Lighten Up and Quit Shoulding On Yourself!

How often do you tell yourself that you ‘should’ do something?

I should call my mother.
I should bake something for the bake sale.
I should tackle that mountain of paperwork.
I should turn off my phone and get to sleep.

Notice too how often you ‘must’ be doing something?

I must get to the gym.
I must shave my legs.
I must start dinner.
I must take the dog for a walk.

Obviously you do have responsibilities and obligations and there are plenty things you must and should do. But there’s also a lot of unnecessary  ‘musterbating’ and ‘shoulding’ on yourself. You can end up feeling like your whole life is one boooooring obligation after another.

‘Should’ makes you feel guilty, disinterested, bored and possibly even resentful.

How about replacing ‘should’ with a word that feels better:


Notice the subtle shift when ‘must’ and ‘should’ are turned into  ‘could’.

I could call my mother. Your thinking shifts to why it’s probably a good idea.

I could take the dog for a walk. Suddenly it feels like it’s in your hands. You switch into a more positive, proactive frame of mind.

I could bake something for the bake sale. But I don’t have to. As a matter of fact, I always do it and this week I really can’t spare the time – so I’m not going to.  (You’ve just made a choice. You’re not doing something just because you think you SHOULD.)

Begin to notice how you often you think or say ‘should’. Include times when you think other people ’should’ have said or done something.  ‘He should have called me back.’  ‘She should have thanked me.’

When too many of your ‘shoulds’ are driven by things such as worrying about what others think, wanting to be liked, or a fear of letting others down, you’re living your life behind a wall of responsibilities and obligations. You never have a chance to do things you want to be doing.

Likewise, if you place too many expectations on others and how they ‘should’ behave, you’re handing them the power to control your emotions. Don’t get caught up in it. Let it go whenever possible.

I now make inverted commas with my fingers when I say ‘should’ to remind myself to take it lightly. I smile when I catch myself thinking I ‘should’ or I ‘must’ do something.

The more I’ve practiced dropping these words from my life, the more freedom I feel. I do things because they make sense for me to do them, not because I feel I HAVE to.

Try it for yourself and notice what happens.

In the comments below, write 1-3 things you think you ‘should’ be doing. Then write them again with ‘could’. Does the new version feel more lighthearted and less obligatory? Does it make you feel more in control and like you’d be doing it because you know the benefits? Maybe it even releases you from feeling like you ‘must’ do it at all?

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  1. Sarah on July 10, 2017 at 2:55 PM

    I should eat healthier.
    I COULD eat healthier.

    I should clear out the toy cupboard.
    I COULD clear out the toy cupboard.

    I do see what you mean. Could feels less heavy and it makes me think of what I could be doing in a more proactive way. I’m going to pay attention to how often i use should. Thank you Kelly! I always like your little tricks. xx

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on July 10, 2017 at 3:04 PM

      Great examples Sarah and you’ll notice that it’s a very subtle shift in your mindset. It doesn’t mean you’re going to immediately go on a health kick or head straight to that toy cupboard. But by replacing should with could on a regular basis, you’ll begin to feel lighter. Smile when you catch yourself ‘shoulding’. Let me know how you get on! 🙂

  2. Val on July 11, 2017 at 4:19 PM

    I should not drink so much wine!

    I COULD not drink so much wine (and I might lose weight more easily)

    I must make dinner now!

    I COULD make dinner now (or it wouldn’t hurt if we had pizza from the freezer 🙂 )

    I should tidy up in the study

    I COULD tidy the study (which would make organizing the paperwork easier)

    Using COULD made me see how I could do something positive for myself

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on July 13, 2017 at 5:38 PM

      Wonderful Val! Great job on taking action here on my mini assignment. It’s only when you write it out that the penny really drops.

      Let go of the sense of obligation and duty and do things because they make good sense to do them. Thanks for joining in. 🙂

  3. amanda on July 11, 2017 at 5:13 PM

    I should answer this phone call.
    I COULD answer this phone call.

    I should do more social things.
    I COULD do more social things.

    I should hang out with her.
    I COULD hand out with her.

    I’ve found that alot of what I am trying to do in life is the shoulds, and I end up not wanting to do them, and cacncel them often, but, because i havent made a choice, they are still hanging in my head causing stress

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