It’s time to ban ‘should’

July 2, 2016

How many times a day do you use the word ‘should’? Lyn Beasy* tells us how to break the cycle of negativity in our lives.



I am on a campaign to ban the word ‘should’. It is such a common word in our language; you probably don’t even notice yourself using it. Sometimes it’s fine to say, ‘I should get that job done’, but most of the time it is spoken negatively about ourselves, others or a situation. 

Whenever we say the word ‘should’ and its cousins, ‘ought’ or ‘must’, we are dealing with our standards and managing our expectations of ourselves or others. When we say, ‘I should be better at this’, or ‘I should be able to cope’, it places unreasonable demands on us. 

Because we’re not meeting our own expectations, fall short and become disappointed in ourselves, we end up feeling frustrated and guilty. 

Likewise, using the word ‘should’ when we’re describing someone’s actions (or inactions), such as, ‘He should have come home early’, is judgmental and says more about us than the person; i.e. that we’re feeling upset or angry with them. 

We’re viewing their actions through our own world view, values and expectations. These values come from habitual patterns and unwritten rules we may not even be consciously aware of. 

Using the words ‘should’ or ‘must’ is what we call an ‘unhelpful thinking style’. There are many ways of unhelpful thinking that skew the way we view ourselves, others or the world. The result of biased thinking leads to feelings such as sadness, guilt, anger, disappointment or frustration.  

We may also try to avoid a situation, or act out our feelings. Our feelings and behaviours are influenced by our thoughts and if we are able to catch what we think, and look at it objectively, then we can moderate a resulting mood and behaviour. 

Do an experiment for a day. Listen to your own self-talk and watch how many times you use the word ‘should’ in describing yourself or others. Look for when, and if, you use it to describe yourself or the people around you. 

If unhelpful self-talk results in a negative emotion and behaviour, challenge it by looking for evidence that gives you a different perspective. 

If you notice you are making unrealistic expectations, ask yourself, ‘Am I setting myself up for expectations that are impossible to reach? Can I see this in another way? How important will this be in the future?’ If this is it difficult to work on alone, seek out professional help.

*Lyn Beasy is a psychologist at the Caringbah Wellbeing Clinic.
If you or someone you know is struggling with grief contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.



Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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