Why should is the worst word in the English language

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Should. It’s such a simple six-lettered word and yet it can be the cause of so much angst.

Words are wonderful things; this site wouldn’t be here without them but I can’t help realise just how much they can hurt too, especially in this digital era.

I read a lot of articles and personal development sites in the run up to launching this site and what I noticed the most is the use of ‘should’ in the title. We should ditch our bad diet. We should never accept certain things in relationships. 10 things we should be better at. You get the picture.

I don’t know about you but I find it exhausting. Reading those articles, for a brief moment, makes me feel like I need to be changing immediately or following orders when realistically, nothing could be further from the truth because it’s just someone writing a, somewhat forceful, opinion about something and as I’ve said before, opinions aren’t fact. However, you feel like you’re doing something wrong which can lead to feelings of guilt and self-doubt when really, there is no need for it.

Sure, maybe we could all do with a change or improvement in our diet, we could do with more self-worth so we don’t put up with shitty habits in relationships and we can always improve ourselves and skills but that doesn’t mean we should or truly want to. Too much of what we say in this generation sound like commands instead of guidance; we each want to sound more of an expert than the next person which is natural.

However, by using the word ‘should’ in personal development articles and sites, we are being contradictory. We are saying that we’re not good enough in some aspect of our lives or personality and we sound like a parent telling a child off and laying guilt for not completing a physical or mental task.

Think about it:

I SHOULD reply to my emails versus I WANT to reply to my emails.

Which one do you think makes you feel like you have a choice instead of a guilt trip for a chore you want to avoid?

This, in turn leads to the second biggest problem with the word ‘should’ – guilt. If we don’t reply to our emails, we internalise that and start beating ourself up over not doing it telling ourselves that we ‘procrastinate too much’ and haven’t got enough discipline or focus etc. No, we shouldn’t make excuses for simple things but neither should we beat ourselves up over every little wobble in life.

I’m all for giving advice and reading it but I just feel we’re now in the world of everyone telling each other what to do and yes, when seeking and receiving advice, it’s a natural by-product but we’ve become both too forceful in giving our advice and too defensive in receiving it. It’s advice just like opinions! It’s guidance to help you use the foundations that you already have in you, not an instruction manual on life despite how many appear to see it currently.

So I’ll try to use the word ‘should’ only when it’s appropriate because I don’t ever want you to feel as though I’m telling you to do something.

It’s just advice, you can take it or leave it.

  • Mark


    The word ‘could’ is so much nicer to use than ‘should’. It’s implication is that – you could take this option/advice, if you wanted to. It’s up to you. Whereas ‘should’ forcefully states: you should do as I say. It takes away any option of choice, growth and self fulfilment. The only time you could use should is this:
    You should do whatever you like, whenever you want.

    • Toni

      Mark – Well said; could opens up boundless possibilities and impresses a certain freedom of choice whilst ‘should’ feels like an order to be carried out; something to feel guilty about.
      And I love your example about when the word ‘should’ is appropriate 🙂

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