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The Self-Sabotaging Should

03/03/2017 14:11 GMT | Updated 03/03/2017 14:11 GMT

The word 'should' has somehow invaded modern day dialogue like a virus; it masquerades itself as motivational, dutiful and altruistic, concealing its true motive to simply aid your self-abasement. The problem with 'should' is that it's restrictive, and once it has you in its hold, you are confined to an existence of recurring self-sabotage.

'Should' is a suffocating presence that cannot be seen but can be felt with the momentous force of a gathering typhoon. It is the test you could never get full marks on; the boss you could never impress; the partner you could never please and a complete misdirection of your energy.

And if you're a life-long over achiever, admitting you didn't do something that you really should have done means that basically, you're a failure. 'Should' amplifies a situation beyond recognition. You didn't take the bins out before the rubbish lorry came? Well now the bins are going to overflow and your house is probably going to get infested with cockroaches and it's all your fault. You're lazy. You're not organised enough. You're worthless. And all of a sudden, one tiny blunder becomes a relentless barrage of abuse fronted by your inner self-critic.

The inherent problem with should is that it traps you between what you think you're supposed to be doing and what you are actually doing, which are inevitably two contrasting states. By saying you 'should' be doing something, you acknowledge that you're not doing something you feel you ought to be doing. 'Should' doesn't leave any room for the possibility that you will do the action in the future, it simply passes judgement on your failure to have already done something.

Similarly, it is condemning when used in the past: "I shouldn't have done that". In reality, saying you shouldn't have done something is not going to change anything. Whilst it is good to reflect on things that went well and not so well in the past, saying you shouldn't have done something does not change whether it happened or not. It's in the past and the most proactive way to deal with an experience that didn't go quite to plan is to learn from it and grow.

In another way, telling someone else what they 'should' be doing takes away their freedom to decide how they behave for themselves. It presumes you know best.

But should is just a word? How can a word have such a profound effect on your self-worth?

Our words shape our world; they are the powerful tool we use to describe how we feel and to communicate our perspective. The choice of words we use significantly and directly affects the way a message is communicated and as such, it has a massive impact on the reality we construct for ourselves.

'Should' is rife with connotations of frustration and failure. It doesn't leave any space for negotiation or debate, it simply confines you to a world of letting others - and yourself -down. If you try to live in a world of 'shoulds' you will never be content with what you have achieved; instead of focusing on your accomplishments, you focus on your shortcomings, the areas you didn't quite manage to do what you set out to.

I don't know about you, but should is most present in my internal dialogue. I use it to tell myself the things I need to do, the person I really ought to be, the way I wish I'd behaved in that social situation. We need to let go of this insidious mind-set as when misused, it simply becomes another stick to beat yourself with. And heck, in this world there are enough sticks to avoid already.

Instead of allowing should to rule your life, try replacing it with 'could'. Instead of 'I should go to the gym' tell yourself 'I could go to the gym'. Doesn't that already feel much less restrictive? Going to the gym is now a possibility for your day; it is not something you have to do; you are not a failure if you don't do it.

I could go to the gym. I could eat a salad. I could clean my cooker. 'Could' opens a world of possibilities; it is gentle, optimistic and full of potential. If you don't do something that you 'could' do, it doesn't matter! 'Could' is your friend. 'Could' frees you of self-blame. 'Could' understands that as a working woman juggling a full-time job, managing side projects, pursuing passions and keeping up with family and friends, you're a busy lady.

Replacing 'should' with 'could' feels good; suddenly you are free to live in a world of 'perhaps', a world of possibility, freedom and choice. It's time to start treating yourself with the kindness, love and forgiveness you deserve by silencing that critical inner voice and freeing your mind.