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Have you ever noticed that telling yourself – “I should…” leads to more stress, disappointment and self-criticism instead of motivating you to take action?

Sometimes, it seems like ‘I should’ is like a giant electronic billboard in your mind flashing messages like, “I should do more work today,” “I should say yes,” or “I should skip the cake.”

‘I should’ often leads to anything you believe will help you break free from being overwhelmed, overcommitted and stressed out to the point where you lose sight of your goals.

So many negative thoughts designed to keep you in line and follow the ‘I should’ find their way into your life. They usually come in quick succession, “I’m lazy,” “I’m not a nice person,” or “I don’t have any willpower,” and the goal fades into the background.

“I should…” functions as a limit you ultimately set for yourself, but it lacks commitment to follow through. It’s a way to feel wrong about something you don’t want.

The result is feeling guilt, shame, hopelessness, etc. To feel better and lift your mood, it’s easy to reach for food and stress eating is the result.

This is the opposite of feeling motivated and adopting a growth mindset that leads to possibility. With this mindset, your relationship with yourself moves toward following your dreams and accomplishing your goals.

Take a moment and close your eyes; think of the phrase, “I should.” What feelings do you notice? Are they positive or negative? Hopeful or hopeless?

Now, take another moment and think of the phrase, “I can.” What feelings do you notice? Do you have options you can take? Do you feel like you have choices?

This subtle shift from ‘I should’ to ‘I can’ opens your mind to new possibilities.

You might take a risk and see how it works out, you might make a decision that doesn’t go anywhere and there’s an excellent possibility that with a bit of focus on “can,” you will make decisions that propel you more fully into your life.

Challenging the way you talk to yourself helps you improve your self-relationship.

What would change if you spoke to yourself in a similar way that a great coach speaks to their team? I can think of a few things that would change. You must be clear encouraging, challenge doubts, and hold yourself accountable to move forward, especially when it’s complicated.

This one change in your self-talk can change how you think of yourself and your ability to go after a goal.

I believe that you have what you need already. You probably think life can improve since you’re here reading this post. But, even if you’re skeptical, that’s OK, keep moving forward. , the fact that you’ve read to this point is verification that you have hope for your future. Maybe you need some ideas to get you there?

Keep reading to learn how ‘I should’ holds you back and strategy to break through the limitations.

Here are 7 ways that ‘I should’ holds you back and alternatives to keep you moving:

1. ‘I should’ leads to shame

Brene Brown referred to Jungian psychology’s view of shame as the swamp land of the soul.

Shame is the feeling that there’s something wrong with you. When you make a mistake, it’s not about the error; it’s about the false belief that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. ‘I should…’ leads to failing to do what you think you need to do; when you don’t, you’re a terrible person. It’s emotional in the swamp land.


We all do things that we need to apologize for. We’re all human; trying to muddle through mistakes is part of lifelong learning. You can create a more hospitable environment within yourself instead of a shameful one. Take responsibility when you need to and forgive yourself. You can use the experience to become a better you. Self-compassion will lead you out of the shame swamp.

2. ‘I should’ leads to guilt

‘Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s actions or lack of action.’ -Audre Lord.

Guilt is the feeling of self-blame for having done something wrong. Like shame, we all do things that aren’t helpful or nice, selfish or unkind. Guilt can hold you accountable so you understand the effect of your actions on others and yourself. When ‘I should’ enters the picture, you are grounding your guilt on something that hasn’t occurred. It’s like feeling bad about not having the future you think you need but cannot make happen.


Kindness and choice lead to action and allow you to make choices. Guilt traps you, stops you; you’re at a standstill. The choice is active; you lean forward and gain momentum toward action. Choice can change you and with a bit of kindness mixed in for good measure, you can make choices that move your life forward.

3. ‘I should’ limits possibilities

When you start feeling wrong about the future, your ability to think about other possibilities or options narrows. “I should” creates an environment where your thoughts loop around the perceived failure rather than looking at the situation clearly and asking yourself what you can do better. Looking toward better outcomes in the future promotes growth and gets your creativity focused on new ideas for a better tomorrow.


Take a moment or an hour or a day to step back from the “I should…” The distance can help you gain perspective on the situation. Feeling wrong about something doesn’t get anyone in a positive frame of mind. Spend some time in nature, get some fresh air and go for a walk. When you get your body moving, feel the wind on your cheek, and the sunshine warming your skin, it’s easier to be present, think about what you want and define your goal. The possibilities are endless.

4. ‘I should’ makes your world smaller

Should closes your world in around you. It keeps you fixed on the viewpoint that this is how things have always been and how they will stay! It’s like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh; his expectations are limited. He expects that he will always receive less than he wants or deserves. His world is small even when his friends offer to help him, his energy is low, his expectations are low, and he stays emotionally low. He can’t see past his current situation.


There are problems in life. We all have them; some are of our own making and others not. You can look at them as they are, consider your options and make a plan. Sometimes, the process is slow, and sometimes, you’ll know right away what works. Problems come and go. It’s your actions that make the difference. Being conscious of your choices makes your world more extensive and gives you more options.

5. ‘I should’ keeps you from what you want

Sometimes, people return to their childhood, college, early career, etc. They look at the events or choices they made, assume a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the past and the present, and justify their regret about where they are today. Reviewing the past from this framework is one of the most effective ways to stay stuck on the disappointments you’ve suffered rather than focus on what you need to do to get where you want to be.


With an abundance of self-compassion and kindness, you can understand the underpinnings of the choices you made/make through the lenses of your history. The danger in giving a painful past more energy is that it keeps you locked in the pain. Understanding and action allow you to move beyond the circumstances that got you here. Kindness, compassion, and love lead to better things.

6. ‘I should’ keeps you wrapped up in a wish

When should it take away your ability to move forward, hoping and wishing, maybe even longing, enter the picture? This is the stuff of fairy tales. Somehow, the hero will come somewhere to save the day, and everything will be all better. This rarely happens. That another person would know you so well to see what you need and freely give it to you, resulting in your fulfillment. Hopefully, most babies receive this kind of love and care, but as you grow, you become more complex, and it becomes nearly impossible to know precisely what another wants.


Hopes and wishes are essential to moving forward and must be accompanied by doing what’s necessary to make things happen. You have to take the actions that move you forward. Without taking action, you are a dreamer without a plan. Be a dreamer with a plan. That’s where you can be assured something will happen that moves you closer to what you need and want.

7. ‘I should’ is the illusion of responsibility that masks a fear of change

Fear of change is real, even when change would give you something much better than you currently have. Responsibility comes in many forms and one form is not masking the reality. Focusing on being responsible when it’s not necessary seems honorable, but that dynamic serves a different need. The reality is that it takes you further away from where you want to be to keep things the same. Change takes courage.


Change, even when wanted, is challenging – it takes focused, intentional effort. It’s easier to stay the same and do nothing. The price is that your hope fades a little bit every day that you’re stuck. When you tell yourself, ‘I should,’ it’s an attempt to accept responsibility, but the result is being stuck. Effective responsibility is putting yourself out there, taking short-term risks, and being a little uncomfortable to experience long-term fulfillment.


When you take the risk to move away from “I should” and step more fully into your life, you get closer to what you want. Action can lead you to growth in the direction your life needs to be. Life usually doesn’t guarantee happiness and fulfillment every day; at the same time, there are many beautiful days ahead.