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  • Jennifer Pierce

Should is a Four Letter Word

Think of how you use the word ‘Should.’  “I should have remembered that.”  “You shouldn’t have done that!”  “I should be nicer/cleaner/prettier.”  Notice the theme?  These are all negative, judgmental statements.  We make these kinds of statements all the time without even realizing it.  The problem with should statements is that their only purpose is to make you feel bad.  Should statements result in feelings of guilt, depression, anger, shame, or embarrassment.  Should statements are not a plan to change or improve things.  They are simply a desire for things to be different.  But things are not different, so these statements only end up making us unhappy.    The problem is that we are basically arguing with reality.  Who do you think is going to win?   Reality wins every time.  As my husband likes to say, “It is what it is.”  Meaning that you cannot change reality, and if you try, you will only end up hurting yourself.  That is not to say that you can’t change the future.  Of course you can change things and the future can be different.  But the present is what it is.  One example I like to use is the statement, “There should be world peace.”  I think we can all agree with that statement in theory, but the problem is that world peace does not currently exist.  So when I make this statement (aloud or silently) I feel sadness, remorse, disappointment, or some similar feeling.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that should statements cause you to burst out crying.  But add up all your should statements and you probably end up less happy than you could be.  Think about it…How many should statements do you say or think in a day?  Fifty?  Twenty?  How many in a week?  A couple hundred, maybe?  Now imagine if you had said a positive statement instead.  Instead of “I should have remembered that” maybe you said “Oops, guess I’m not perfect.  No big deal.”   Changing that statement once isn’t going to make much of a difference, but changing 100 or more statements a week could really change your mood!  You could be a happier person with a more positive outlook on the world.    Cutting ‘should’ out of your vocabulary may seem easier than it is.  It’s probably similar to cutting out all curse words.  I think “should” is the dirtiest word in the English language.  I tell my clients, “Go ahead and drop the F‐bomb, swear like a sailor, but just don’t use the word ‘should’.”  No curse word will cause you as much distress as should.  Of course, the same goes for ‘ought,’ ‘must,’ and ‘supposed.’  So maybe you can try a ‘should jar’ where everybody in the house puts in a dollar when they say the word ‘should.’  Anything to get you to notice how you think and talk will be helpful.   Then, when you do catch yourself making a should statement, be sure to stop and rephrase the statement into a more positive non‐should statement.  Change takes time and effort, so be patient.  You have been practicing should statements your whole life, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while to retrain yourself.


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