When it comes to improving our health and wellbeing, our actions are most often the first place we direct our attention to. We move our bodies, we eat nutritious food, we get more sleep. But if we don’t also address our words, we might be limiting our ability to get wholly healthy. How we speak to ourselves and about ourselves is incredibly impactful on our health. And one word in particular that I want to address today is the word ‘should.’
You’ve probably had it spoken over you a time or two. And you’ve probably spoken it over yourself even more. Here are some ways it may have creeped into your thoughts:
I should exercise more.
I should rest more.
I should only eat whole, organic foods.
I should eat whatever I want.
I should have lost the weight by now.
I should love my body as it is.
I should get 8 hours of sleep every night.
I should get more work done.
I should speak more kindly to myself.
I should look more like her.
I should not care what the scale says.
By placing the word ‘should’ at the front of any of those demands (regardless of the healthiness of the demand itself) there is a level of expectation put on us. And if we are not meeting that expectation, then it pushes us into a pit of shame. I’ve heard it said before like this,
“What makes ‘should’ so complicated is that it’s always attached to someone else’s expectation, someone else’s opinion, and if you don’t happen to agree or if you fail to meet that expectation, that ‘should’ quickly leads you into shame. In fact, ‘should’ is too often just another way of saying, ‘shame on you.’” - Jess Connolly
Whether someone else speaks ‘should’ on us, or we speak it over ourselves, it is most often rooted in the expectations and experiences of someone else. So if we listen to the ‘should’, we might engage in something that is not what is best for us. Or it could make us feel ashamed or guilty if we’re not doing what we ‘should.’ It could leave us feeling worried or afraid that we’re doing it wrong. ‘Should’ places demands and puts pressure on us to do or to be certain things. And when we let that kind of negative narrative lead our actions, then the motives behind them become impersonal and ineffective at best, or damaging and disordered at worst. And that’s never a healthy place to be.
There is not just one way of living. There is not just one way of being healthy. There is not just one way to eat, or to exercise, or to structure your days. You get to determine what is best for YOU. Taking professionals’ advice or instruction is absolutely significant, especially if we are not an expert in a given topic we are trying to engage with. But if anyone is telling you that you ‘should’ do this or you ‘must’ do that in order to live a healthy life, then you can start to question if they are really out for your best, or if they are just trying to push a product or ideal upon you (which unfortunately is all too prevalent in the fitness and diet industry).
So I encourage you to flip the script for yourself. Change your language and change how you process the word ‘should.’ Here’s a few steps you can take to do that:
1. Identify how ‘should’ affects you
It’s helpful to recognize how it impacts us individually, because we all have varying degrees of sensitivity to it. Ask yourself, when I hear or tell myself that I should do something, does it actually motivate me to do it? Or does it just make me feel worse that I’m not already doing it? Does it pump me up to put in the work and follow through? Or does it feel like a weight that I begrudgingly drag behind me as I try to do it? Most often it is an empty motivator and doesn’t help us move along in a sustainable way any further in our health and wellness journey.
2. Get to the root of your ‘shoulds’
Who says you should? Why do you feel like you should? Is the thing you should be doing something you actually want, or is it something that a family member, a friend, a fitness guru, or a salesperson says you should be doing? Because in case you didn’t know, the 71 billion dollar weight loss industry is often out for your money more than it’s out for your health. So consider where the voice is coming from and determine if that voice is actually out for your well being. And if need be, you might need to cut off that voice from having any say in your life.
3. Give yourself a better ‘why’
Doing so will root your actions in something that is meaningful, truly motivating, and healthier for you. Instead of telling yourself “I should eat healthier,” shift it to align with your values and what’s important to you. Something like, “It’s important to me that I take care of my body for my long-term health, so I am going to make some changes to the way I eat,” changes your focus to why eating healthily is important to you and gives you some extra drive to do it in a way that works for you. That is much more effective than doing something because you feel like society thinks you should. Align your purpose with your own values.
4. Replace the demands of ‘should’ with more encouraging phrases
The same author who wrote the quote I mentioned before gave this example: “‘Should’ says You have to do this. You don’t have a choice. And if you fail, then shame on you. ‘Could’ says Well, hey, you have the option to do this. You can weigh it out and decide for yourself.” Another rephrasing you could try is to say “I will” instead of “I should.” Notice the difference these word changes make:
“I should exercise for 30 minutes today” sounds bitter and noncommittal.
“I could exercise for 30 minutes today” sounds empowering and hopeful.
“I will exercise for 30 minutes today” sounds devoted and purposeful.
It is much more motivating and declarative for yourself to speak with positivity. And it can tie it more directly to what matters to you. Therefore, you will be much more likely to follow through with it.
5. Don’t speak ‘should’ over others Most likely, when you start to remove this word from the conversations in your mind, it will start to disappear from your conversations with others too, but it is still significant to be aware of how much you speak it over others. If you catch yourself, apologize and express your sentiments differently. Because imposing your expectations on others can be detrimental to the health of your relationships if you’re not careful. Hopefully, as you make this shift, it changes the way you and your loved ones speak to, and support, each other.
It might take some time to rewire your brain and eliminate this word from your vocabulary, but taking small steps to be mindful about it can surely make a difference. Ultimately I want you to make choices that honor YOUR health. And sometimes that means we address the words that affect us. So what do you say? Is it time you ditch the word ‘should’ from your self-talk altogether?
Written by Kelly Pruim