Should Is a Two-Edged Sword

The word "should" can cause a lot of stress in your life, but it can be an inspirational word as well. The trick is in how you use it.

Using should in the past tense, as in "I should have done that," causes stress because it puts you into a state that I like to call "railing against reality." Students of Byron Katie’s "The Work" will be familiar with the concept. The reality is that you either did something or you did not. Saying that you should have done something is an exercise in futility and causes nothing but frustration.

Professional performance coach Dick Haab is fond of saying "don’t should on yourself." That amusing exhortation is good advice, when should is used to look back on your failures or missed opportunities.

On the other hand, using should in the future tense, as in "I should do that," inspires you about possibilities. In that case, should indicates that taking a certain action has value, presumably because it furthers some goal you have established for yourself. The very existence of the implied value judgment encourages you to take action.

If should is a two-edged sword, be sure you always swing it forward. If you swing it backward, you can hurt yourself.