You Really Should: How to Reframe and Reclaim "Should" in Professional Communication

Do you "should" yourself? Optimize your ability to learn in the workplace by changing one little word.

Most of us are over-achieving, overbooked and overly hard on ourselves. As an entrepreneur and soon-to-be first-time parent, the "shoulds" can be overwhelming.

Listen to the way you talk to yourself. Negative self-talk can be so pervasive that we accept it as truth. "Should" is an "obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions." Why do we then put the unnecessary obligation on ourselves when our standards are already so high?

I remember listening to an episode of the podcast, Death, Sex and Money where the actress Ellen Burstyn talked about giving herself "should-less days". Here's Ellen:

I have what I call should-less days. Today is a day where there’s nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV and eat ice cream, I get to do it. I had that kind of day yesterday.

Should-less days, I recommend them. Because what I figured out, is we have wiring, I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy if I’m not doing something. God, you’re so lazy. … And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it.

But what I can do is I can put in another wiring. I can put in should-less days. So when that voice goes off and says, You’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, No, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want. 

Why is it important to take "should" breaks?

Judy Wills' research tells us that "when the fun stops, learning often stops too... When students are engaged and motivated and feel minimal stress, information flows freely through the affective filter in the amygdala and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make connections, and experience “aha” moments. Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and directed lectures, but from classrooms with an atmosphere of exuberant discovery (Kohn, 2004)."

Doing something because you "should" do it takes all autonomy and joy out of the equation. We are not creating an optimal environment for us to learn, and that can be damaging and unhelpful.

Adopt a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck's work on mindsets blew my mind the first time I heard about it. From her website:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits... In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Adopting a growth mindset changes our self-talk from "I should" to "I could". Forcefully substituting obligation with choice can be powerful. It creates the illusion that we are choosing to do something rather than being forced to do it.

Meditation and Mindfulness

I've written a lot about how meditation can help you get over your fear of public speaking. Part of that has to do with neuroplasticity. Reframing bad past experiences through repetitive practice helps us get out of our heads and into the present moment.

Apply this practice to reframing your "shoulds". When you are able to be mindful and listen to your self-talk, acknowledge when you hear yourself "should". Without judgment, slowly start to replace that "should" with a "could".

Give yourself a choice. Trust yourself to get the job done. You may just surprise yourself.