DailyGood: Stepping Out of the Should Trap , by Joanna Holsten

“I should make more money.”
“I should lose weight.”
“I should volunteer more often.”


In saying “should” so often, I found myself feeling trapped by a sense of obligation and expectation. I felt this vague pressure to conform to external standards, to be someone or do something. It felt like just being me wasn’t okay. I felt pushed to follow a particular path, behave in specific ways, and believe certain things. In observing my mind and growing towards a more compassionate life, I realized that I had internalized both the messages and the method of the “shoulds.”




“Should” messages are familiar to all of us. Our lives are saturated with societal norms of success, beauty, intellect, strength, femininity, masculinity, ad infinitum. If you need a refresher, watch an hour of television or walk around a mall. Unfortunately many of these messages didn’t align with my values.


Living in a sea of “shoulds”, I found myself in an impossible situation. I ended up being disappointed with myself or fearful of disappointing others. When I would obey the “should” in my mind, I felt far away from the ideas, needs, and values that I authentically desired. When I would choose to do something not on the “should” list, I felt guilt, shame, or fear that other people would disapprove and judge me negatively. Under the tyranny of the “shoulds,” I couldn’t find genuine fulfillment. I frequently felt lacking.


These persistent and powerful messages around us make it very difficult to listen to an inner voice. In some situations, I internalized the “shoulds” so deeply that I didn’t have the chance to discover my own independent beliefs. The “shoulds” lead one to adopt externalized values and never question the commands. By obeying “shoulds,” our belief systems could be coopted by external forces…