• Meghan Bellamy

Self-Talk Saturday: Should

One thing I love about regularly blogging is being able to create a theme for specific days and/or weeks to celebrate important or fun topics. Today, I am starting one I am super excited about: Self Talk Saturday.

I’m sure many of you have heard it before, but Self-Talk is literally EVERYTHING. It feeds our thoughts, negative or positive, and those create our feelings and therefore our behaviors. Self Talk is where we begin to establish our notion of self, and even the littlest words can have a massive effect on what that notion is. Each Self Talk Saturday will highlight specific words and the common ways we use them. It will isolate, and therefore draw awareness to, the way our linguistic patterns reinforce a way of defining ourselves. All in all, it will celebrate and emphasize a mindful way of engaging with ourselves and others.

Today’s word is one that drives me insane, and I have spent a lot of time working with it so I can understand the things it is trying to tell me—therefore, when to act on its behalf and when not to.


Should might not seem like a powerful word. That’s probably because you are used to hearing it ALL THE TIME. In many ways this is a good thing. It is, in some ways, a motivational word. One that keeps us moving, one that keeps us focused, one that aims to keep us aligned with the things we want. That's why we don't want to throwout the word entirely, or completely write it off as bad. The word should, in balanced doses, can be a very helpful indicator that some behavior(s) may need to change. And that's okay, and worth looking at.

It is overuse I am concerned with when it comes to self talk, and here is why: should is one of those words we throw around, without realizing what message is truly being sent when we do. So lets dissect it.

There are five definitions in Miriam-Webster for the word should:

1—used in auxiliary function to express condition

2—used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency

3—used in auxiliary function to express futurity from a point of view in the past

4—used in auxiliary function to express what is probable or expected

5—used in auxiliary function to express a request in a polite manner or to soften direct statement

In other words, the word should emphasizes a couple of things depending on its context: responsibility, the future state of someone or something, and politeness. The word should is very important to our language, but an over usage of this word, especially as self-talk, can be highly destructive.

A word that emphasizes responsibility the way that should does, by definition, highlights the fact that some action is not being done. Therefore, overusing this word frequently within self talk can be stressful, anxiety provoking, and exhausting when it is constantly pushing us to do something more or other than what we are already doing. This can lead to a feeling of not being enough or not doing the right things, which is an often harsh and untrue notion to live with.

This brings us to the way should focuses on conditions of the future and past. Grammatically, should on its own emphasizes the future, the phrase “should have” allows for rumination on past conditions. In either case, Our thoughts are stolen from the present state of being, and yanked to either the past or the present, neither of which exist currently. Again, these phrases are crucial for conversation and developing an understanding of the world, but over used as self talk, they can cause our minds to live and develop worlds in times and spaces that are not consistent with the present one. This makes doing tasks difficult, as it is often difficult to focus as the mind is perpetually “daydreaming” if you will. If it is stuck in the future, involved with future obligations, tasks, ideas, etc. one is likely to experience worry, fear, anxiety, and pressure. If it is stuck in the past, one might find themselves in a more depressive state, reliving things again and again, as the mind searches and shames for the actions that weren’t done and “should have” been done.

Lastly, we discuss the way should functions as a softening word, one to make clear, honest, and direct language a little bit more digestible. There is something to be said for this function, because rhetorically, these words are necessary to reach the hearts of many individuals. However, we are not here to discuss rhetoric, we are here to discuss self-talk. If this word comes up a lot in your self talk, you may be limiting your truth and expression of that truth because you feel it would be harmful or “impolite.” There may be a tendency to speak in a way that you think you are “supposed to speak” instead of the way that is true to how you feel and think.

We can't avoid the word should, so what can we do to think in a more positive way? One way that can be very helpful is to connect ourselves more directly with our present (or even future) actions. Phrases like "I am" can be very powerful when used more regularly, as they serve as a positive reminder of the work we are doing and allow us to take ownership over that work. Phrases like "I will" or "I'm going to," although they are more future-focused, still allow for more personal control, and therefore accountability over conditions of the future. The difference between these phrases and the phrase "I should" is that they don't carry the same tones of expectation and obligation. The thinker has control over the action, and not the other way around.

In conclusion, should is a word that is helpful for establishing boundaries, creating rules, and allowing ourselves to think beyond what we see before us. It can push us to be better, keep us focused on our goals, and remind us of our responsibilities. However, this word implies that something needs to be done that isn’t being done. It carries lots of expectation and obligation along with it. Therefore, an over-use of this word as self talk may create a looming pressure that is difficult to shake. Trading the phrase "I should" for more positive and secure phrases can be a gamechanger in taking ownership over your life and way of thinking.


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