The Shoulds In Your Life Gotta Go!


Are you suffering from a bad case of the shoulds? Are you saying things like I should…

  • have a better job.
  • lead more like so and so.
  • have more friends.
  • be making a bigger difference.
  • lose 15 pounds.
  • be more organized.
  • be married.
  • I should…

Or maybe your version is more about what you shouldn’t do. Are you saying things like I shouldn’t…

  • overeat.
  • be so stupid.
  • have tried to do so much

Oh, the endless list of shoulds and shouldn’ts!

I’ve wrestled with shoulds in my life and it has played out in to major ways: comparing myself to others or correcting others – pointing out what they should be doing differently. They both undermine me and the later disrespects other people’s ability to do life.

In this day and age, it’s easy to get a peek into the best bits of people’s lives via social media. Never mind that people only post, tweet, or pin what they want you to see. It creates the illusion that everyone is up to something better, more impressive, and substantially more significant than you are, and before you know it you are comparing yourself and have a bad case of the shoulds.

Words Are Powerful!

The language you use – both your inner dialogue and the words you use when speaking or writing to others – make a powerful difference. When you utter that six letter word should it’s time to take note! That word will keep you frustrated and stuck. Some close cousins to should or shouldn’t: ought to, have to, need to, got to, and must.

Should is actually what you resort to in an attempt to protect yourself from painful feelings. Sadly, rather than protect you, it causes the negative feelings to grow. It is placing unreasonable demands and unnecessary pressures on yourself or others and contributes to fear, stress, worry, and anxiety. Such self-defeating behaviors also contribute to feeling hopeless, chip away at your self-esteem, and have the potential to lead to mental health disorders. Those are some great reasons to eliminate the “should pattern” in your life!

Here are five steps to help you do just that:

1. Become More AWARE

How often are you using the word should or one of its cousins? Pay attention! It might surprise you!

Judging – that’s what you are doing to yourself or others when should is in the mix. Should is about the past or the future. It’s not about the present, so it is worth noticing when it’s at work.

2. ALLOW Yourself to Feel

When you try to avoid your feelings, it causes your feelings to intensify. Keep trying to ignore your feelings for any length of time and odds are good that you will soon be engaging in some kind of behavior to numb out. You might turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm, sex, overeating, or escaping. This sets off a vicious cycle – secrets, cover-ups, hiding, etc.

If you say you shouldn’t be upset, you ARE upset, so just own it! Give yourself permission to really feel and face both your positive and negative emotions.

It’s OK to feel the way you feel. Your feelings are trying to tell you something important, so be honest about our emotions and then explore what those feelings are trying communicate to you.

3. ACCEPT Your Feelings

Your feelings aren’t good or bad – they just are. Notice and accept them, stop judging them!

Get in the habit of accepting your feelings and switching your shoulds to:

  • Next time I will…
  • It would be nice if…
  • I prefer…
  • I would like it if…
  • Or, best of all, I get to…


As a believer, you are a son or daughter of the most-high God. You were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and redeemed for a great price – Jesus gave His life for you! The debt for your sin has been paid – God sees you as 100% righteous. Your Father in heaven loves you deeply – He’s wild about you! That all adds up to some awesome stuff – who needs to compare with that kind of identity?

Rather than focusing on your lack, make who God created you to BE your focus. That’s where you will reflect Him and shine!

Get clear on your strengths and natural giftings that God’s blessed you with. There will always be impressive people around you who are amazing. If your focus is on what others are doing, it will leave you with that I-am-not-good-enough-feeling. However, if you choose to focus on the abilities that God has given you and put your efforts into maximizing them, your chances of doing something significant yourself increases substantially.

Here’s the funny thing: sometimes what you are good at is so much a part of you that you miss it! Because it comes so naturally to you, you think everything has that ability, but that’s not true!

Want to get clear on your strengths? Ask the people around you – trusted friends, family or co-workers what strengths they see in you. As they respond, you’re sure to see some patterns evolve.

You may also wish to take a strengths assessment. Consider the CliftonStrengthsFinder Assessment which you can pay less than $10 to take online or purchase the book Now, Discover Your Strengths which includes a free access code for the assessment. You can also take a free strengths assessment here.

5. ACT Out of Your Values

Often, what you envy isn’t what you value. Perhaps you value depth of relationship more than quantity of relationship. Maybe freedom and flexibility are more important to you than a prestigious job. Get clear on your values! They will enable you to be more intentional.

What are YOUR top five values?

6. ADOPT Great Habits

Good habits help you stay on track. Here are 12 Habits that will serve you well.

Two habits worth adopting that eliminate the shoulds in your life: boundaries and practicing gratitude!

Boundaries often get a bad rap, but boundaries are a way of establishing what you’re responsible for and what you’ll tolerate. It’s possible to misuse boundaries, although typically it’s the lack of boundaries that creates issues. While you might blame others for the frustration that results when you fail to have boundaries, the truth is setting and communicating boundaries is your responsibility.

Practicing gratitude is a deliberate effort to acknowledge all the positives that you have to be grateful for, no matter how small. Focusing on what you are thankful for breaks the negative momentum and prevents you from getting caught up in the vortex of shoulds that keeps you spinning in a negative place.

7. ASK More Nurturing Questions

Rather than running from your feelings, take the time to explore what’s behind the shoulds in your life. With practice it, it will get easier and it will bring to light some invaluable information!

Here are some questions worth pondering and/or journaling about:

  • What about this is upsetting me?
  • When have I felt this way before?
  • What’s the truth?
  • What triggers me to compare myself to others?
  • Where did I learn to deny my feelings?
  • Where do I feel this in my body?
  • What would it look like if I was being compassionate to myself?
  • How am I putting pressure on myself?
  • What makes me think this shouldn’t upset me?
  • What would bring me comfort in a healthy way?
  • Where do I need to be more realistic?
  • What keeps me from being realistic?
  • What keeps me from being compassionate to myself?
  • What’s the connection between my shoulds and my Fear Monster?

Where have you noticed shoulds popping up for you?

Marvae Eikanas

Marvae Eikanas is an author, entrepreneur, ICF certified coach, Career Direct Consultant, DISC consultant, and HBDI practitioner. She helps her coaching clients sharpen their skills, face their fears, eliminate funky mindsets, hone their habits, and cultivate clarity so they can THRIVE personally and professionally. Schedule a consultation with Marvae here.

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