Two of the most noticeable phrases to a coach are “I should” and “I have to”. When a client says those words, it could be the topic of an entire call to unpack their meaning. And yet, in our everyday life, these words appear constantly: “I have to do my taxes”, “I should mow the lawn”, “I should really get off Facebook and go to bed”…you get the idea.
Some coaches, when they hear these phrases, will advise their clients to replace them with “I get to” or “I want to” as a way of reframing the experience with gratitude to make it more pleasant. Sometimes that may be helpful, but often clients roll their eyes and find it annoying. On a deeper level, it erases the person’s true experience, and it ignores underlying issues at play.
My preference is to (selectively, when appropriate) help the client explore what’s going on behind those words. I help them figure out what they really mean when they say those words and see what other options are available to them.
Today I want to give you some tools to experiment with this on your own. As always, it may benefit you to talk it out with someone, but this should give you a good start.
First, some examples of how I see this show up in business.
I had gifted a session to someone who was telling me their plans to do a webinar. They had been given advice from two people with very different businesses that webinars were the way to get exposure and find new clients. They looked exhausted telling me their plan; they were asking for my help to deal with procrastination and why they just couldn’t seem to get it done. When I asked why they were doing the webinar in the first place, they told me it was because so-and-so said they should. Bingo. We ended up spending the session talking about what their business really needed and more interesting ways for them to get clients. We came up with a plan that felt easier, and within a few weeks it was ready to go.
To use myself as a second example, my “shoulds” show up when I think about marketing. In my decade of business it feels like I have tried almost everything. I was talking to my mastermind about getting serious about LinkedIn and they could tell my energy was completely off. They asked me what I would do in a perfect world and I blurted out “I would just write content and do gift sessions!” It was an ah ha for me when my mastermind said “So why isn’t that good enough? Why all these other “shoulds?” And, because it takes repeated practice to break habits, I did the same thing again with them last week. I was burned out from doing so many networking calls with other business owners and when they asked me why I was doing them in the first place I realized it was because I felt I had to. They suggested I just offer them a gift session instead since I’m at my best when I’m helping. THAT felt much better to me.
Some Things to Ponder When You Notice Shoulds and Have Tos
- Ask yourself what you’d rather instead. This is by far the easiest one and it can be quite enlightening. Even if what you’d rather instead is something that seems impossible, play with it and see what comes up. Let’s say, for example, you’re sick of working so hard and talking to clients all day and what you’d rather be doing is travelling around South America…how could that be a reality? Try my Expanding Possibilities exercise here which will help you be creative about it.
- Notice if the “shoulds” always felt like obligations, or if it’s a new feeling. Sometimes other circumstances have caused something that used to be joyful to become difficult. What changed?
- What is your energy like? Are you exhausted? Burnt out? Sick? Bored? Something else? Revisit my article about what to do when you have too much on your plate to address those issues first.
- Do you have any external pressures or circumstances on you that are causing these sentiments? Recognizing them might be helpful in acknowledging what is possible to change and what is out of your control.
- Self-doubt can be a major culprit, and it’s probably the trickiest to notice. Often we experience “shoulds” and “have tos” because our inner protector is worried about the alternative, so it keeps us safe by doing what other people want us to do. You may notice this as dissatisfaction, perfectionism, overwhelm, over-giving, or endless waiting, among other things. What do you think your inner protector might be worried about? What is it keeping you safe from?
When the “Should” Becomes Personal
Before I end, I want to acknowledge another kind of “should”, and that is about feeling like you should be different in some way.
“I should be able to work faster”
“I should know how to do this”
“I should be better at tech”
“I should be better at sales”
“I should be more organized”
“I should have firmer boundaries”
Just to name a few.
These are quite insidious and can really knock down your confidence, so we want to watch out for them. Like above, think about where that belief is coming from. Additionally, it could benefit you to look at if it’s a skill you truly need to improve.
For example, let’s take “I should be faster”. Many of my clients say this about writing. They think they should have an article fully written and published in an hour, and they think others work like that so they should too. But for most of them, their pace is a gift. They’re thoughtful in their writing, and it benefits their readers because they put time and care into their work. It often surprises them when I tell them I schedule half a day every week to write these articles (and this one took much longer!) This is a time when you can give yourself permission to do things the way that works best for you.
Sometimes it does make sense that you want to be better at a particular skill. In those cases, I encourage people to use different language to demonstrate you’re in choice and that it’s okay to not be great at it. Something like “I’m learning to have firmer boundaries” helps give yourself compassion when you don’t get it right every time.
In the end, this isn’t about watching every word you say. Not every “should” or “have to” is bad, and sometimes it’s just part of our everyday language without any extra meaning. It’s those other times when you feel a niggling feeling of discontent that it may be time to explore a little more to see what’s going on. My preference is to approach it playfully as opposed to assuming something is wrong with you. Maybe you’ll discover something interesting.
Take Aways and Next Steps
- There isn’t deeper meaning to every “should” or “have to” but sometimes it can be helpful to explore the root of the discontent.
- Play with the idea of “what would you prefer in a perfect world?” to find out what you really want instead.
- Consider what your inner protector is trying to keep you safe from. Self-doubt can easily derail even the best plans.
Looking for an alternative to the mainstream business advice you read online? Stephanie gives you practical guidance to do business on your own terms. No nonsense, thorough, and immediately useful, these weekly emails cut to the chase of what you really need to succeed without compromising your values or working yourself into the ground. To get articles and behind-the-scenes business insights delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to her weekly Permission Slips here.