider what your “enough” point is – the space when you can honestly say “I’m done for now” and then hit pause. Here, you’ll find a space where achievement and fulfillment can co-exist.

Your challenge: Stop “shoulding” all over your life and begin turning your intentions into positive actions to embrace more compassion.

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