Blog post image with citrus in a bowl and text overlay that says: 7 Ways I Should Leads to Stress and HOw to Breakthrough with a purple bottom border that says

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 big electronic billboard in your mind flashing messages like, “I should do more work today” or “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” or “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 that ultimately you set for yourself, but it lacks commitment to follow through. It’s like a way to feel bad about something you don’t want anyway.

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 the exact opposite of feeling motivated and adopting a growth mindset that leads to possibility. A mindset where your relationship with yourself moves in the direction of 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 up to new possibilities.

You might take a risk and see how it works out, you might make a decision that doesn’t really go anywhere and there’s a great 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 would need to be clear, encouraging, challenge any doubts and hold yourself accountable to move forward, especially when it’s difficult.

This one change in your self-talk has the potential to change the way you think of yourself and your ability to go after a goal.

I believe that you have what you need already. Since you’re here reading this post, it’s probable you believe that life can get better. But, even if you’re skeptical, that’s OK, keep moving forward. Simply the fact that you’ve read to this point is verification that you have hope for your future. Maybe what 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 mistake, 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 and when you don’t do it, you’re a bad person. It’s an emotional in the swamp land.


We all do things that we need to apologize for. We’re all human and trying to muddle through and mistakes are 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 own 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, things that are selfish or unkind. Guilt can hold you accountable so you understand the effect your actions have on others as well as yourself. When ‘I should’ enters the picture, you are grounding your guilt on something that didn’t or hasn’t taken place. It’s like feeling bad about not having the future you think you need but are somehow unable to make happen.


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

3. ‘I should’ limits possibilities

When you start feeling bad about the future the ability to think about other possibilities or options narrows. Should create an environment where your thoughts loop around the perceived failure. Rather than looking at the situation clearly as it is 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 bad about something really doesn’t get anyone in a positive frame of mind. Spend some time in nature, get some fresh air, go for a walk. When you get your body moving, feel the wind on your cheek, the sunshine warming your skin, it’s easier to be present, think about what you really want and define your goal. The possibilities are endless.

4. ‘I should’ makes your world smaller

Should closes your world in around you. Keeps you fixed on the viewpoint that; this is the way things have always been and this is the way 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 in an emotionally low state. 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. What you can do is 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 bigger and you have more options.

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

Sometimes people reach back to their childhood, college days, early career, etc. They look at the events or choices they made and 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 focused 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 allows you to move beyond the circumstances that got you here. Kindness, compassion and love really do lead to better things.

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

When should takes away your ability to move forward, hoping and wishing maybe even longing enter the picture. This is the stuff of fairy tales. Somehow, somewhere the hero will come to save the day and everything will be all better. This rarely happens. That another person would know you so well to know what you need and freely give it to you resulting in your personal 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 exactly what another wants.


Hopes and wishes are essential to moving forward and they 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 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 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. When you focus on being responsible when it’s not necessary it seems honorable, but that dynamic is serving a different need. The reality is that it takes you further away from where you want to be in an effort to keep things the same. Change takes courage.


Change, even when wanted is very difficult – 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 end result is being stuck. Effective responsibility is to put yourself out there and take the short-term risk, be a little uncomfortable, so that you can 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 really 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 and at the same time, there are lots of wonderful days ahead.