In this episode of The Feel Good Effect, we’re talking about how to take all those “shoulds” on your list and turn them into “goods”. We’ll dive into the power of the word “should” in your life, how to take action on what matters most to you, and release what doesn’t. 

If you’re ready to let go of unrealistic expectations and stop shoulding on yourself – this episode is for you! Listen in to the episode or keep reading for all my research-based practices and made-for-real-life tips.

how to good your should

What if all of your shoulds turned into goods

Think about the last time that you used the word should. We often say it to others, but in this case I really want you to think about should in your language about yourself. I conducted an informal poll over on Instagram where I asked, “what should you want me to help you good?”, and I got a lot of responses (some that we will workshop toward the end).

What part of your life, habits, action, or mindset does that word relate to the most? What is something you feel you should be doing?

understanding the power behind the word “should”

The thing about the word “should” is that it’s incredibly powerful. Sometimes it can be a guide and other times it can be a destructive force. Think about its duality, the ways it can help us or the ways it can hinder us. We don’t want to ignore its guidance, but on the other hand, sometimes should is really just external or internal expectations around impossible standards or mistake avoidance.

“The thing about the word “should” is that it’s incredibly powerful. Sometimes it can be a guide and other times it can be a destructive force.”

4 Step Practice to Good Your Should
  1. Think about the shoulds in your life.
  2. Make a list by category (e.g. mind, meals, movement, and method or by whatever category makes the most sense for you) 
  3. Identify which of those shoulds are guiding North Stars.
    – Think about the small steps and shifts you can put into place to move toward where you want to be. 
  4. Identify which of those shoulds are about impossible expectations, comparison, mistake avoidance, and all or nothing thinking. 
    – Let those go.
how to know the difference: list your shoulds by categories

So the first thing we need to do is to really identify if a should is leading you toward a good and you need to figure out how to make it happen -or- if it’s something you just need to release, to free, to let go and move on from.

I like to list my shoulds by category, often dividing into mind, movement, meals, and a fourth one I’ve recently added, which is method.

Method is really a catch-all for routines and habits in your life. Write it down or type it up, dividing your life into any categories you want. Then, write down your shoulds from each category. Think about which shoulds might be pointing you in the direction that you want to be going in your life and which are really just a form of the striving mindset of perfectionism, all or nothing thinking, or comparison. 

Create a little space for yourself to do this transformative, powerful, and radical exercise and to really think about how the shoulds break out. Maybe you have a lot of shoulds in the meal category or maybe in the movement or in the method; what does that tell you? Are those shoulds guiding you -or- are they really things that are internal or external expectations that don’t align with how you want to feel? If they don’t align with your values, they can be released with the weight of the guilt of not doing it. 

if a should doesn’t align with your values, how do you let it go?

I’ll give you an example. Recently, I was on Michelle Smith’s podcast, Get Wellthy. I was asking her for a should in her life and she came up with one very quickly, which was holiday cards.

She feels like she should send holiday cards, but it’s just not aligned with her priorities right now, she doesn’t enjoy it, so she doesn’t send them. But when the cards arrive from other people, she still feels guilty. Every time a card arrives, she has a pang of guilt. I think I know a lot of people that feel this way, especially women.

My guess is that the intention of people who send cards isn’t to make others feel guilty. So in this case, I invited Michelle to revisit the decision about sending a card. Is that aligned with how she wants to feel, from that place aligned with her values? Right now the answer is no. So, instead, she can release that, just acknowledge that she’s not sending cards, and when she gets a card, try to do so without guilt. Instead, can you do it with gratitude for the person and the intention of which it was sent? It’s going to take some practice but that shift is actually very possible.

The amazing thing about our brains is that they can change. You might have to actively tell yourself when that card arrives, you will receive it with the gratitude and the intention of which it was sent, maybe even sending that person a little thank you in your mind. Imagine every single time a card comes, instead of that pang of guilt, instead of expending that emotional energy, feeling bad about something that really was not intended to make anyone feel bad, she had a moment of gratitude and a moment of connection. 

“Getting stuck in “should” without taking actionable steps is a huge waste of mental energy and of human potential… of our lives… and how we spend the time in our own mind.”

if a should feels like it’s guiding you somewhere good, how can you take action?

On the other hand, if there are things on your list that you don’t feel like you want to let go of or free, but that are actually pointing you in the direction you want to go, then there’s a different strategy to use. I have another example for this, this time around creating what is now the whole multimedia brand of Real Food Whole Life and the Feel Good Effect.

I spent around 20 years in different careers, working more than one job at a time, and always in school. I’ve done a lot of things and as much as I loved the work, there was something more I wanted to do, and I didn’t know what it was at the time. I had a pull that I should be doing something else; it was a should that was guiding me toward something good. That should wasn’t something I wanted to let go of, instead it was about flipping it from the should to actionable steps I need to take in order to make it happen.

Getting stuck in should without taking actionable steps is a huge waste of mental energy and of human potential, of our lives, of what we do every single day and how we spend the time in our own mind. So I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know the end result, and I still don’t, but I took that should and started taking small, actionable steps toward something else. It wasn’t an all-or-nothing, grand transition. It was very much turning a should into actionable steps toward a different result.

I started with small behavior changes, small habit shifts, and small mindset shifts. Over time, I was able to leave my job and do this business full time, which I’ve been doing for three years now. Since then, I’ve published a book, I have a top rated podcast, and all these incredible things that didn’t start from me just sitting on a should and feeling bad about it. It really started with knowing there was something I need to be doing differently.

Ask yourself – what are the smallest actions I can take to start going in that direction, even if I don’t know where the destination is? My invitation to you on some of those big shoulds that are calling you to do something else is this – you don’t have to know what the end result is, but can you identify the smallest step you can take and start putting that into practice consistently?

Consistency doesn’t mean perfectly, it doesn’t even mean every single day, it means more days then you don’t.

“Consistency doesn’t mean perfectly, it doesn’t even mean every single day. It means more days than you don’t.”

feeling like you have a lot of “shoulds” is normal

Below is a list of some of the shoulds I got via Instagram in response to, “what is a should that you want me to good?”. Here’s what you shared with me:

  • Cleaning, exercising, keeping up with my household chores, working from 9 to 5, calling my grandparents regularly, reading harder books, only letting my kids watch 30 minutes or less of TV a day, playing more with my kids, eating healthier and exercising more, eating whole foods at every meal, house projects, health stuff, cleaning and organizing my house, reaching out to friends, cooking more, cleaning my house way more often than I am, cleaning my toilets every week, emotionally supporting others more, feeling excited for the holidays, meditation, doing a workout instead of watching TV after a long day, working out more often, cardio, cooking healthy food, exercising, exercising, eating well, more productive after work, drinking more water, working out more, weighing less, spending well beyond my planning time trying to figure out how to teach online, wrapping gifts, reading more, eating less carbs, eating food that is best for my body, taking care of myself, exercising, getting up earlier to get more done, drinking more water, volunteering, and posting more regularly on Instagram. 

I want to normalize that this is what’s going through people’s minds on a daily basis. A couple categories showed up there repeatedly – primarily around wellness, parenting, and housekeeping. 

“we only have one life, it’s only so long; how are we spending it?”

Imagine a life and a world where wellness and taking care of yourself isn’t a should. Imagine a life where taking care of yourself, those basic habits and mindset that help you feel good, imagine if those were goods. Imagine if those were the center of your priority and everything else fell around it. What would happen if that was the case? What would happen for you and then what would happen for the people around you, for your community, for people all over the world? Taking care of yourself, prioritizing those things, and doing it in a way that’s simple and sustainable and joyful is so imperative. We only have one life, it’s only so long; how are we spending it? 

workshop your shoulds: how to make this practice work for real life

So let’s take the toilet cleaning example. Let’s say that you know you could hire a housekeeper and that that’s not in the budget right now.

The first thing we are going to do with that should is what I’ve already talked about in this episode: is this pointing you in the direction of the life that you want to have? Is this aligned with how you want to feel and your values or is it really something that’s an expectation, an impossible standard, something you really don’t care about and you can release? There is no one-size-fits-all for your shoulds and there’s no one-size-fits-all for wellness. So own that, claim it, reclaim it. How would it feel to not have it clean? How would feel to have it clean? How would it feel to have to clean it? 

This everyday example can apply to any one of your shoulds. Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself:

  • How does it feel to do it? 
  • How does it feel to not do it? 
  • How does the process of doing it feel? 

Then, ask how it’s aligned with your values. If it would make you feel good, why does that matter? Would it make you show up better in the world? Would it make you calmer? Would it make you a better partner or parent? Whatever it is that’s really important to you in your life. Get curious about that.

If it does not align with how you want to feel or with your values, I really invite you to just let the toilet be dirty, especially if you’re in a season of life where it has to be a low priority. Or if it is important to you, think about making the process of cleaning it a little bit simpler. 

Other options:

  1. Let it be dirty and know that that’s okay.
  2. Find the power middle. Make the process easier by cleaning it once a month or simplifying the method of cleaning.

“Sometimes it’s those little shifts that can actually make it a lot easier and then it’s not such a big deal.”

Sometimes it’s those little shifts that can actually make it a lot easier and then it’s not such a big deal. 

Another should for so many people is drinking more water

My guess is the issue isn’t whether drinking water would make you feel good, the issue is that the process is either too complicated or not joyful, rewarding, or reinforcing enough. So you can do an experiment where you are dehydrated, keep track of how you feel, and then be really hydrated and notice the difference. Then I invite you to look at the process, the daily actions and habits around drinking water, and how you can simplify it, reduce the barriers, and make it more enjoyable. 

  • Taste: if you don’t like the taste of your water and that’s deterring you, think about how to change that. Obviously, you can buy bottled water, but a less expensive option is to add flavor like lemon.
  • Temperature: if you like it super cold, put ice in it. If you want it room temperature, put a pitcher out, fill it up with water, let it come to room temperature, and drink that all day. If you like it hot, boil some water and drink it hot. Still counts as hydration. 
  • Make it easy to see and track: fill a pitcher all the way with water in the morning and then make sure it’s gone by the end of the day. Having that visual reminder should help quite a bit. 
  • Have a bigger water glass.
  • Use a straw: if you can drink through a straw, oftentimes you’ll end up consuming more just because it’s easier.

I know these examples seem a little mundane, but what’s so fascinating is how much mental energy we put into thinking about these things and then when we don’t do them we end up feeling guilty. 

If you need a comprehensive guide to walk you through making small shifts that add up to big change, there’s lots of supportive practices and guided exercises waiting for you in the Feel Good Effect Book.

If you need a little cheatsheet to use to workshop your own shoulds to goods, here’s a simplified list:

  1. Write out your shoulds.
  2. Ask yourself if it is a should leading you in the direction you want to go or a should that really isn’t important to you. 
  3. The ones that don’t align, free them, get rid of them, and let them go with a little bit of grace and a little bit of gentle is the new perfect. 
  4. If it is something that is important to you:
    1. How would you feel if you did it?
    2. How would you feel if you didn’t do it?
    3. How would you feel actually doing it? 
  5. If that process is too difficult, if there are too many barriers, if there’s no joy in it, make it smaller, a little more fun, or a little more joyful.

Note: If you’re a coach, instructor, therapist, teacher, etc. and you’re using my work with your clients, please remember that it’s copyrighted and I’m happy to work with you on how to use it.


Feel Good Effect Book

Feel Good Now: Exclusive Excerpt from the Feel Good Effect Audio Book

other feel good effect episodes you’ll love

How to Rethink & Reclaim Goal Setting This Year

The Secret to Consistency & Joy with Healthy Eating with Michelle Smith

The Secret to Consistency & Joy in Your Workout Routine with Robin Long

Why You Need to Be Exercise Snacking

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