The One Word You Need to Get Rid of for a Better Life


Do you want to start living a better life today? I mean, right this very moment?

Then stop saying "should." That's it.

Don't just stop saying it out loud, but stop repeating it in your thoughts, too. Don't tell yourself what you should be doing instead of what you're actually doing or what you should have done in the past. (See also: How Doing Less Helps You Get More Done)

If you do this, your life will improve faster than you'd have thought possible.

This isn't a trick or a gimmick, and it's actually harder than it might seem to change the way you talk to yourself and to others. But it's based on research and on the experience of people who have changed their language and, in the process, changed their lives.

How We Speak Shapes How We Think

The words that we use every day play a powerful role in determining how we think. Words and the images they portray shape how our minds deal with everything from emotions to abstract concepts.

For instance, different cultures have different ways of thinking about time. Most cultures discuss time as something that passes, either right-to-left or left-to-right, or back-to-front. However, there's an aboriginal culture in Australia that ties the passage of time to movement from east to west. This gives people in that culture quite a different understanding of time, as well as of direction.

Language also shapes how we remember. English tends to use an active, agented voice more than Spanish does. If both an English speaker and a Spanish speaker view a car accident, the English speaker is more likely to think, "The blue car hit the red car," while the Spanish speaker will often think something like, "The cars hit each other," or "The cars hit themselves." This difference in language means that English speakers often remember WHO did something (especially something bad) more often than Spanish speakers.

If words are so formative for the human mind that they shape the concepts we can and cannot grasp and shape our memories, it seems to follow that they would have power in our daily lives, as well. Some people go as far as to say that "the words we attach to our experience become our experience." If we choose to describe a negative experience with intense words like "horrible" or "furious," we will feel more negative than we would if we use words like "annoyed."

It makes sense, then, to do our best to get rid of the words that are making us miserable and replace them with ones that will make us feel better.

And "should" is one of the worst offenders.

What's Wrong With "Should"

There are several key problems with "should," and they all have to do with the way it shapes our thinking in negative ways.

Should Is Indecisive

"Should" is, inherently, a word of procrastination. How many times have you said something like, "I should go exercise…" and then ended up sitting on the couch watching TV instead? A should is more like a wish than an action, and so we often don't actually DO the things we think we should do.

Should Is Negative

When we say that someone should do something, we are implying that they are not currently doing it. There's almost always an unspoken end to sentences that include "should." Think about it: "I should eat more vegetables" can almost always be followed by "…but I won't."

Should Denies Reality

When we say that we should do something, we aren't accepting the current reality, in which we aren't doing whatever it is. Accepting reality, however, seems to be a key to happiness. Even if the reality isn't what we want it to be, accepting it is the first step to real change (as opposed to simply wishing it was different).

If saying "should" forms our minds in these negative ways, it's no wonder we're unhappy when we say it a lot. But what else can we do? What works better than "should?"

Replacing "Should"

Follow these steps to eliminate "should" from your vocabulary.

1. Notice Where "Should" Pops Up

Take some time to pay attention the to the ways you think and speak, so you can see when and where you are most likely to say "should." While it's a pervasive word in our culture, some people find that they are more likely to use it when they are tired, upset, or in stressful situations. Knowing when you use "should" will help you pinpoint exactly what needs to change.

2. Choose Replacement Words

Depending on the situations where you use "should," there are a lot of options for replacing it. You might replace "should" with "could" or "get to" — thus, "I should exercise" becomes "I could exercise" or "I get to exercise." If you use "should" a lot when discussing the past, maybe you need to come right out and say, "I regret that," rather than "I shouldn't have done it."

3. Find a Reward

When you want to change a behavior, coming up with a reward is key. Feeling happier is definitely a reward in and of itself, but it may help you to choose something tangible, like a small edible treat or a couple minutes with a good book, that you can give yourself every time you successfully catch yourself and replace your "should."

4. Give Yourself Time

It takes about a month to replace an old habit with a new one, and you won't be successful every single time. Since thinking in terms of shoulds is something that we often do unconsciously, changing this habit might take even longer than changing other habits, like making your own lunch or exercising. First, begin to notice your shoulds, then figure out the best way to replace them, and finally, let that habit become as ingrained as "should" once was.

As always, changing a habit is hard work. In this case, you stand to feel more positive, more decisive, and more accepting of yourself as you actually are. These benefits outweigh the amount of work you'll have to put into it to make the change.

When do you find yourself saying "should?" What do you want to replace it with? You should share with us in comments.

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Guest's picture

A friend once said to me, and I've always remembered it, "Don't 'should' on yourself!'"