Replacing ‘Should’ with ‘Could’

Years ago I was encouraged to stop ‘should’ing on myself.

I was resistant at first — how would I crack the whip and make myself do all that was necessary for me to do, even if I didn’t want to, without the concept of ‘should’?

Then I noticed some things that convinced me that ‘should’ing on myself wasn’t helping me as much as I thought it had been.

The biggest thing I noticed was that when I dropped the ‘should’, I was more in alignment with the flow and synchronicity. This really hit home for me while doing the Peace Corps in Guatemala. One particular afternoon I was supposed to meet with a group that was 30–45 minutes away. There was a storm and I REALLY didn’t want to go, yet I knew that I SHOULD go, so I did. I was the only person there that day.

Guatemalans have a different culture when it comes to showing up for appointments than we do, yet seeing such a drastic example of how following my desire (rather than my ‘should’) would have put me more in alignment with reality opened me up to noticing how people from the U.S. could also benefit from it.

So many times I would have an appointment and really not want to go, yet I knew I “should” go, so I would, and it would turn out that the person I was meeting was exactly in the same boat! Maybe they had the flu and dragged themselves out of bed to be there, or couldn’t be totally present at our meeting because of all the other errands they were feeling overwhelmed with that day.

All the events I thought I should go to in hindsight proved to me that I either made the wrong choice by going to them or the right choice by not going. All the choices I thought I “should” make had unforeseen flaws when I made them, unforeseen benefits to not making them.

Richard Feynman is a famous scientist who tells an anecdote that perfectly illustrates this dichotomy in his book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” He was going to go teach down in South America, so he was going to start taking Spanish classes. On his way to class on the first day, he saw a gorgeous woman and he started to follow her, then realized she was going into the Portuguese class. He convinced himself to “be good” and study Spanish, rather than follow the beautiful lady. When he finally got placed in South America, he ended up in Brazil, the one country in South America that speaks Portuguese instead of Spanish!

I came to the conclusion that no matter how much I thought I “should” do something, my desire was always a more accurate guide than my super-ego in guiding me down the best path.

I had to learn to distinguish between ‘should’ing on myself and resistance. Where there is a ‘should’, that is almost never the right path for me, whereas where there is resistance tends to be my leading edge of growth. On the surface, they can seem quite similar, yet I have learned that they feel different; learning to identify those at-first-subtle differences is similar and related to learning how to identify a ‘yes’ and identify a ‘no’ in my inner self. Awareness, noticing sensations, noticing results from choices, time and experience are what helped me learn to tell the difference.

Even after over ten years of awareness, I still find myself ‘should’ing on myself and others. When I catch it, I take back the ‘should’ and replace it with ‘could’. It’s so much more expansive and freeing to think of all the things I could do, rather than all the things I should do. I have a bit of a stubborn streak, and I notice that saying I COULD do something never engages my inner mule quite as much as saying I SHOULD do something. I get quite a lot more done when I don’t have to fight my stubbornness, so my fear that I would be ineffective without my ‘should’s has turned into knowledge that I am more effective with my ‘could’s.

I’m not saying that you should quit ‘should’ing on yourself…I’m just saying you could…

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