Reality Check: Should, Could, Would Like to

Dinah feels exhausted every morning, even before her day gets started.

Why? She has an impossibly huge list of tasks, all conveniently stored in a jumble in her head. She thinks, “I should call that customer,” “I should pick up some groceries,” “I should write that report,” “I should take the cat to the vet,” “I should respond to those emails,” “I should…” You get the drift.

A choice theory belief is that we have basic needs, and if our needs aren’t satisfied, we’re likely not satisfied, either. One of those needs is a need for freedom.

If you perceive that your life is full of shoulds, you may also perceive that freedom is in short supply.

Is your need for freedom going unsatisfied? Do you bristle any time you hear, “You should….”? It’s one thing if you are responding to, “You should clean up that mess.” However, if you have the same aggravated reaction to, “You should take a vacation,” maybe you are not quite satisfying your freedom need.

If, like Dinah, you perceive that your life is saturated with “shoulds,” then you may also perceive a lack of freedom. Likely result? Unhappiness.

An additional factor for Dinah is the perception that the shoulds are coming at her from outside. Someone else is always “shoulding” her, and it’s out of her control.

If you find that too, you might end up arguing, balking, avoiding, and engaging in other behaviours that don’t much help your relationships, either.

What to do? Because none of us can do everything at once, putting tasks in priority order can really help.

Dinah can take that opportunity to ask herself, “Are all these tasks—the to-do list, my overflowing inbox, my multiple work tasks, the cat… are they truly “shoulds?” Or are they “coulds?” Does the cat need to go to the vet now, or can she wait and go with the other cats? Do I need to call that customer now? Would I get more productive results from doing something else right now?

It may turn out that some tasks are such low priority that it doesn’t matter whether they get done or not. Take them off the should list completely.

But at least some tasks are, indeed, things that we should do.

While we often have choices, we also know that there are consequences to the choices we make. Choosing to indulge in short-term pleasant choices can make things worse in the long run. Putting off the cat’s vet trip may result in a more expensive vet trip later, or worse. Choosing not to call your customer now may result in an unhappier customer, requiring more time or money later.

Choices often come down to “What do I want?” If we want to get what we want, then often, there are tasks we need to do.

Even when your logical mind knows that, you may still resist “should.” If so, maybe you’ll find it helpful to change perspective and rephrase your shoulds.

For example, I could say, “I should mark this stack of tests this afternoon because I’ve been putting it off.”

Compare that with, “I could mark this stack of tests this afternoon and then they would be off my desk.”

Or how about this? “I would like to mark this stack of tests this afternoon so I will have tomorrow free!”

Now, am I just trying to fool myself by playing word games? Can simply substituting “I would like to” for “I should” change my perspective? Or is that just an attempt to deceive myself? Perhaps so.

Is whether you choose to try this type of self-deception under your control? Absolutely!

And, would this little self-deception be helpful for you? You tell me

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