“Should” is a nasty word.
Even when we have the best of intentions, the essence of the word is pushy, arrogant and… well, “should-y.”
So along with “like,” “um,” and “never,” I’m cutting “should” from my vocabulary.
Here’s why you
should might consider it, too.
Stop should-ing on yourself.
We live in a continuous improvement culture. Worldly ambitions aside, the desire for growth and wisdom in this life is necessary (Hebrews 5:11-14) and practical for fulfilling The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
But when we factor in the word “should,” we open the gate for the enemy to strike. Here are a few examples:
“I should have done ____.” Living in the past holds us back from the future God has planned for us. Reflective should-ing fosters guilt and perpetuates the lie of condemnation (Romans 8:1). The Bible tells us to “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18).
“Should have” is irrelevant and toxic. Unpack the past, count the costs, and learn from it. Then, be ready for redemption as you leverage that new wisdom going forward.
“I should do ____.” I’m a planner, so this one’s hard for me! But even proactive should-ing comes at great risk. It’s so easy to slip into procrastination — or worse, apathetic inaction.
Statements such as, “I should do bills tonight…” or “I should really start that project…” are static, implying a “…but I probably won’t” closer. They highlight a need or desire, but maintain a non-committal, flaky approach.
So I’m swapping them for purposeful statements that demand accountability, such as “I’m going to do bills tonight” or “I will start that project this afternoon.” It’s a subtle shift, but it promotes intentionality — taking us from idea to goal.
Stop should-ing on others.
Should-ing on yourself is bad, but shoud-ing on others is even worse — especially in counseling and leadership contexts.
No matter how kind the presentation, statements such as “you should do ____” or “you should have done ____” can come off arrogant, condescending and demoralizing.
When people come to me with a problem, I’m always tempted to try to fix it for them. If I’ve been in a similar situation or have a viable solution in mind, I have to bite my tongue to keep “I know what you should do!” from spilling out like word vomit.
Wondering what to say instead of “should?” Here are a few phrases you might consider to keep you from should-ing on others:
“Have you thought about ____?” Invite them into a discussion, keeping them as the decision maker.
“One thing that worked for me was ____.” Share a personal experience, a helpful illustration or a revelation (without coming off bossy).
“Have you prayed about it?” If they haven’t, gently encourage them to do so (without telling them they should!). If they have, try inviting them into basic discipleship conversation using three simple questions:
- What do you think God is saying to you about this?
- What are you going to do about it?
- How can I lovingly hold you accountable?
Sometimes offering to pray with them can bring about the best discernment and breakthrough.
Try simple-swapping “should” for “could.”
Which advice would you rather receive?
- “You should get your resume together — it would build your confidence.”
- “You could get your resume together — would that build your confidence?”
The first could be perceived as condescending and even condemning. It implies you know better than they do, which can be a slippery slope.
The second is full of possibility and hope — and it allows them to draw their own conclusions.
Isn’t it amazing the difference one little word can make?
Should-ing is not fixing, saving or helping anyone.
As a disciple who makes disciples, it’s my role to help others discover their own solutions by teaching them how to discern God’s will for their lives. This translates into every part of my life — work, marriage, parenting, friendships and ministry.
As I calibrate invitation and challenge with myself and others, I’m going to stick to words and phrases that inspire, motivate, and encourage. And “should” simply doesn’t make the cut.
Surrendering “should” will take patience and practice. But cutting it out will lead to deeper, healthier relationships.
Comment below: How might you stop should-ing on yourself and others this week?