The Judgement of Should

The power of meditation, yoga, kigong and the like is the ability to encourage awareness, growth and change. I look at it as a path. It might sound a little cookie-cutter, but while the process is essentially the same, the steps for each can vary wildly. I think that is the draw for each of them, the steps we take, or more specifically, the steps that call us to walk them.


I’ve talked in the past about some of the changes, such as going dairy free, eating seasonally and other things. One of my latest explorations centers around the word ‘should.’


‘Should’ started to illicit a pretty strong and negative visceral reaction in me. It took me a little while to figure out what was getting under my skin, and once I did, I sat with it and did a few focused meditations to better understand why it was bothering me so much.


Some rights reserved by moonhouse

Some rights reserved by moonhouse


Why ‘Should’ Bothers Me


First I wanted to consider why this word started bothering me. What was it that got under my skin so much to bubble up to my consciousness and spark this desire to change. Here’s what I came up with:



Should – It drips with judgment. Self-judgment (I should be…), judgment of others (you should ….). While it generally (I think) comes from a place of concern and desire to help, it often comes across emotionally as being looked down upon, or being judged in some way.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of


With judgement comes pressure and stress. I don’t know about you, but I have enough already and don’t need to add more through self-judgement. And as far as judging others goes, I don’t think it’s my place. Everyone has their own struggles and trials to deal with. Whether they are working off some karma, trying to improve themselves or even being a total ass, I’m choosing to withhold judgement. No, the judgement in that last statement didn’t escape my notice, but I did say I’m a work in progress.



How Much of a Hold ‘Should’ Had Me In


Once I wanted to make the change, I wanted to see how big a task that was going to be. I brought my full awareness to the challenge to see how often I was using that word. Of the times I caught myself (and I am sure I missed more

Image courtesy of  ruminatrix.

Image courtesy of ruminatrix.

than a few), I hit 114 times the very first day. Most of it leveled against myself. To break that down, I estimate 16 waking hours in a day. 114 ‘shoulds’ in 16 hours is 7.125 per hour or one about every 8 minutes.


Doesn’t sound too awful. Perhaps even manageable. After all, we live in a culture where the most popular headlines tell us what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing. But think of it this way. What if there was an actual person outside of your head, standing behind you, criticizing what you were doing 7-8 times an hour the entire time you were awake? Every…single…day. I was beyond shocked.



How I Started My Change


After recovering from the math, I laid out a plan to help me. The plan isn’t complicated or convoluted, and I think that makes it easier for me to stick with. Simplicity rules when making big changes in life (you don’t think dropping this word is a big life change? Try it for just an hour….).


My Plan

  1. Stay conscious of my vocabulary and usage of the word ‘should’ both internally and externally
  2. Make space by slowing down my conversations so that when (not if) the habitual ‘should’ pops up I can catch it, evaluate it and alter my word choice for clearer meaning
  3. Be kind; especially to myself when one or two (or thirty) slide by before I can catch them
  4. Notice the difference both in my own reaction and the impact on others when I choose words that don’t contain the judgmental undertones
  5. Use that feeling of ease and acceptance to further fuel and encourage this change


I realize that for some, a carrot and stick approach might work better. An idea a friend of mine pitched was setting up the equivalent of a swear jar. This, or any other, word you wanted to remove could be the source of contributions to the jar. Maybe rename it to the Banished Words jar. That way when the contributions either end or are reduced to a mere trickle, you get reward yourself for all of your hard work.


What’s Changed for Me


I’ve noticed a number of changes since I started this endeavor. The two that stick out the most for me are how much

By MIT-Libraries [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Flickr

By MIT-Libraries [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Flickr

more receptive and engaged people are in conversations and how much happier I feel in general. Apparently not feeling judged is a great way to make connections with others and feel better about ourselves.


I haven’t completely shut down the relentless little ‘should’er’ on my shoulder. But he is less talkative these days. With practice, patience and persistence my goal is to eventually get this word out of my vocabulary. It’s been difficult, but has gotten easier over time.




Are there other words you have or would like to remove from your own vocabulary? If so, please share and you might inspire someone else to join you.


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