Vivacious Living

Is Your Internal Self-Talk Lowering Your Self-Esteem? |


The word should. We tend to use it in our every day language. It seems innocuous, innocent, and  trivial to worry about the use of it. However, as neurolinguistic practitioners have known for a long time, and science is now starting to prove true, the language that we use has the ability to bolster us or deflate us.

Using the word “should” has the connotation of something that you are not doing even though you know better. I “should” go to the gym. I “should” eat healthy foods. I “should” stop drinking or smoking. There is an inherent but at the end of each sentence. Do you hear it? I “should” go to the gym but I’m too lazy, too tired, too busy at work. And because of this, how does using the word make us feel?

Because the use of the word “should” argues with the reality of what is actually happening, it makes the object of the “should” feel like they can never measure up, never win, never make you happy. It happens within the context of relationships. “If you love me, you should do this.” And it happens with ourselves as well. We are not measuring up to our own standards of how we think we should be behaving. Just as using the word should with our partners erodes the relationship and the happiness within it, using the word should to describe our own standards has the effect of diminishing our own self-esteem. I “should” go to the gym but I didn’t. While the intent is to motivate ourselves (and perhaps our friends and family), the effect is to de-motivate and put down. Moreover, it leaves room for our inner rebel to come out of the closet and rebel against that “rule”.

It’s all well and good to say don’t use the word “should”, but when we focus on NOT doing something, we unfortunately tend to do more of it as our brains don’t really hear the “not”. So, what can we say to ourselves and others instead of using the word should? Alternatives include using the words “would” and “could”. So instead of saying, “I should be studying”, you can say “I could be studying right now” or “I would like to be studying right now”. Do you hear the difference? Feel the difference in the energy from simply shifting a word or two?

Our use of the word “should” is closely tied to our perfectionist, unrealistic Perfect Person standards that we have adopted over the course of time. Some of our shoulds come from things we were told by well-meaning parents and grandparents; some came from teachers, also well-meaning. Still other shoulds came from movies or self-help books, or something a friend said or did. Some might have come from long over intimate relationships. Getting rid of our use of the word “should” is one step to being more loving to ourselves, more loving to those around us, and creating a more loving community, country and world.