"Just" is the New "Should"

Feb. 19th, 2018

Much has been written and spoken about the word “should”. It is such a common yet such an insidiously harmful word. I first was introduced to the concept of eliminating “should” from one’s thoughts and words by Nonviolent Communication. And I really liked the point made in this post on Tiny Buddha about when we use the word “should”, we are not accepting reality. This struck me profoundly.

I sometimes assist my clients in watching out for “should”s in their language and lately I’ve been realizing there’s a new kid on the block. Move over “should”, “just” is here to take over your territory. All the guilt and shame of “should”, now with more reasons to beat ourselves up!

I found myself asking a client “Hang on, when you said “just”, what did that word mean?” The answer was she was trying to convince herself that a task was easy, simple, and quick. Which is good, in theory. No reason to build something up to be scary and complex when that is not the case. The problem though, as with so many things when it comes to ADHD, is that it really was complex, carrying a certain amount of resistance, and would take longer than originally planned. So when the word “just” was used in that statement, it was saying “This is such a simple and easy task, what right do you have to not want to do it?”

And that’s an example of what happens when “should” and “just” act separately! What about when they team up? For example: “I should just meditate more often.” My translation? “Everybody is telling me meditation would help me. That means I am a bad person if I don’t do it. I’m not taking steps to improve my life and that means I don’t deserve a better life. And meditation so easy and simple! I am an even worse person for not doing it.” Wow. What a pile of guilt and shame.

When I hear a client use the word “should” and then correct themselves, struggling for a replacement word, I will sometimes offer “Did you mean ‘it would benefit me if I’?” And they often gratefully grasp hold of that statement. “It would benefit me if I meditated.”

When it comes to “just” other, more compassionate alternatives can also be found. When I use the word “just”, it typically means the thing I’m intending to do would be of greater benefit to me if it took less time, and also that this same task usually takes me much longer than I’d prefer it to. “I’ll just take out the garbage.” Actually taking it out takes a few minutes. The procrastination can take anywhere from several more minutes to days.

The trick is examining our language to find out what we are really trying to say. I’ll sometimes say “And if I do this, it should work.” What I mean is “All things being equal and with the information I currently have, this cake recipe will turn out delicious.” Which is innocuous. I have no problem using the word “should” in this context because I know I am using language that’s not harmful to me. When I’m using language to beat myself up, however, that’s when I really need to pause and consider, then change what I’m saying to myself. “I really resist taking out the garbage, so how can I motivate myself to do it in a timely manner?”

What words do you use to beat yourself up?