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Shoulds

I know that I harp alot on eliminating the word “should”—along with must, ought, have to, and need to—from your vocabulary. This advice is not fanciful or arbitrary. The use of such words is an indication of immature thinking, harmful not only to reaching your eating and weight goals but to your self-image and well-being. Here’s why.

When you’re unhappy with an attitude or behavior and insist you should be different, it implies that there’s something wrong with you as is. Stop and think about this concept. Every time you tell yourself you should or must change, you’re saying that the current you is wrong or bad. You probably don’t realize it, but this is the undermining message you give yourself. You might as well just come out and say you’re unacceptable which, of course, only reinforces the crummy feelings you have about you to begin with.

Regularly commanding yourself to be different implies that you’re defective, reinforcing what you may already erroneously believe about yourself. Eventually you simply give up trying to better yourself, thinking, “Because I can’t do what I should do, I’m no good.” I cannot stress strongly enough how enormously damaging words like should, ought, must, have to, and need to are for your self-esteem and self-image.

Fact is, the only thing any of us must do in life is die. Period, end of story. Everything else is truly optional. That leaves you with only wishes, desires, wants and preferences. When you say “should,” you actually mean want or wish, so why not simply say that. The likely reason you don’t is that growing up people insisted you had to do a lot of things and you’ve unconsciously incorporated dictatorial words into your vocabulary. Moreover, each time you tell yourself “I should,” there’s a part of you that bristles at being told what to do and counters with, “Yeah, make me.”

One way to eliminate the dictator in you is to make a log of how many times a day you say or think “should.” Keep paper and pen in your pocket. Or wear an elastic band around your wrist and snap it when you decree this or that. Notice how you feel when you say the word should—generally like a bad boy or girl in need of being chastised to behave better. You’re not bad and you don’t require a verbal spanking. Instead, consider your actions as choices followed by consequences, and recognize that you have competing wants that produce multiple potential choices followed by consequences. Loretta LaRoche, educator and comedian, has a grand line about “shoulds.” Stop shoulding on yourself, she tells us. Excellent advice to follow.

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