Don’t ‘should’ on Yourself!

Do you remember the last time someone told you that you SHOULD do something?

How did you feel?

I’m sure you didn’t graciously say “why thank you for that tip”

Why am I so certain of your response? Well should is a word that we attach to authority figures, be it parents, or folks paid to uphold the law and our knee jerk response to ‘shoulds’ is resistance.

When we are kids ‘shoulds’ brought on pressure.

As teenagers ‘shoulds’ made us rebel.

As adults ‘shoulds’ are resented!

So then if this is our natural response to external ‘shoulds’ why then do we ‘should’ no ourselves? I am not sure, but when we do – the reaction is the same. Something in us resents being told what to do – even when we’re doing the telling. This causes a lot of internal conflict and stress. You either resist doing what you’re telling yourself to do or you do it unwillingly. How far do you think you will get on that kind of fuel?

What usually happens when we habitually ‘should’ on ourselves is that we erode our own self confidence and motivation.

So what should – oops – sorry – what steps can you take to eliminating the ‘should’ mindset?

Molly Gordon suggest creating Conditions of Satisfaction – standards for success that you set for yourself. She says that these are different from goals because they describe success in terms of observable actions you will take. They build confidence and motivation because they show you specifically what you need to do to have faith in yourself.

Molly gives us 4 tips on setting Conditions of Satisfaction

  1. Keep it simple. Set conditions of satisfaction that are easy to understand and recognizable
  2. Set conditions you can control. You can’t control whether your book is a bestseller, your painting are selected for an exhibit or you get cancer. You can control how many words you write each day, how often you submit your paintings to curators, and how you care for your body.
  3. Make your conditions time specific. When/over what period will you do what you say you will do?
  4. Declare satisfaction when you meet your conditions – (the step most of us ignore she says). When you pause to declare satisfaction, you are building that essential history of keeping commitments with yourself. Until you pause, your subconscious mind may not register that you have met significant commitments. You just keep expecting yourself to do more and more.

Albert Ellis was the man who coined the phrase “don’t should on yourself”.

According to Ellis, we must first recognize all the irrational shoulds, oughts and musts with which we are burdening ourselves  and then I suggest we follow Molly’s sage advice and set our own conditions of satisfaction.

Let’s stop ‘shoulding’!

Cartoon from

3 thoughts on “Don’t ‘should’ on Yourself!

  1. Oddly enough, when I tell myself that I “should” do something, it’s oppressive and draining.

    When, on the other hand, I tell myself that I “get to do” something, I feel far more energized and happy and the something is more likely to get done.

    Even if the “should” and the “get to” are exactly the same thing…

    Ah! The power of words!

    If you’ll excuse me, I need to move on to some chores I get to do this morning….


  2. Hi Catherine,

    What a difference a word makes? You’re so right about the draining and oppressive nature of ‘should’. I guess it’s a great idea to follow as well what energizes us, makes us feel strong, build us up instead of wear us down!

    Have fun with your chores! 🙂

  3. Thanks huddy!

    You’re right that it’s better to folllowwhat energizes us, as opposed to drains us.

    I also find that how we talk about something can shape whether it energizes or drains

    So, when we tell ourselves better stories, more things energize…


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