A TERRIBLE CASE OF THE SHOULDS (OR: Don’t Do What You Think You Should Do)

Hi, my name is Chris, and I’m a should-a-holic.

It’s last Friday night, and I can’t get comfortable.  I’ve been eating burriottos with friends, drinking and laughing. But I couldn’t fully relax. Later, I’m in bed, reading, and it’s like there is a rock in my shoe. I can’t quite lock in and enjoy what I’m reading.

I think: “It feels like I should be doing something else.”

Ah, I smile to myself. It’s just the SHOULDS.

And I settle in and finish the book.


The shoulds can be good. The help you:
•    Get to work on time.
•    Remember to pay your bills.
•    Be a responsible citizen.

But problem is the shoulds are based on guilt, or at least a sense of responsibility. They’re negative and external — it’s not what you want to do, but what somebody else expects of you and most likely they’ll be negative consequences if you don’t do it.

The shoulds are the enemy of creativity and figuring out what to do with your project, your ideas, or your spare time. And if you default to the question, “What should I do?” you won’t get around to doing what you want to do: the fun stuff, the creative stuff, like getting started on that writing project, brainstorming that product, or calling that person you should meet with.

Instead of asking “What should I do?” ask yourself “What excites me?” Right now. In this moment. What excites you?

If you’re like me, the answer you may get is a big, whistling silence. Because for those of us who haven’t asked ourselves this question in a long time, that part of us has gone numb.

Instead of asking yourself “What am I meant to do?” ask yourself “What do I love doing?”


Don’t deny the shoulds; instead work on strengthening your sense of excitement.

  1. LIST: Make a list of what excites you. Running, avoiding writing that work email, taking a shower, listening to song, calling your friend. Whatever gives you that shiver — or at least the thought “That would be nice.
  2. WORK OUT: Do this listing exercise every day. For 5m. No more. No less. Just do it everyday. Your working out a muscle and it’s better to do it every day to build strength.
  3. DECIDE: Cut up the slips of paper. Put them in a hat and order them, with the most exciting up top. This may be hard: prioritization of things that excite you can be hard if your used to thinking about what SHOULD happen. If you only had 20m today to move one of these ideas or activities forward, what would it be?


Don’t wait, start now: Ask yourself the question, “What excites me?” Right now. In this moment. What excites you?

Why not start by writing 3 things in a comment below?


2 Comments to “A TERRIBLE CASE OF THE SHOULDS (OR: Don’t Do What You Think You Should Do)”

  1. Right now: magic, writing, and the internet. I am so lucky and happy that my life entangles those things.

    • Nice. Big ups for gratitude. Your posts a couple years back helped push me into gratitude lists. I know do them almost daily. The difference in my perceived quality of life is remarkable.

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