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The Most Self-Sabotaging Word You Use Every Day

This word is used so often, it’s almost invisible. Everyone uses it, yet we have no idea how disempowering it is.

Have you ever said these things, to others or to yourself?

“I should go to the store.”

“People should be more friendly.”

“I know I shouldn’t eat this, but it’s so good.”

“He should’ve looked both ways! We could’ve been killed.”

“She should never have said that to me.”

“I should be a better wife/ sister/friend/daughter.”

“I shouldn’t be so hard on her.”

“He shouldn’t have yelled at me.”

The variations are endless. We pepper our vocabulary with should so often, we don’t even notice it. Once you start to pay attention, it will astound you how often we use it.

How “Should” Steals Your Power

The word “should” is draining your power and sapping your energy. Using it is like having a slow leak on your system. Every time you say it, more and more of your present, powerful, mindful energy gets wrapped up in an untrue story.

Using the word “should” in the past is a denying reality. Whatever happened or didn’t happen is done. It’s over. We’re here now, not back there. There’s nothing you can do in the past, and spending time regretting it now robs you of your present of the power to act.


Instead of saying, “I should’ve said that” or “I shouldn’t have eaten that,” or “she shouldn’t have done that!” you can say, “I’ve made the decision to do that before, and I don’t think I’ll make that decision again.” Or, “I’d love to do things differently next time.” Or “I’m planning a new approach.” Or, “Her actions caused problems we’re dealing with now.” Or “because she did that, we need to respond in this way.”

“Should” in the future is also disempowering. It says, “I feel obligated to do something whether or not I want to do it.” Or, “I’m burdening my future self with this thing.”


If you truly want to do a thing, say, “I plan to do it. I want to do it. I would love to do it.”

And if you don’t? Be honest. “Mary wants me to do X, but I don’t want to. I haven’t decided how to handle that, yet.”

Now all that’s left is a decision. “How to handle it” is a decision you can make. Your decision can be to do nothing if you want! But it’s still a decision. There’s no should, no obligation. You’re very present and honest and powerful.

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” -Proverb

The Suffering Behind Should

Anytime you use the word should you’re causing yourself pain.

Should sends “burdens” into the future and “regrets” into the past. It denies the idea that we have power to act now.

In the present moment, you are either doing a thing or not doing the thing. You can’t do something in the future, and it’s pointless to regret the past. So “I should” is a story that is not present, mindful, or true.

When we think things “should” be different, we’re denying what is. “Should” is therefore the opposite of acceptance. 

Is painful
Denies reality
Sends burdens into the future
Pulls regrets from the past
Limits our ability to act
Drains our power
Feels good
Honors reality
Makes no stories about the future
Acknowledges the reality of the past
Gives us the choice to act now
Empowers us

It’s important to note that when we’re listening to our ego’s story of “should”, sometimes the idea of acceptance seems painful. “If I let that go, she’ll do it to me again” or “if I don’t regret the past, aren’t I doomed to repeat it?” Notice that these are just stories, and they’re projections of fear into the future. Acceptance and love often have incredibly powerful results- and you’ll be surprised at how relationships are mended, and something better than you could ever hope for comes as a result.

The “Should” Shortcut

Sometimes, I’m not quite sure what words to replace “should” with.

Love is the “should” shortcut. If I’m thinking, “I should’ve done that differently,” what’s the most loving way to re-frame that? “I am grateful I learned from that experience. Thank you.”

“He shouldn’t have said that!” put through the Love Lens is changed to, “How can I love him more? How can I be grateful for him right now?”

“Love… keeps no record of wrongs.” Apostle Paul (1st Corinthians, chapter 13)

By remembering and dragging into this moment thoughts of the past, we are not loving others. To truly love them, we can start over from this moment and love them now.

By the way? This includes loving yourself. Are you dragging records of your past failures with you? Accept them, honor the lessons you learned from them, and let them go. Love yourself now.

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9 comments… add one
  • So true! I am tired of using this word in my vocabulary. We all do the best we can at any given moment anyway, and learning to do better is a process to be enjoyed, I feel.

    I once knew someone who said that in a perfect language, ‘should’ wouldn’t exist :)

    • Belle

      Oh, so so beautiful, Abigail! “learning to do better is a process to be enjoyed” So incredibly present and loving. Thank you!

  • Kat

    Totally agree! I love this: “I am grateful I learned from that experience. Thank you.”

    Or, I won’t do THAT again!

    • Belle

      Those feel so much better and more empowering!

  • Jen

    I really love this! It resonates so deeply.

  • Hi Belle, this is the first post of yours I’ve ever read. I’m thankful for your insights and look forward to hearing more from you!

    I have noticed the ubiquitous presence of the word in my own vocabulary the past few months and have, somewhat unconsciously, begun to strike it from usage. In some ways, it has even angered me to realize how prone I am (and I think we all are) to second guessing ourselves. We tend to live so moment TO moment that we forget to live IN the moment. If I like my life to be PRESENT in each moment and am MINDFUL in my actions, the word has no place in my daily life. Using it only infuses a sense of “daily guilt”, which has no place with me.

    “Should” carries with it a sense of judgement I think is unhelpful as well. If I do not know exactly how a thing SHOULD be or SHOULD be said or SHOULD happen, why do I use this word to describe it? Why not “offer a different point of view” or “propose a better solution” etc.

    “Should” has become an incredible catch-all word, if only out of laziness (in our vocabularies). I am going to make distinct effort this week to find where “should” SHOULDN’T find a place in my speech.

    • Belle

      Welcome Terrisa!
      What synchronicity, I’ve heard from a few others who have been noticing Should lately as well. We are on a beautiful wavelength. I love your observations that should carries with it judgement- so true!
      I am excited to hear how your journey without “should” goes. =)
      With love,

  • Awesome! I definitely use this word too often to myself. Good message! Thanks!

  • Joyce Franklin

    Don’t “should” on yourself today!

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