The alarm rings. Too early, much too early. A whole hour early. You know you should get up. You promised yourself you’d start working out. Today’s the day! Huzzah! Yesterday it seemed like such a great idea. You even set out your gym gear, ready to get going first thing.

Groan. Aargh! You bury yourself in the comfort of your bed. Just a couple more minutes.

Guilt sets in…You should go. Now. Time’s a-wasting. Should, should, should!

You fall back asleep. You wake up just in time to shower and get to work/kids/chores. You berate yourself all morning: lazy, irresponsible, can’t live up to your own promise. More groaning.

Ah, the tyranny of the “shoulds”! We usually think of “should” as something your mother or spouse or boss says: “You should do X. You should do it this way. You shouldn’t do it that way!”

Being “should-ed” never feels good. It makes you feel less than, like some superior being is giving you (nincompoop that you are) correct instructions for life. Like your way of doing things, or thinking, or being, is so obviously wrong.

Certainly, when we’re kids and first learning the ins and outs of life, “should” can be appropriate. In learning a new skill or job, “should” is sometimes appropriate.

But too often, “should” is used as a guilt-whip. Something to force us into compliance with some else’s wishes. Most of us react negatively to being forced to anything. And when you’re doing the forcing on yourself? Ten times worse.

You say to yourself “I should” meaning: “My better self wants me to do this thing.” And sometimes, you and your better self agree: “Yeah, this would be a good thing to do/be. I’ll do it.” Fine, no problem, go for it.

But often, your more human “This is who I am now” self doesn’t want to go along with the “Good for you” plan your better self has in mind. That’s when rebellion, and the ensuing guilt, set in.

Guilt is a real soul-sucker. Rebellion, as in “I don’t wanna! And I’m good with that,” isn’t a problem. It’s when you’re not “good with that,” that guilt sets in, and now you beat yourself up worse than your Mother, spouse or boss ever did.

Enter a magic word: “Could.” As in, “I could get up twenty minutes early and take a brisk walk,” instead of “I should get up a full hour early and hit the gym.” No guilt there. Just a reasoned decision between you and you. And maybe after a couple of weeks of the twenty minute routine, you come up with “I could get up half an hour early and do a few exercises before my walk.” Once again, no guilt. Eventually, you may be getting up that whole hour early and hitting the gym - but more importantly, you’ll be doing it because you’ve shown yourself you could do it, not that you should do it.

Whenever you find yourself “should-ing” yourself, back off. Ask yourself “Is it really necessary for me to guilt myself into submission here? What could I do that would sit OK with me? And take me in the direction I want to be going in, not that I should go in.”

Wanting something is so much more fun than “should-ing” yourself there.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, relationship expert, popular speaker in the U.S. and abroad, and author of nine best-selling books. Dr. Nelson focuses on how we can all enjoy happy, fulfilling lives while accomplishing great things in love, at home and at work, as we appreciate ourselves, our world and all others. Visit,