Beware of the Word “Should”

May 18, 2023

By Dave Bushy, PCC

Please don’t think you should read this blog.  I simply invite you to do so. 

How many times a day do we hear the word “should?”  It’s a word that we use to inform others about what we feel, about what we desire or even about that which makes us feel guilty.  And it’s also a word we hear from others and, in turn, direct back to them.  Here are just a few examples:

  • You (directed at yourself) should:
    • Watch TV less
    • Exercise more
    • Be more mindful
    • Pray or meditate more

If that’s not challenging enough, we hear it from others:

  • You (directed towards you) should:
    • Take care of yourself
    • Call your mother more
    • Be careful
    • Not text and drive

And then we routinely use the word repeatedly back to others:

  • You (directed back to others) should:
    • Know I’m trying
    • Mind your own business
    • Let me handle my own decisions
    • Be careful what you say!
    • Know that I have a handle on things!

It’s fascinating to note that two very apparent outcomes emerge from overusing the word “should:”

  • 1) The first is a passive acknowledgement without action.  How many times have I stood on a scale and actually lost weight after I directed myself about a new diet, for instance?   I follow a “should” command from myself without first exploring needs and wants.
  • 2) The second is a more active resistance also without action.  How often do we get irritated when someone tells us that we “should” do something?  Either we just don’t understand why we are getting such advice and we don’t like it, or, as a result, decide we don’t like the person saying it!

I often ask clients why they are “shoulding” all over themselves so much and they laugh.  And it is inevitably a knowing or sort of grudging humor. From there, developmental growth can begin to emerge. 

In coaching we work diligently to not tell anyone what to do (or should do).  Instead, we ask what they are doing now and how that is working for them.  We explore in detail the “now” and invite our clients to think about the “whys” and the “possibilities.”  We use inquiry and ask questions that emerge from their current way of being, such as:

  • What is it that you think you want to do?
  • I’d be curious about how you feel about the need to do it?
  • What choices do you think you can make?
  • And how are you going to achieve it?

In coaching and in life, each of us is in continual receipt of energy from others.  When we continually receive that energy in any form without exploring it within ourselves, we lose the opportunity to release our own energy.  As the recipients of “shoulds” from ourselves and others, a release can seldom occur, causing either a level of passivity or resistance.  That’s why we work to both release energy and to help develop a more positive energy. We support a commitment towards change by first allowing others to appreciate what is working for them and then deciding if their current path might be able to be modified somewhat for their benefit.  It is a wonderful paradox to explore!

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC).  He is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

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