Stop “Shoulding” Yourself

Any time you tell yourself you “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing something, you’re speeding down the highway of guilt, heading for Shameville.

 Whatever task you think you “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing makes your current activity wrong. No one feels good about doing something wrong! So that leads to feelings of guilt, incompetence, failure, and lack of self control which can make us feel like not only did we do the bad thing, but that we are bad. Otherwise known as shame.

Those feelings also fuel inaction and can lead to feeling stuck.

The more you feel like you should do something, the less likely you’ll actually do it. How often telling yourself what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing?

Here are some common ones I hear from new clients: 

Some common examples:

  • I should lose weight.
  • I shouldn’t eat after 8pm.
  • I should exercise more.
  • I shouldn’t eat that cookie.
  • I should drink less wine.
  • I shouldn’t eat carbs.
  • I should go to bed earlier.

Whatever those “should/shouldn’ts” are on your list, they always add up to the same thing: “You should be better, you should know better, you’re not doing it right.”

The “should” police arrive to tell you that, as you are, you are not good enough!

When you should yourself, you’re creating a ton of pressure in yourself to do or be something based on what you think you’re supposed to do or be. Rather than doing something because you truly want to be doing it. That’s not setting yourself up for long term motivation or compliance.

Shoulding also strengthens our belief that, left to our own devices, we cannot be trusted. This is so dangerous, especially if you’re coming from the world of dieting and already don’t have much (/any!) faith and trust in your body from all of those past failed attempts at various diets.

Often we tie shoulds in with food, by giving it labels like “good” and “bad.” For example, “Pie is bad, I shouldn’t eat that pie.” If we eat it, the guilt creeps in.

Research has shown guilt due to food labeling and shoulding is a response to moral failure. We feel that WE are bad if we eat something we see as “bad” or that we “shouldn’t” eat it.

Research has also shown when we feel like we’re bad or messed up by eating something, we’re more likely to have decreased self-esteem and self-control during and after eating, leading to over-indulging in the moment, or soon after. Remember, food is just food, it has no power over us unless we give it power.

Here are some ways to break-through the shoulding cycle that is keeping you stuck.

Become Aware.

Start tuning in a really paying attention to how often you’re shoulding yourself throughout your day. Ask yourself questions like: Why should I? Who says I should? Do I really want to do/not do this, or is it society’s norm that is telling me what to do? Once you discover the origin of the shoulds in your life, you can then decide which ones are yours to keep and you really want to do.

Remember: you are here to live your life, not the one anyone else thinks you should.

Make it Specific – Get Detailed.

Often people keep their shoulding vague. This makes it even more difficult-to-take-action-on stuff like “get in shape,” or “eat healthier.” They perpetuate the shoulding cycle because they make it super easy to fail and super difficult to know what to do next in order to succeed.

By creating specific action statements, you make it a lot easier to take action, create change, and avoid the guilt. Ask yourself: what exactly do I want, and how will I know if I’ve succeeded? Then determine what the next action step required would be to get closer to your desired effect, and use that to replace your should statement.

Instead of saying “I should eat healthier if I want to feel more energized,” you might say “Eating a protein-rich breakfast would help me avoid a mid-morning energy crash”.

Make the Shift.

Instead: replace “should” with “I want…can…will…am”

It’s a mindset shift that changes your inner dialogue and helps relieve the pressure and fallback.

Remember shoulding does not imply change or action. It perpetuates the cycle of inaction. This will help you get to a place where you make and own your decisions, you’re in control of your experience, and you’re living in the moment being present. This removes the stress and feelings of obligation around “should.”


Did this post resonate with you? Let me know in the comments section below! Give me an example of shoulding you commonly do, and what your plan is now that you’ve read this post!