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Whose should is that?

One of the words that I frequently hear my clients say is 'should'. Right now, I'm hearing it more often and I believe it's a worrying trend.

'I should change my job' 'I should speak up/down more in meetings' 'I should have a career plan' 'I should be further ahead than I am now'

The list is as diverse as it is long!

What's wrong with 'should'? Isn't it 'normal'? Why does it matter? Isn't it good for people to have aspirations to be better themselves? 'Should' is a very powerful word. It's like an invisible heavy cloud that keeps your true desires hidden - from others - but more importantly, from yourself!

It's powerful because if you're not aware of it and don't understand what lies behind it, it's probably unconsciously influencing your thoughts, feelings and behaviours...and ultimately, the decisions you make for your life. It is very common. From my experience coaching, it's more prevalent than I could have ever imagined. These 'shoulds' keep people awake at night; give them that sinking feeling in their stomachs or tightness in their chests; or make them feel overwhelmed or defeated before they've even started. It can be a motivator, but from my experience, it's not an effective or positive one.

It matters because if you're saying 'I should' about anything, it's likely that you're going to try to do something - to please someone - but that someone is not you!

And therefore when you achieve it, strangely enough, you don't get the sense of fulfillment or satisfaction you thought you would. And that's because it wasn't your desire in the first place!

It was what you thought might please others - parents, friends, partner, manager, society. And even if you successfully achieve a goal, it can leave you with an empty feeling. But you've got to keep trying right? So, you try another thing you think you 'should' do in the pursuit of happiness...and again you have a similar unfulfilled experience in the end. Over time, this cycle leads to emotions like frustration, disappointment, disillusion and sadness. Lots of people start the year setting new goals which is a positive motivating force in it's own right but read on to learn how to set goals that are right for you.


OK - so if this is resonating with you, 'what can you do instead?'.

In a nutshell, it's about learning to define the true purpose of your goal, by replacing your 'should' with your 'want'.

To begin, how comfortable are you saying 'I want'?

When I think of someone saying 'I want' it brings to mind the image of a child, hands on their hips, clearly demanding whatever it is they desire.

But if like me, growing up you were taught that 'I want' is not a nice thing to say, and in fact you weren't allowed to say it, then the first critical step is to give yourself permission, as an adult, to challenge that learned behaviour and start experimenting with tuning into and clarifying your desires.

Doing this does not stop you having gratitude for what you already have in your life.

Remember when you were a child and you could easily say 'I want' to be an astronaut, a farmer, a teacher? Whereas now, you find yourself saying 'I should be X, I should do Y, I should have Z'. The change is gradual and a bit sad, but the good news is that it is possible to learn to allow yourself to dream again and pursue those goals.

The process I use with my clients looks something like this;

  1. Observe yourself and notice how often and in what scenarios you find yourself saying 'I should'. Look for patterns and identify trends e.g. career, appearance, finances etc.

  2. Question 'whose should is that'? Try to figure out who it is that you're really trying to please, impress or make happy e.g. parents, friends, partner etc.

  3. Accept that looking outward is not providing you with the right answers. Comparing yourself to others is leading you to think and feel badly about yourself. Second guessing what people may think is not a good use of your time. This is not serving you well and you are the only person who can change this.

  4. Understand what is making pleasing these people so important to you. Be curious about yourself and tune into the 'voice in your head'. Get specific about the messages from that voice and follow them through to a conclusion. E.g. 'If I don't achieve something, then this person will think what?'. 'If they think that, then what will happen? And again, 'If that happens, what's the outcome likely to be? 'What is it about that outcome that is so important to me?

  5. Reality test your hypothesis. On a 0-10 scale, how likely is it that's going to happen? Identify what is more likely to be the reality or truth of the situation. Remember the people around you love you for who you are and want to support you.

  6. Look within yourself for your answers. It's time to make a change. Pull down the barriers to stop yourself looking outward to find your answers.

All the answers to your life lie within you.
What do YOU want?

E.g. I want to travel to 3 places this year. Maybe the promotion and the extra disposable income will help facilitate this - but the promotion itself is not your goal. Your goal is your personal desire to explore the world and have new experiences and there are many ways you can make that happen.

Here are some questions you can use to start coaching yourself to your own answers:

  • Ask yourself what do you want to 'do, be and have'?

  • What do you want to 'stop, start, continue'?

  • What excites you?

  • What gives you energy?

  • What makes you feel proud?

  • What does happiness look like to you?

  • What does success look like to you?

7. Use 'I want' to define your goals: Focus on 2-3 topics that stand out as being the most important to you. Think about the change you want to see and align your goals to them. Start each sentence with 'I want'. Make them SMART. When you're confident you've got the right goals for yourself, only then can you start figuring out 'how' you will achieve them.


In summary, if the only thing you do this year when you are goal setting is to be true to yourself by defining what you really want for your life, then you'll set yourself up facing the right direction and armed with positive personal motivation. You'll also have a significantly higher chance of achieving your goals because you'll be emotionally connected to them!

And when you do achieve them, you are much more likely to get those fuzzy feelings of satisfaction, pride and fulfillment.

So from now on, no more 'shoulds' to please others and no more being influenced by beliefs you've outgrown.

Make the decision to live the life you want and leave behind the one you falsely think others want you to lead. This year, empower yourself to follow your own dreams and desires, whatever they may be. You're an adult with a world of opportunities and experiences ....and a finite and unknown amount of time. Best of luck with it!:) Please reach out with any questions or if I can support you in any way. Or, if you have additional perspectives on this article, I'm very open to them too.


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