From Should to Could

"I’m a perfectionist!"

Have those words ever come out of your mouth? Mine to! Truth is… there are no perfectionist, only imperfectionist!

The favorite word of the perfectionist set on replay... SHOULD! This one well-worn word becomes a prefix to many a negative thought that runs like a ticker-tape across the mind and spews out as it shoulds all over self and others (Should enjoys company).

Should loves to take over the conversation and put self/others in a place of fault, shame, guilt, and often… hopelessness.

I had a recent incident that was packed with it an extremely high level of stress with me needing to make some difficult decisions. While in the turmoil the Shoulds were running unchecked just waiting to make an appearance. After the said event, Should kicked me in the butt for any place I felt I had messed up; regardless if I really had or not. That's the meanspirited nature of Should, it only sees the gaps. By the end of the day, I was an anxious mess, ruminating on all my supposed failures.

What Should is good at:

Setting expectations at a ridiculously high bar not actually steeped in reality, much less achievability.

Needling us with incessant demands of perfection without error.

Pointing out fault with a special emphasis on exactly how we suck while dogpiling on condemnation.

Showing the distance from where we are to just how far we haven’t gone.

Handing us a self-flagellation stick with which to beat ourselves.

Encouraging us to wallow in anger, frustration, disappointment, and shame.

What Should is not good at:

Consistently curtailing the actions it deems unacceptable.

An accurate picture of reality.

Leaving any room for grace or mercy.

Extending any understanding, compassion, or empathy.

Opening one up for growth.

Should presupposes we can be perfect, to not make a mistake.

Logically we know this not to be true yet we fall for it over and over again because Should is shady like that. Why else would we live and expect others to live in adherence to Should if we didn’t believe it was actually attainable?

The Church can be a breeding ground for a lifestyle of the Shoulds because we all have a mini-Pharisee in our hearts that loves to wrap us and others up in legalism. And we will weaponize Scripture to do so completely missing the Spirit of the law while peddling the letter of the law.

Should is far more the territory of the enemy than of God. God took care of Should because we could not. And because He did, we are released from the shame and tyranny of Should, and empowered to walk in victory instead of defeat.

Back to that recent incident for a moment. I was firmly in the grip of a shame spiral that was setting my stress-response system ablaze and Should was fully present.

Should keeps us from finding solutions and from pressing forward,

as we get stuck.

I decided to make a simple change in my language. I used the word COULD instead. And that one shift made a world of difference in giving myself some compassion and allowing myself to learn from my possible mistakes rather than be stunted from growth.

I started speaking out loud, “I could have done this, I could have done that.”

What Could does:

It stops the negativity as it is forward-focused.

It recognizes we have a choice.

It allows for a realization that we often make certain choices with the best knowledge we have at the time.

It gives room for good intent while acknowledging we will never do it perfectly.

Could helped me think about the future and get out of the past. I was able to press forward and have a rational discussion (not an emotionally charged one), that when I encounter something like that again, I CAN make different choices.

Could is just more powerful at bringing positive growth and change than Should. Should is restrictive and typically in the realm of condemnation.

Could is about potential, freedom, and in the realm of possibility. Could lifts us up and speaks to the truth that because the Spirit of power resides within us we indeed can!

So how do we get past the shoulds-habit?

~It starts with a desire to let it go. What is Should doing for you? Seriously, take a moment and think through that. There is a hook to Should that we fall for time and time again. The sooner you come to figure that out the sooner you begin to disarm Should.

~Begin to notice the fallacy in Should. Should is often to keep yourself or others in line. But it rarely delivers on its promise and without fail leaves a wake of disappointment. So Should is ineffective… perhaps there is another way?

~Begin to practice some Should-awareness. Stopping and noticing when Should is swirling about in your thoughts or flying out of your mouth will help you begin to catch it in the act. If need be, set up a “Should jar.”

~Then you can begin to make an active and conscious choice to thwart Should when it rears its ugly head. Change your language. Change it in your thoughts, change it in your speech. You need a replacement word, a concept, in the place of Should so you have something more positive and proactive filling the void.

Replace it with Could.

Give this a try. See and feel the difference one word can make when moving from Should to Could.


Explore here for more Insights from the Journey

Subscribe and never miss an Insight from the Journey post...


Join My Mailing List

Let me know how Insights has blessed you or share your story ~ Contact Me

© 2020 by Insights from the Journey. Proudly created with

  • White Facebook Icon


Who made heaven and earth,

The sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever.

Psalm 146:6