Attaching a very big mental red flag to the word “should”. (Day 13, Feelings Friday!)

One of the best things i’ve done to improve my mental health was completely eliminating the use of the word “should” in my internal dialogue. It took nearly a year to get it effectively fully gone, and still is far from effortless, but I’m very happy with where I am, and the results.

Should is a shortcut for an ethical, utilitarian, or preference decision. Frequently, it was emotionally inspired: “There’s no food in the house, I should go to the grocery store.” The problem I ran into was “should” doesn’t show its work, and doesn’t give any options.

So I frequently felt emotionally trapped between “I should do X” and not *wanting* to do X, without really having a framework or perspective to resolve the conflict. As I’m sure anyone who’s been in that situation knows: it sucks, its draining, you often feel crappy no matter what you do, and you frequently pick one out of frustration or duty instead of what would’ve been best.

What worked was simply not permitting myself to use the word should at all: if it ever came up as an urge or thought, I require myself to re-word it without should. “I should go to the grocery store.” became “I am hungry and don’t want to eat anything I have here right now.” While similar problems, there is lots of space for autonomy, choice, planning, and creativity in solutions to the second, where as the should only has ‘go to grocery store’ or ‘fail’ as options.

The better framing facilitates planning: I can order pizza now, have leftovers for tomorrow lunch, and then go to the grocery store after work before dinner, which is far more convenient than going now.

It also facilitates not feeling bad about not being perfect at something you feel you should be better at, or choosing to not do something you “should” do.

Shortcuts are useful at times, but I found its *really* easy to fall back on using the “should” shortcut if you’re too worried about doing the wrong thing, or too uncertain even after reframing. And I was very surprised at how easy and efficient reframing has become after fairly moderate amounts of practice.

So give it a try the next time you feel yourself dreading something you “should” do! And if you’re struggling, message or call a friend and ask them to help you with it! (I assure you many will love to help, instead of “being bothered” by your request)

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