Shushing the Shoulds

28th May 2024 | Well-being

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Why Saying “I Should…” Isn’t Helpful for Our Mental Health and Wellbeing

We all experience self-talk, it’s a natural part of how our brain and thoughts work.  However, the words we choose can have a profound impact on our mental health and overall wellbeing. One common phrase that often slips into our internal dialogue is “I should…”. While it might seem harmless or even motivating, this phrase can be surprisingly detrimental. Here’s why shushing your “I shoulds” with more empowering language can be so helpful when trying to nurture a healthy mindset.

The Burden of “Should”

When we say “I should,” we impose a sense of obligation or expectation upon ourselves. This creates an internal pressure that can be both overwhelming and counterproductive. For example, consider the difference between “I should eat healthily today” and “I choose to eat healthily today.” The first example feels like a duty, potentially causing a sense of resentment or guilt if not fulfilled, while the second example feels like a conscious, empowering choice.

Fuelling Negative Self-Talk

“I should” statements often stem from societal expectations, external pressures, or unrealistic personal standards we’ve set for ourselves. They reinforce a cycle of negative self-talk by implying that we are currently inadequate or failing in some way. This can chip away at self-esteem over time and shape a negative self-image. For instance, saying “I should be more productive” implies that your current state of productivity is insufficient; this overshadows the effort you are already putting in.

Cultivating Guilt and Shame

When we don’t meet the “should” expectations we set for ourselves, this can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. These emotions are heavy burdens that can cause stress, anxiety, and even depression. Instead of motivating positive change, “I should” often results in us feeling stuck or hopeless, further preventing our ability to take positive and helpful action.

Shifting to Empowering Language

Replacing “I should” with more positive and self-affirming language can transform our mindset and enhance our mental wellbeing. Here are some alternatives:

·       “I choose to…”: This phrase emphasises autonomy and personal agency, helping you feel more in control of your actions and decisions.

·       “I want to…”: This focuses on your desires rather than obligations and can make tasks feel more rewarding and less like chores.

·       “I will…”: This is a proactive statement that commits you to action, generating a sense of determination and purpose.

Practising Self-Compassion

A key aspect of improving our internal dialogue is practicing self-compassion. It is important to recognise that it’s okay to have limitations and that not meeting every expectation does not reduce your worth. Instead of saying “I should have done better,” try “I did my best given the circumstances.” This small shift in perspective can reduce self-criticism and promote a healthier, more forgiving attitude towards yourself.

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

By focusing on positive reinforcement, we can create a more supportive internal environment for ourselves. Celebrate your achievements and progress, no matter how small. This supports a positive cycle of motivation and self-encouragement. For example, instead of “I should have exercised more this week,” try “I’m proud of the effort I put into exercising this week.”


The language we use in our self-talk significantly impacts our mental health and overall wellbeing. By moving away from “I should” and adopting more empowering phrases, we can reduce unnecessary pressure, encourage positive self-esteem, and develop a more compassionate relationship with ourselves. Remember, your words are powerful—choose ones that uplift and inspire you, rather than weigh you down.

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