The shame of not doing what I should have done is sometimes unbearable. I really do mean well and know better, yet I keep hearing myself berate me for not having already done that and gone there. I am a very smart woman, I should know better, do better. And all that serves to do is make me not want to do it even more. If I’ve made it a should, I’ve cursed the possibility of having it happen. Or I hold an invisible knife to my throat for so many tasks that would make me a better person.

This idea of the difference between Should and Could was brought to my attention by the lovely Gabrielle Treanor via her Pressing Pause podcast for overthinkers. Episode 14 was titled “The damaging word every overthinker uses”. I wondered what that might be. And what followed was a very well written explanation of our overuse of the word SHOULD. “I should be doing more” or “I should be able to muscle through these fears” are probably my nasty little whispered shoulds.

Shifting from Should to Could on

What Gabrielle so wisely says is, “‘Should’ is laden with shame and obligation and absence of choice. When we say we should or should not do something it’s usually because that’s what we think others expect of us, what society tells us, or what we think we’re supposed to be feeling, thinking, or doing in our lives. If it’s something we wanted for ourselves, if it was something we thought was a possibility, even if it’s really difficult, we’d use ‘want’ or ‘could’ in place of ‘should’.”

What she goes on to suggest is that, when we hear ourselves about to use the word should, we can switch to could. If we are told we should go to a restaurant she offers, we suddenly feel burdened by this suggestion. But to say we could go to that restaurant will probably get us to the restaurant and not feeling it’s an obligation or a dreadful act we must do. Could changes the feeling the sentence.

There are way too many things in life that we really must do. Finances, grocery shopping, and changing poopy diapers are some dreaded ones. Why drag all those other things in on top of our already heavy load. Instead, we can say we could go for a walk and smell the air and hear the birds for a half hour before we head back to work. I’ll bet you get your exercise in and have a more productive time working with that lovely sounding could than feel the dread of “exercising”.

Semantics, or how we say things, has a lot of impact on how we feel. Being aware of the words we chose and the tone we use when we say them is important, both to others as well as ourselves. But I really was surprised at the simplicity of how switching Could for Should can open possibilities and let us make choices from a place of curiosity and joy rather than shame and dread. See what you think about making the swap when you catch yourself saying Should.

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