When ‘Should’ Is Good

Using Shoulds to Structure REAL Change

(Part 3/3)

Today, we’re going to look at how I learned that, sometimes, our ‘shoulds’ are good.

In Part 1, I talked about ‘shoulds’ in general and how they are problematic because they create a list of unconscious rules that we live by. Rules that were given to us by someone else and usually act against what we desire.

In Part 2, we met my boy and I shared a few of the awarenesses we’ve had over the years while we were learning to live together.

Which brings us to earlier this year, March-ish (?), when we were on our way home from church. One of the brilliant things about the boy is his lack of filters – he just spits out what he’s thinking without trying to make it ‘nice’ and socially acceptable. That’s part of the ADHD impulsivity.

And we were talking about goals and being successful and how to keep your danged room clean (see today’s PS!!!) and what we’d all heard in the sermon – stuff like that.

I said something like, “yeah, because it’s important to go after our wants because those reflect our desires, and our desires are good. So, it’s important to know the difference between shoulds and wants because shoulds are bad and wants are good,” which, y’all have heard me talk about in here a LOT.

When Wants Lead to Bad Things

But, then, he said, “not for me! I’ve had to live my whole life doing what I ‘should’ do because I know that my wants are bad and my shoulds are good!”

“Whaaaaaaaat? Say more about that?”

“Well… I know that I ‘should’ take a shower every day and I ‘should’ keep my room clean and I ‘should’ wear clean clothes and I have all these shoulds that I know I need to do.”

“Why do you know you need to do them?”

“Because I’ll get in trouble otherwise.”

(That’s what we call an external locus of motivation. He only does the task to avoid the external consequences. There is no internal motivation. That’s a problem for success and usually leads to rebellion and imperfect compliance.)

“Oh. So you ONLY stay clean because you’ll get in trouble otherwise?”

(can you feel my brain melting…)


“Well… what do you want to do? Be dirty?”


(the coaching moment… wait for it)

“Are you sure that’s true? You really don’t want to be clean.”

… pause …

“Ohhhhhh… that’s weird. I know that I should be clean AND I want to be clean. That’s different. That’s new. I didn’t want to be clean before.”

(When he arrived to live with us last year he said he hadn’t showered in a month. It smelled true. I was horrified, mortified, and felt so bad for the people who had to sit beside him on the plane. And, of course, my momma’s heart was breaking and raging all at the same time.)

Using shoulds to create real change.

Sometimes Shoulds Become Wants

Me. Totally keeping the fact that my brains were leaking out my ears under wraps so that I could stay in ‘coach-mom mode’…

“Oh! So, you have a should that has become a want. Now you WANT to be clean. How come?”

“Yeah… because nobody will want to hang around with me and I’ll never get a date and get married if I’m smelly and dirty.”

(Dang! So close! This is still an external locus of motivation. He’s doing it because of external pressures not because of internal desire. Still not because of self-esteem or to feel good about himself. We’re working on that one.

The heart-breaking truth is that you have to value yourself to feel motivated to care for yourself. And he has never felt worthy of self-care. He’s had a lot of self-destructive stories / lies circulating in his head. We’re working on that, too.)

“Ohhh… okay. That’s really interesting. So, that’s cool. But, in general, you feel like you’re still mostly doing good stuff because it’s a should and your wants are the bad stuff.”


I honestly didn’t know where to go from there at the moment. I let him know that I was totally going to write a newsletter about that… received his permission… and we moved on.

But, it was truly eye-opening for me. I learned that, sometimes, when we know that our lives will be better if we take certain actions, it’s healthier to lean into our ‘shoulds’ and follow those directions, instead of succumbing to our wants.

And then we can work on turning our shoulds into wants.

Shoulds Can Create Drama or Peace

So, just like everything else, when we’re unconscious about what’s happening inside of us, it creates drama and chaos.

But, when we consciously choose to adopt ‘shoulds’ that make us better, or consciously choose to take actions that we don’t really want to do but we know will make our lives better…

(… like when I choose carrots over cookies …)

… then, just like the ‘negative’ emotions of anger, fear, guilt, and shame, our ‘shoulds’ can actually work for us.

So, to sum up:

Unconscious shoulds = rules given to us by someone else that are probably restricting us and keeping us from the success we want.

Conscious shoulds = the rules we set for ourselves to get us where we want to go despite the early programming we’re running that wants to keep us from the success we desire.

(we can shine through our shame)

Here’s the plan for choosing healthy shoulds…

1. Decide where you want to go and write it out in as much detail as you can.

2. Plan what you’re going to have to do to get there. Make a list of who you’ll need to be and what you’ll need to do to have the success you want. Those are your shoulds… for now.

(there is a great exercise on this in Creating a Powerful Pivot Point)

3. Figure out how to turn those shoulds into wants that you are internally motivated to achieve. Start by journaling, “I want this because…”

4. Resource to get the support you need. Not sure how to do it or pretty sure you want it to happen quickly? Reach out. Get support. That’s what we’re here for.

One of the things I love about NLP is that we can use the tools to change our internal programming to re-align what we want with what we desire. 

I desire to succeed so I’m going to shift my beliefs and values and feeling and thoughts to align with that. And then success will be much easier. I’ll be able to go for my wants and release them as shoulds.

So, it turns out that shoulds are external rules we adapt to give us structure and support to succeed until we can develop the internal motivation to go for what we want congruently.

They’re not always bad.

Huh?! Who knew?!

*mind blown*

I’m curious… what shoulds are you dealing with that you really wish would be congruent desires?

Let me know.

You’re here to change the world and we’re here to help.

You’ve got this.

P.S. On Cleaning His Room

Oh! And about that whole ‘clean your room’ thing. It’s definitely still a ‘should’ BUT just this weekend I switched from ‘I will let him work this out and experience natural consequences’ mode to ‘I AM THE CONSEQUENCES!!’ mode.

When he came home from work Saturday evening, I took away all of his electronics and told him he’s not getting them back until his room is clean. 

He’s been cleaning for two days. 3 bags of garbage later.



ANTS!!! Odorous ants that were walking across my kitchen wall and into my pantry. And y’know where they were coming from?

His room.


We’ve dealt with them now. Or, at least we seem to have dealt with them. Basically no ants yesterday or today. By the way, 3 parts icing sugar to 1 part borax makes a super good ant-bait if you ever need it – just keep it away from pets and kids.

But, y’know what drew them in?

Wait for it…

He left a banana under his bed.

… for months.

Just imagine…

Yeah. That.

And then, those ants were heading to the pantry. And I figured they were in the flour but y’know where they ACTUALLY were?

In his Corn Pops. Those blasted sugar bombs of death. Ugh.

Dozens of them. Because he hadn’t clipped the bag shut.

So, they’d been drawn in by one source of sugar and then blazed their trails across the rest of the house to the other source of sugar.

I. can’t. even.


Being a momma is an adventure. I just want you to know that when you’re building a business you love and being mom, balance is not an easy thing to have.

But it is possible.

You can create something beautiful.

I’ve got your back.

Enjoy the benefits of building your business with the end in mind!

Love what you’re reading? Pin it!

It makes life so much easier. 😍

Sometimes we needs rules to keep us on mission.