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  • Writer's picturelarahammock

Are You Doing What You "Want" or What You "Should"?

Most of us have an inner voice. For some of us, our inner voice is full of criticisms and mandates. It’s a bit of a taskmaster. “You shouldn’t eat that cookie.“ “You really should call your mother back.“ “Instead of just sitting there, you should put on your sneakers and go for a run.“ This inner voice has a lot of ideas about how you should be living your life.


The problem is, a critical inner voice is inherently shaming. The implication is that you should be doing a lot of things that you’re not doing. It makes us feel like we are not enough as we are, and that we need to be doing different things in order to be acceptable or worthy.

Not Our Values

The other major problem with this style of inner voice is that it’s not necessarily indicative of what we want for ourselves. Instead, it tells us what others expect from us — parents, teachers, coworkers, society in general — you get the picture. And because that critical inner voice doesn’t always align with what we want, it’s typical to feel quite a bit of resistance to its demands. So, many times, we do not do what our inner voice is telling us to do, and that makes us feel even worse about ourselves.

Replace “Should” with “Want”

In order to get to know yourself better, try this experiment: whenever you notice that your inner voice is telling you something to do, replace “should” with “want to.” So, when your critical inner voice is saying “you really should call your mother back.“ Change that to “I really want to call my mother back.” Now consider that new statement and see how it feels viscerally in your body. Does it feel true? Does it feel like a lie? Do you really not want to call your mother back? Maybe you don’t, but now try adding another “want to“ clause to that statement. For example “I really want to call my mother back, because I want my mother to feel happier.“ How does that statement fell in your body? Does it feel true? If so, consider how that changes your motivation to do that task.

This is not some kind of trick to get you to call your mother back! Instead, it is a way to challenge your inner voice and determine what things are really important to you. And the curious thing is, once you determine what you want to do and why, you’re much more likely to do it. Even if you still feel a bit of resistance.

1 Week Experiment

Try this experiment for a week: change every “should” statement to a “want to” statement. And if, even after adding additional “want to” clauses, that statement still does not feel true to you — don’t do it! Give yourself permission not to do the things you don’t really want to do. Note: try not to let this impact your livelihood! In other words, don’t experiment with job-critical tasks (although frankly, most of those can be turned into statements like “I want to complete this report, because I want to keep my job.“)


After a week of not doing things because you “should”, but because you “want to,” what did you learn about yourself? Are you doing things because you think you should, but don’t actually want to? Were you able to get more clear on why you actually wanted to do certain things? How many things did you decide not to do after this? How many things did you increase your internal motivation for doing?

Let me know what you think! Comments are always appreciated and welcome.

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