How “I Should” Undermines “I Want” And Creates Anxiety

I should go on another date with that guy because he’s super nice.

I should go to the party because people are expecting to see me there.

I should keep taking these classes because I’m super close to finishing my degree.

I just feel like I should do it, you know?

Sound familiar?

That guy you’re dating ticks all the boxes on the “stable partner list”, and even though you’re bored out of your mind, you keep seeing him.

You’re exhausted from a long week of work, but your friends REALLY want you to come to the party, so you show up.

Going after that law degree because “we’re a family of lawyers” is sucking the life out of you, but you’re so close to finishing, so you try.

But none of it feels good.

And some of it makes you feel anxious.


Because “the shoulds” aren’t aligned with your own values.

In this post, I discuss:

  • The exact questions that help you identify the “I shoulds” that are running your life
  • One method to help you get clear on your own personal values
  • Questions to ask when considering how “I shoulds” are cat-fighting with your values
  • A simple way to voice what’s good for you instead

The “I Shoulds” That Are Running Your Life

Saying “I should” often indicates that you’re going to do something you don’t want to do.

And yeah, unless you’re a celebrity diva, sometimes “I shoulds” are a fact of life.

But if you’re placating to the “I shoulds”, then your actions and life are not in alignment with what you want – not in alignment with what you value.

This is a concept discussed in Louise Hay’s book “You Can Heal Your Life”.

Today, I am taking what I learned from Louise’s book and putting a mindful-art spin on it.

Louise’s “I Should” Exercise

First, take out a piece of paper and write “I should” at the top.

Write down all of the “I should” statements that come to mind.

You may wish to focus on certain areas of your life, such as:

  • Day-to-day life
  • Health
  • Wellness
  • Work
  • Finances
  • Current relationships
  • Past relationships
  • Childhood experiences

Next, read your list out loud but begin each statement with “If I really wanted to, I could…”

When it comes to those things that you haven’t done, answer the question “Why haven’t you?”

What you may find is that you struggle or feel resistance to meeting the “I shoulds” because “I don’t want to”.

A Mindful-Art Spin

You can take her exercise a little further and connect what you’re thinking and feeling to your own body with the following exercise.

Close your eyes and meditate on those “I should” statements.

Where do you feel them in your body, what does it feel like, and what color represents this feeling?

For me, the “I shoulds” feel like grey, stagnant energy hovering over my heart.

Want to put a mindful art spin on the health and wellness values you identified above? I put together this Contemplative Coloring Book filled with mandalas and journal questions to help you visualize a future of health and wellness balance.


Because you don’t often discuss your values directly, you may not have the right language to describe them.

So check out a list of values to help you gain clarity.

Next, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Thinking back on meaningful experiences, what values did I uphold then?
  2. Thinking back to a time when I felt angry, frustrated, or upset, what values were being rejected or suppressed by others?
  3. Finish the statements “I would never…” and “I will always…”
  4. When thinking of the people I love most, what I admire about them is…

To help clarify your values further define them in a way that is personally meaningful to you.

For instance, what I value more than almost anything is “freedom”.

How I define freedom as a value is “Freedom to explore, learn, grow, and exercise new knowledge without constraints and expectations of others.”

A Mindful-Art Spin

Just as you did before, close your eyes and meditate on your value definitions.

Where do you feel it in your body, how does it feel, and what colors do you see?

For me, meditating on my value definition of freedom creates a feeling of levity and calm in my upper body that is light blue.


To understand how the “I shoulds” impact your ability to live according to your values, answer the following:

  1. When I [actions you do/do not take in response to the “I shoulds”], my value of [value] is not met because [x, y, z].
  2. The actions I could take instead are [x, y, z].
  3. And they align to my value definition in the following ways: [x, y, z].

Understanding that some of your actions may not be helping you live according to your values and seeing that there are alternatives you could take, is there anything that would stop you from committing to those alternatives?

Here’s what to expect at this point:

  • You may have hit a roadblock and may benefit from working with a therapist.
  • You may have realized that the only thing that was stopping you from committing to those alternatives was that you simply were not aware of how you were living out of alignment. And now you’re golden.
  • Or you may have realized that many of your habits are keeping you from living in alignment with values.

As a health coach, I can be your guide and mentor in helping you navigate those habits that are impacting your health and wellness.


In any case, go back to Question # 2 above and say those actions out loud but begin your statements with “What would be good for me is…”

If you find it difficult to say ‘no’ when other’s ask you to do things that don’t align with your values –  if you find it difficult to let go of the “I shoulds” rolling around in your own mind – try voicing what would be good for you instead.

No. People will not be offended by speaking clearly about your own values.

In fact, the right people will respect you more.

Now that you’re aware of the actions you could take to live in alignment with your values, are you committed to these actions?

Are you committed to doing what would be good for you?

Want to put a mindful art spin on the health and wellness values you identified above? I put together this Contemplative Coloring Book filled with mandalas and journal questions to help you visualize a future of health and wellness balance.

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