Ajay A Kalra

3 Reasons To Avoid Using ‘Should’ Ajay Kalra July 9, 2022
3 Reasons To Avoid Using ‘Should’

“You should study!”

“You should respect elders!”

“You should be kind to others!”

Most of us would have heard some of these statements in our childhood. Whenever I heard a ‘should’ it would make me cringe. It made me feel that there was something wrong with me. If I wanted the approval of my elders, I had to do what I was told. And I did.

I couldn’t wait to grow up. So I could do what I wanted, without anyone telling me what to do. I grew up. But the ‘should’ followed me into adulthood.

“I should exercise!”

“I should stop binge watching!”

“I should do something worthwhile!”

It seemed the authority figures of my childhood had secretly entered my mind. Scolding, lecturing and criticizing me for my irresponsible behaviour through a voice in my head. The effect was the same. It made me feel guilty and worthless.

It took me a long time to realise this ‘inner critical parent’ did not make my life better. It only made me feel worse. I finally chose to let go of this voice.

Here are 3 reasons to drop ‘should’ from our vocabulary.

1. Should Obscures Awareness

Life is what is happening in this moment. Even if what is happening is illegal, immoral or fattening — it is happening. When we impose ‘should’ over ‘is’ we are unable to see what is happening clearly. Because our mind is saying “this should not be happening.” We then resist what is happening or has already happened.

Resistance can take many forms. Rationalizing is one of them. “Whatever is happening is happening due to my past karma.” “There is always some good hidden in the bad.” “It is happening for my learning and growth.” Or we may feel victimised. “Why does this always happen to me?” Whether our rationalization is positive or negative, it doesn’t change what is happening.

Rationalisation only strengthens the mind. It wants to know why something is happening? Who is responsible for it? What should it do? Often we keep running in circles finding reasons, blaming someone, seeking solutions. This takes away our energy from doing what needs to be done.

Observe what is happening.

Simply watch the thoughts, feelings and sensations. This awareness is obscured if we are caught up in the drama of our mind. When we are simply aware of what is happening we see what is happening without the filter of our mental conditioning. Like the blue sky simply watches the clouds come and go. It does not make meaning, get involved or find reasons. It simply Witnesses.

Awareness acts in a way that a ‘should’ cannot comprehend. Sometimes it remains silent, doing nothing. Sometimes it acts, doing what is necessary. Either way it does not tie itself into knots, thinking endlessly what to do. Neither is it compelled to act in a particular manner. Awareness is not bound by ‘should’. It is free, intuitive and spontaneous.

2. Should Assigns Blame

I recently spoke to someone feeling depressed. He had made an error of judgement that resulted in a business loss. While the loss was not so significant, he simply couldn’t get over the fact that he made such a silly mistake. “I should not have done that.” kept playing on his mind. He felt guilty and regretful.

‘Should’ creates anger, resentment, guilt and regret.

When we feel we should not have (or should have) done something we feel guilty. When we feel someone else should not have (or should have) done something we feel angry. Neither of these emotions are helpful. Often people are stuck in their guilt and anger for many years. Unable to move past what happened.

“How could I do this?” “How could she do this?” “How could this happen?” Whether we blame ourself, someone else, destiny or God, it is not going to change what happened. It will only keep us in the grip of painful emotions that deplete us.

“Does that mean we don’t hold people responsible for what they did?” one may ask.

By all means draw boundaries, seek accountability and correct where needed. All of this can be done without the need to blame. Fact of the matter is, we all behave according to our current level of maturity. If we were more evolved, we would probably not go around hurting ourselves and others.

The chances of self-transformation is higher when we do not blame. When we are caught in guilt, anger or regret our vision is distorted. All virtues stem from self-awareness. Which is the ability to see clearly.

3. Should Leads To Suppression

We all have grown up on a diet of ‘shoulds’. It does not matter whether these ‘shoulds’ came from family, school, religion, community or culture. It does not matter whether they were helpful for us to become more disciplined, well behaved and socially acceptable. What matters is that we understand what a should does.

A should curbs an impulse.

It could be a negative impulse to be violent, lie, steal, eat emotionally or over indulge in sex. Or it could be a positive impulse to be creative, curious, playful, expressive or adventurous.

When we forcefully curb a negative impulse it leads to suppression.

Most of our upbringing compels us to conform to certain behaviour. When we follow it we are rewarded, when we don’t we are punished. Often desired behaviour is enforced. Rarely are we educated in making our own choices.

The essence of education is cultivating Awareness. When we are made aware of our impulses, given the age appropriate freedom to explore and bear the consequences of our exploration, we learn by ourself. If a child unknowingly puts her finger in the fire, it is unlikely she will do it again. This is wisdom coming from experience. Self-awareness.

Enforcing discipline through ‘should’ is not self-awareness. The discipline of a ‘should’ can rupture any moment, leading to angry rebellion and over indulgence. Compensating for the past suppression. Not only does forceful disciplining lead to suppression, it also leads to numbness and self-righteousness.

When negative impulses are suppressed, it is likely that the positive impulses also get suppressed in our need to get others approval. We may disconnect from ourself and become robotic, fulfilling social expectations. Studying just to pass exams, doing a job we don’t like, pursuing meaningless success and performing actions that bring no joy.

People with too many ‘shoulds’ tend to be judgmental. They often see others as ignorant. Not acting according to the higher principles of living, or values that they follow religiously. They lack the ability to see each individual is undergoing his unique self-awareness journey. According to his time and pace.


Ever since I have dropped ‘should’ from my mental vocabulary I feel lighter. It is not that I have become perfect. I have simply accepted my imperfections. They are not a reflection of who I am. Neither are my gifts and virtues. I am a combination of various impulses.

Some make me creative and sensitive. Some waste my time and energy. They do not make me look nice. But they are as much a part of me. Until the day comes when they want to wish me goodbye. When I accept them, they are more manageable, as compared to when I try to overpower them with ‘should’.

And yet, I am not my impulses.

I am the Awareness, in which impulses come and go.

I am the Awareness, free of all do’s and don’ts.

I Am.


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