Part of therapy is setting goals, helping clients clarify where they are heading and how to get there. So often, I hear clients recite a litany of behaviors, choices, attitudes and feelings they think they, or others, “should” be demonstrating or following. “I should work out more.” “My spouse should appreciate me.” “My boss should give me a raise.” “I should be more patient with my kids.” “I should be kinder, wiser, more flexible, less judgemental, more responsible, less fearful…..” The lists of ways folks think they “should” be different can appear endless. But I remind clients that I have never met a “should” that’s been helpful.

By design, “should” brings with it guilt and obligation, a reminder of the ways we have failed or fallen short. “Should” does not include the element of choice, of free will. Now, I ask clients, try replacing the word “should” with “could”. The energy of these statements, and our feelings about them and ourselves, transforms dramatically. “I COULD work out more” embraces the possibility of a course of action — it doesn’t castigate me for not choosing that action. “My spouse could appreciate me” allows for the hope that gratitude for our part in the relationship can develop, rather than disparaging our spouse for behaviors he or she is NOT doing. The truth is, there are no universal “shoulds,” no absolute rules about what an individual MUST do, feel or choose in order to be happy, healthy or at peace. When we put aside the judging, limiting tone of “should”, we allow room for empowered choice and owned responsibility. Try it. You COULD find yourself feeling freer as a result.