The “Should” Factor

Good morning all! Happy Monday! Or is it? Monday seems like a good day to talk about a word which weighs more on us than the sum of its letters. Several posts ago I wrote about the meaning of the word “diet,” and it started some interesting conversations. So I thought it was time we broke down another word.

The word “should” has a lot of meanings, but the one we’re talking about today pertains to obligation, morality, expectation, and often guilt. For me, I can trace the word “should” to my American up-bringing and protestant work ethic (also see Catholic and Jewish guilt, Midwestern blue-collar values, Puritan work ethic, overachievers, type A personality, etc). Something tells me if you’re reading this blog you and should go way back. Here are a few examples of mantras which may pass through your mind or lips during the day:

I should…

pay attention to the news.

get to work on time or early.

meet a nice man/woman and settle down.

watch less TV.

do the dishes and not leave them in the sink.

call my parents/friends/relatives more often.

exercise and eat healthier!

Do any of those statements sound familiar? On this blog, Erin and I talk about some of them, such as healthy eating and exercise. I just don’t want to lose sight of why we’re focusing on these things.

So why is that? It’s an important question to ask. If the answer is “because I should,” that may not be enough. Or maybe some vague reason such as the following:

I will be…



a better person.

Should as a reason, can turn something positive into something negative. Life ruled by should can feel like indentured servitude to an unknowable master. Vague good intentions without positive goals often feel like failure.

My suggestion (challenge?) to you, is listen to yourself over the next couple weeks. Every time you use the word should out loud or in your head, stop and take a moment. If you can, write the statement down and then answer the following questions.

  • What will happen if I don’t do this “should”? Am I okay with that?
  • Who am I doing this for?
  • What do I expect to get out of it?
  • Do I need/want to do this?
  • What would I rather be doing? How will that change the questions and answers above?

Changing a reason from “because I should” to “because I want to” or “because I need to in order to get x (which I want)” is an empowering and liberating force in life. It gives tiresome routine actions more purpose, which sometimes makes them more enjoyable.

What are your “shoulds?” Would you be interested in a followup post where I share my list? Would you like to share yours? If so, comment below or email me at



  1. Tiffany-Nicole · · Reply

    Ohhhh my goodness!!! This is an awesome and powerful read!!! I know sometimes, I use should out of guilt, especially when I don’t want to do something but I know I have the capability to do it. I say, I guess I should. I need to look further into the why. Thank you for this.

  2. I /should/…

    eat more veggies and fewer french fries
    push myself harder during aerobics and work out more
    (=lose weight, be stronger)
    track my finances down to the penny
    work harder at work (ha)
    look for a new job/network more/polish my resume/take classes
    call/e-mail my friends more
    call my parents more
    call/write to my grandparents more
    visit my family more
    lose my patience less
    spend less/spend money on quality things/save more/invest more
    get more sleep
    keep the house cleaner
    etc., etc., etc.

    all of the “shoulds” can drive you crazy.

    I have to balance: will it make me happier now? will it make me happier later? will it make someone else happier now? is it good for me? is it good for them?

    I think your questions are very good ones, too.

  3. Emily ORourke · · Reply

    OK I kept reading and I just realized you are writing this with Erin, too! YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME. Seriously. Awesome. Keep up the good work. I am going to use you as inspiration to get my healthy lifestyle back on track.

    My initial 4 goals are:
    Only allow myself only ONE indulgent meal per week
    Incorporate a serving of vegetables and/or fruit into each meal
    Reduce complex Carbs and substitute them from whole-grains
    Go to yoga twice a week

    1. So happy to hear you enjoy the blog! Thanks for sharing your goals! Erin and I love comments, feedback and questions!

  4. […] don’t always feel this way after the weekend. I often debate whether I should get stuff done or relax on the weekends. Usually, I strive for compromise, but I often miss the […]

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