I would like to declare the word ‘Should’ toxic. It’s used way too often, and encites perfectionism and feelings of inadequacy. It’s thrown around everywhere these days, with social media making it even more prevalent. We are constantly bombarded with the word.
- You should eat more veggies, drink more water.
- You should exercise more, drink less
- I should look after my health more, and I should have 8 hours of sleep per day so I feel amazing every morning.
The actual Oxford Dictionary definition says: It’s used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions. That’s where the toxicity creeps in - The criticism and the sense of obligation. It reinforces the idea that you are failing, or not doing something or not being someone you are supposed to be.
Most of the time, these obligations or required actions are not even real. They are your own perceived requirements, or those thrust upon you by your peers. Social standards and expectations are forced upon us 24/7. Unless they are actually laws and regulations that can get you locked up or killed, utilising “should” may be causing your more harm than good. Similarly, if you are telling other people they should be doing something, you are disrespecting their ability to make their own choices. It makes you judgemental, not helpful.
When you set yourself so many obligations and directions it makes it very difficult to live up to those expectations. It’s motivated by a lack of self-acceptance rather than encouragement. It also creates conflicts with other priorities and ideals, and can potentially cause you to feel deprived, or lacking.
The most common one for me was that I should eat well and exercise more. The biggest problem for me was that it conflicted with my desire to enjoy my life to the fullest. I was pressuring myself to avoid certain foods and reduce my alcohol intake, because the expectations I had set upon myself, based on social recommendations and values that didn’t necessary reflect my own, and it led me to feel miserable and deprived, and then guilty when I didn’t conform. By using that would should, I was creating un-necessary restrictions and boundaries on myself, when in reality it is absolutely possible to have both an active and fun filled life, and to be fit and healthy.
The words “could” and “are” make for a much better internal dialogue because they direct your thoughts to them being a choice rather than an expectation. It automatically takes away that obligation, and the requirement to perform. It is also important to challenge your “Why” and test whether it conflicts with other values and expectations you hold dear. Are you doing it because it is important to you, or because you have accepted someone else’s values or standards. For example, why do you feel you shouldn’t eat cereal for dinner? Is it because it is important to you to eat a more substantial meal at dinner time, or because you were told that it was a breakfast food so should only be eaten at that time?
It takes a lot of practice to avoid the word. I was even in danger of saying “I shouldn’t” say that word. It does make it a lot easier to accept yourself, to be kinder to yourself, and will also help you make stronger relationship with those around you. Focus on your desired goals and your own values, without the restraints of self imposed boundaries. There’s no such thing as the “right” way you “should” achieve those goals. There are infinite ways to get where you want to go, and you can choose to Live life on your own terms