Should I or Shouldn't I? How to Decide“I should go to Jerry’s birthday dinner even though I’m tired and don’t even really feel that close with Jerry.” “I should go work out and run to the bank, but I don’t feel like fighting the traffic, parking, or lines.”

How many of you are saying “should” to yourself or others, or listening to others tell you they “should” do this and that, most of the day?

And how many of you who use “should” as a daily part of your life feel guilty, depressed, anxious, or like a failure for not accomplishing your “should”? How many of you feel annoyed and irritated with those around you who frequently share what they “should” do and then complain because they didn’t do what they say they feel like they “should” do?

What would happen if you turned the “should” into “want”? For example, instead of saying “I should go to Jerry’s birthday dinner even though I’m tired and don’t even really feel like I’m that close to Jerry,” try saying, “I want to go to Jerry’s birthday dinner even though I’m tired and don’t feel very close with Jerry.”

Do you sense the difference? You may feel less obligated, less torn about what to do, and may find it easier to figure out the answer. You may also feel more in control of figuring out what you really want to do.

After turning the “should” into “want,” ask yourself “do I want to do this?”

For example, instead of “should I help Tina with her grocery shopping?” try changing it to “do I want to help Tina with her grocery shopping?”

Then weigh the consequences and rewards of your decision, and your level of comfort with it. The guilt, anxiety, depression, and sense of failure you usually experience when trying to make a decision based primarily on “should” vs. “want” may be alleviated. Your inner critic may be minimized, and maybe even silenced over time.

You also may become more clear with yourself on what you want. Ultimately you can use this clarity to help you set boundaries. People who use “should” to make decisions frequently struggle with boundary-setting. That leads to doing things they don’t really want to do, which leads to resentment and irritation toward themselves and others.

Obviously, there are certain things in your life that you are required to do regardless of whether you want to. However, even in these instances trying to think in terms of “want” vs. “should” may help you to take a pause and reevaluate why you are doing tasks that make you unhappy.

For example, almost everyone is required to work, and many are working in jobs or fields they don’t really enjoy. Perhaps, by examining the reasons you “don’t want” to work in your current job will help you start thinking about what type of job or work you eventually “want” to work in down the road.

Changing the “should” to “want” is not always feasible, but it may help you make some decisions and change some of your feelings related to these decisions. It may also help you weigh the consequences and rewards more clearly when trying to make decisions.

So next time you find yourself saying “I should go to Sabrina’s baby shower” or “I should to go Dave’s happy hour,” simply try replacing the “should” with “want” and see what happens.



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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Oct 2012
    Published on All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Sadlovsky, M. (2012). Should I or Shouldn’t I? How to Decide. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 22, 2015, from


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