Hello! I’m Stephanie.

The ‘Should’ Rules

Posted by on Jul 19, 2016 in Random Thoughts

The way we speak reflects our state of mind, and words influence the way we think and feel. I hear more and more the use of ‘should’ and here with some examples I would like to illustrate to you why we’re better off to using this word as sparingly as possible.

We were on the beach with big waves at the coast in Melbourne, Australia. People do this strange thing (for me it was strange) that my husband called ‘jump into the waves’. We stood on waist deep water and waited for the big waves and then we jumped into the waves and swam back to shore with the waves. It was fun and scary at the same time depending on how you look at it. I did many involuntary somersaults and was also half buried in the sand.

After much encouragement our little nephew decided to have a go. Afterwards he stood next to me while catching his breaths.

‘Should I do it again?’ My nephew asked.
‘I don’t know if you should or shouldn’t. Would you like to?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Did you enjoy it?
‘Do you feel good about having another go?’
‘… Yes!’ And he ran off to the waves.

He was back standing next to me again. We had the exact same conversation, except this time he concluded by saying ‘I’m tired now. I will do this again another day.’

I was pleased for him to have made up his own mind, according to how he felt, instead of following some unwritten rules. The ‘Should’ Rules.

A client once said to me that she was in her thirties and she should be in a long term relationship; she should have her own flat instead of having to look for yet another rental property; she should have a solid career going.

‘Who told you that?’
‘…. I tell myself that.’

Do you tell yourself something along those lines? What do you think you should be doing? Do you know who gave you that set of rules? Are these actually what you would like to do? Let’s rephrase them.

I would like to be in a long term relationship. I would like to have my own flat. I would like to have a solid career.

Sound almost identical but the meanings differ greatly. The second case is about finding out what we would like to do, it’s about making a wish, setting a goal. It’s about starting a new journey. And from there, we think about what to do in order to achieve those things.

As for the first case, according to my client‘s own ‘Should’ rules, she was already a failure. Time was up. She failed. There was no chance for her to come out of that shame. It was all about regrets and guilt.

Who make these rules?

I guess we all do. From young we learn what we should or shouldn’t do from adults at home and teachers at school, didn’t matter why and if we agree with them. Very soon even as children we told each other the same thing. We might say the neighbours should do this and that, the government, celebrities, friends, relatives… The fact is, no matter what we think people should or shouldn’t do, they continue doing the same things.

There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, although it does affect our state of mind – as if we are constantly policing people’s behaviour. Does that help anyone? Perhaps it gives us the illusion of being in control when we try to control others. When will we realize we can’t control or change another person? How about focus on our own lives and our own plans?

So we learnt a lot of these Should Rules from everywhere and a lot of us conduct our lives based on these rules. Or we try to. Some of us might never question why we need to be a certain way. We do things because these are expected of us, because these are our duties and responsibilities, because we should.

Duties and responsibilities weight us down. When we do things out of joy, we feel energetic. When next time a friend ask us to check The Should Rules book, let’s ask them if that’s what they want to do, how do they feel, what are their thoughts about it. Let us think for ourselves. Let us respect other people’s choices.

Let’s do this today: notice when you use the word ‘should’ (or the equivalence in your language), can you replace it with other words that energize you or what truly reflect how you feel instead of out of any Should Rules? Can you think of other words that you could benefit from using them less?


My nephew and I after another day of ‘jumping into the waves’.