Are You “Shoulding” Yourself?

After writing last month’s article on goal setting, I thought I had wrapped up everything I needed and wanted to say concerning the topic of goals.  Then I realized I had left something out.  Something important.

If you have been following along, you now know that when someone finally uncovers their true “why” for wanting to accomplish something, and when that goal is in line with their personal values and priorities, goal attainment increases significantly.

The problem I routinely face is that most folks are not in this boat.  Instead of having goals that run through the above filter, they often have what I would refer to as “should” goals.

When I’m meeting with a client or possible would-be client and I hear a statement such as “I should lose 10 pounds”, I know immediately we are facing an uphill battle.  A good coach is always listening and observing, even when you don’t think they are…and, even when you think it’s irrelevant.

What the use of the word “should” here really means is – I would like to do this but I’m not quite sold on it yet.  There can be countless reasons as to why this might be true, but in my opinion, it usually comes down to the fact that the goal is not of extreme significance to the particular individual.  

It might be of significant importance to someone else, or a perceived someone else, but it isn’t to them.  It now becomes my job to help them unravel this so that it does.  And when I finally hear them say “I want, need, or have to lose 10 pounds”, I know we are on the right track.

If this sounds like you, I don’t want you to feel bad.  Should goals have become the norm these days.  Everyone has them and few accomplish them.  Even the super successful who have accomplished things we can’t even dream of probably have a should goal or two tucked away that they aren’t sold on yet.

The key point here is being able to recognize them.  If you keep struggling over and over again to achieve the same goal, simply stop and ask yourself, “Is this a should goal?”

To bring this back to my scope of practice, I’m continually observing people that think they should run or do some other type of exercise, even though they hate it because that’s what “fit people” do.

They think they should look like the people on magazine covers because that’s what “fit people” look like.

They think they should be leaner, even if it’s not right for them, and even if they have made amazing progress already because that is what “fit people” are.

Or they think they should have worked harder even if they did their best.

All things that are of importance to other people and for other reasons, just not to them.  The other day I heard someone say the phrase “you might not want the things you think you want.”  It kind of hit home with me and I think it applies perfectly here.

Having should goals lends itself beautifully to the art of comparison.  And in most cases, it’s comparing yourself to those who have more of what you think you want.  

When you compare it’s also likely you’ll soon start to despair.

When you “compare and despair” you start to convince yourself that everyone is fitter, leaner, more healthy, and better than you are.  You then find yourself creating your own “if-then” rules such as:


  • If I just lose 10 pounds then I should be happy.” 
  • If I can just figure out the perfect diet and training program then I should have the perfect life and all of my problems will go away.”

I wish I could tell you that this was true but experience and observation have taught me otherwise.  I have found that constant comparison is instead, the killer of all joy.  

Let’s face it.  There is always going to be someone out there that is fitter, leaner, and a little more healthy.  The numbers simply bear this out.

When we compare and despair we fail to recognize our successes and don’t take into account the values, priorities, goals, life circumstances, and the why of those we are comparing ourselves to.  When we strive to be someone else, the best we can ever be is second best.

Are you unsure if having should goals has been a problem for you?  The following are some guidelines:


  • The right kind of goals will motivate and inspire you.  Should goals demotivate and deflate you.
  • The right kind of goals will keep you focused and thinking and behaving clearly.  Should goals will leave you anxious, scattered, and wandering aimlessly.  
  • The right kind of goals will inspire you to take action immediately.  Should goals will leave you feeling paralyzed.

Finally, if you continue to find that your behaviors are not in line with your stated goals, it’s quite likely you have a case of the shoulds.