How ‘Should’ Statements Keep you Stuck

Do you say these things to yourself?

  • I should sleep earlier!
  • I should exercise more
  • I should cut back on sugar
  • I should be nicer to my partner
  • I should save more money

I have been guilty of many should statements and I still do it sometimes. Sometimes it’s a repeat thing… my most popular one is I should save more money. It’s partly my dad talking in my head and partly my guilt for not doing it better. I learned as a child I could always do better. Therefore never felt ‘good enough’ and have been hard on myself to do better.

I once made a 10-course dinner which is a big accomplishment for me and was told; the peas could be cooked a bit more. So I learned to focus on what I did wrong and what I can do better. I would look for the issues and see how to solve them. I am a great problem solver; for that I am grateful; but it came at a cost. I used to beat myself up about not doing things right and always the words…. you should do better.”

It’s one of those niggly little things that happen that we are not usually aware of that can become a big thing in our lives if we don’t stop it before it rules us.

At the beginning, I listed some examples of Should statements. Believe it or not, ‘shoulding’ has become an indispensable part of our mindset and thought process. What does ‘shoulding’ mean?

What it Means

There’s no specific definition of ‘shoulding’. You can understand it as just a process of telling or pressuring yourself to be or do something you are supposed to be or do instead of doing what you really want to.

Which ones are you saying to yourself? Do you hear the voice of your parents, teachers, friends in the back of your mind saying… “you should do ________”?

We believe that by “shoulding” ourselves; we can pressure ourselves into doing something we either want to do at some level or feel guilting about not doing. Either way, it’s a form of self-beat up. When we don’t end up doing what we wanted to do in the first place, we beat ourselves up and end up “shoulding” ourselves even more.

How it Impacts You

Should statements can impact your life with depression, panic, and anxiety by instilling negative thinking patterns, which is also called cognitive distortion. As a result, you get confused, fearful, and worried. When you think about it; does the “should” help? Do you ever really do it? It’s a form of self-pressure that results in guilt.

Putting unreasonable and unnecessary pressure on yourself often makes you feel guilty when you fail to achieve the target. Culturally, we are held captive by the internalized voice of what we believe we are supposed to be, and that’s why we use Should so frequently. It takes the place of more powerful and apt phrases like I can, I want, and I will.

We generally use Should without any context and forget that it just indicates an obligation or suitability of a task and not some universal truth. Cognitive therapy, in theory, suggests that your thought process plays a crucial role in the development of mental health issues, particularly stress. People dealing with depression or anxiety often rely on should statements when describing their life situations.

The problem with our thinking pattern is indicated when we start using should, ought, and similar other terms in our speech. These are the words that negative thinkers, people with panic disorders, and those having a pessimistic perspective on life use. Such behaviors only contribute to increasing your anxiety and avoidance behavior. Shoulding keeps you stuck and breeds shame and guilt. We need to stop shoulding as it is a destructive habit.

How can you stop shoulding so much?

The first step is to be aware of the fact that you are “shoulding” yourself. Start listening to that inner voice and see what it is saying. We can’t change what we are not aware of. Once you recognize the pattern of these should statements, write them down. Acknowledging them helps you open up to heal.

Be gentle with yourself as you write them down, we don’t want the “I shouldn’t should voice to pop up. Keep breathing. Once you are aware, you have the power to change. Choose one that isn’t a heavy one and reflect on why you want that behavior changed. Start thinking about the benefits of why. For example, I am trying to reduce eating processed foods. My favorite is rich chocolate ice cream. It’s my comfort food. It calms me down and I love to anticipate how cool and tasty it is in my mouth. I tried to shame and guilt myself into not eating it. Major “shoulds” were going on.

Once I accepted the craving and tapped on the desire and the need for comfort food, it lessened and I could focus on the reasons why I didn’t want to eat processed foods and started looking at and imagining what I would feel like if I didn’t eat it. It took some time. Now I only have it about once a month and I don’t even like it anymore.

While I was in the habit of eating ice cream, I wasn’t addicted to it. If you have any addictions that you are “shoulding” yourself about, see an addiction specialist.

Start imagining and visualizing what you do want vs. what you “shouldn’t” do. Then forgive yourself for not doing it and beat yourself up about it. When we don’t forgive ourselves; the energy is still tied to us.

If you want to download my free forgiveness cards, click the link below.

Adding Context

One of the best ways is to add context to Should sentences, like who, why, and what circumstances. For instance, instead of saying I should get back in shape, you should tell yourself, I should start eating healthier to stay in shape. Adding a context is necessary to avoid conflict. What if you don’t really want to lose weight and are forcing yourself to do so because of societal pressure to look a certain way. So, the only way to stop shoulding is asking yourself what you actually want and how to incorporate changes successfully.

This can help you ensure you are motivated by the right reasons and it’s a healthy choice for you.

In Summary

“Shoulding” ourselves doesn’t work. It’s a double whammy as we are feeling guilting or beat up and still not getting done or making the changes we want.

There are so many other options:

  • Tap on the issue
  • Write a journal
  • Be aware of what your ‘should’ statements are
  • Rewrite them into positive and supportive goals
  • Have self-compassion as you effort to change your behaviors
  • Practice self-forgiveness
  • Reprogram your brain with affirmation instead of “should” statements


If you want to download your free “Get Unstuck Affirmation Cards”, click on the link below.