Please Don't Should On Yourself

 I am biased to the incredible light of our American West. We have a family cabin in Big Sur, California. It sits about 1000 feet above the Pacific Ocean and my late father always said, “You can see all the way to Maui.”

 The light, sounds, winds and peace of our cabin, we call The Teapot, is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of magnificence. When Patricia (my wife) and I retreat to the Teapot, we spend our first 24 hours decompressing and unwinding from the pace of two self-employed, working adults.

 This gradual period of decreasing the pressure allows us to begin to really think and feel the world with a serene sense of clarity, the clarity of being in “Present Time.” There are no “shoulds” in present time. Present time is all about the moment and the excitement of sensing all that is occurring right then and there.

 Over the years I’ve observed many of my clients and myself living life in the past. Most of us are completely unaware of having our present life experience distorted by thoughts/images of the past. In previous articles I’ve talked about the critical thought process we call awareness and how without being aware of our behavior we continue to repeat unwanted patterns over and over again.

 Early on in my coaching assignments, whether it’s a team, an individual or both, the concept of “should” comes to the forefront. My clients are successful people but they become better when they realize the multitude of times and situations in which they, “should on themselves.” All of my clients are leaders in their organizations, therefore when they should on themselves, they are most likely shoulding on others, too.

Here are some examples of “shoulding on yourself:”

  • A successful person gets a compliment on an action they have taken. They immediately think, “I should have done better;”
  • A parent sees their child’s report card which has 4 As and one B, the parent suddenly thinks "Our child should have had straight As;"
  • A successful sales executive has a record setting quarter, they then say, “We should have had better margins;”
  • A golfer shoots the best score of their life and responds by thinking, “I should have played two shots better.”


 The list is endless, because people who influence us growing-up rarely live in present time. Coaches, teachers, and parents consistently tell young people things like, “Never be satisfied with what you achieve, always strive to do better!” The message young people receive is, “You should have done better.”

 There is no respect for present time. We are conditioned to avoid being present and be anxious.  When I’m working with clients and we talk about “doing one’s best” the thought process reverts to reflecting on a past moment. When they reflect on a past moment the brain rises the, “I should have done better” phrase to the surface.

 As we’re working through these cloudy waters, people have a tough time seeing “Doing one’s best” is an activity in the present, not a reflection of the past.

 Here lies the opportunity for people to make immediate improvements in one’s life and business. The solutions for living in the present are simple, however not always easy.  Initiating these two behaviors will make an immediate, positive impact on one’s effort to find freedom from, “shoulding on oneself.”

  • Be constantly alert for uttering the word, “Should.” When you catch yourself, stop and get your thoughts and words back to the present.
  • Live life as an experiment. Do your best to frame your actions using a simple experimental method.
    • What actions are you taking?
    • What do you think will be the outcomes?
    • Process the various outcomes.
    • Take new actions based on what was learned.
    • Repeat the process.


 Living life as an experiment offers the advantage of living in present time. It doesn’t mean that we always prove our “hypothesis,” but if we maintain our learning we always move in a positive direction. The experimental method guards against the “shoulds.”

 Team leaders can dramatically increase effectiveness by being aware of all team members eliminating shoulds (starting with him/herself). Focus on doing one’s best, enjoying the experience and learning from one’s actions.