Watch Your Language, Reclaim Your Power

Do you ever find yourself thinking or saying to yourself, “Ugh!!! I shouldn’t have said that.” or “I don’t know if should do this.” or “I shouldn’t say that.”? Or what about “I have to do such and such” or “I need to go to that place”?

I know I used to use language like this frequently. Like the every day, all the time kind of frequently. Sometimes I still catch myself.

Today’s post is all about how using words like “should”, “have to” and “need to” are actually disempowering, and how to reclaim your power using different language.

The language we use with ourselves matters. It matters a lot. I’ve previously talked about how things that we repeat carve out neurological pathways in our brains. The use of language is no different.

“Shoulding” all over yourself

What’s so bad about “should”? It seems innocuous enough.

Actually, it can be insidious.

Should comes with a lot of baggage, because it inherently involves a value judgement.

It implies moral weight, or a “right” versus a “wrong” decision. And it can instigate guilt within you if you don’t do or say the thing that you “should”. It can sow the seeds for judgement of yourself and others.

Because if you do the thing you “should” do, then this time around you feel good about yourself, but did you make the decision because you felt it was right for you? Or did you make it because someone else said you “should”?

Or perhaps you did the thing you “should” do but then someone else doesn’t do the thing that you think they “should” so then you end up judging them. Which doesn’t do a thing to add to the quality or value or your own life.

And then if next time you don’t do the thing you “should” do, it comes with guilt. And remember the judgement? You end up turning that judgement around on yourself for doing the thing you “shouldn’t” do. Which also doesn’t do a thing to improve the quality or your life or add any happiness or value to you.

What about “have to” and “need to”?

Thinking about “have to” and “need to” is slightly less insidious. But if you use this language, you’re still giving away all your power.

Yes, we all have responsibilities. But all of these are CHOICES. We have choice. Like I’ve said before, unless you’re incarcerated or otherwise literally enslaved (which you likely aren’t if you have access to read this), every action you take is fully a choice.

We often like to think that we have less choice than we do. It’s easier to imagine we have less choice than we do, because then we’re not fully responsible for our decisions or daily life. But we do. Each of us is fully responsible for our own decisions, and for living with our decisions.

Coming back to language, when you “have to” or “need to”, you are saying that you have no choice. Which does not serve your empowerment and does not add to the quality of your life.

Maybe temporarily it feels like a shelter, because then you’re this helpless person that life just happens to. But I suspect if you’re into this blog, you’re someone who wants to be happy.

You’re someone who recognizes that you can’t just wait for happiness to find you. You recognize that you can, in fact, drive the quality of your life and wellbeing and power by the choices that you make, big and small.

Saying you “have to” or “need to” do something gives away your power. Enough of that. Let’s look at how you can reclaim your power with your choice of words.

Reframe to reclaim

Language is a fascinating tool. It can be molded and texturized and chopped and kneaded, not unlike cooking. You can reframe any question or statement to be empowering.

Questions that begin with “what” and “how” tend to be more empowering than “should” questions.

For example:

  • Disempowered: “Should I take that client/job offer?”
  • Empowered: “What value do I expect from taking that client/job offer? What drawbacks might I expect from taking it?”

  • Disempowered: “Should I go to the gym tomorrow morning?”
  • Empowered: “How will it serve me and my goals to use my time tomorrow morning? Will I be happy with my choice if I go to the gym?”

Statements that focus on what you’re choosing to do or what you’re going to do (with reasons or without) are more empowering than “should” statements.

For example:

  • Disempowered: “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
  • Empowered: “I don’t like feeling this way. It feels icky.”
  • Bonus: It’s even more empowering to follow it up with an empowering question such as, “What can I do to help myself feel better?”

  • Disempowered: “I should get the salad with my burger instead of the fries.”
  • Empowered: “I’m going to get the salad with my burger.” or, “I’m going to get the fries with my burger.”
  • Bonus: Once you make the decision, take full responsibility for it. No guilt or remorse either way.

  • Disempowered: “I shouldn’t have said that to you. That was not what I intended to say.”
  • Empowered: “I know it was hurtful when I said that to you. That was not what I intended to do.”
  • Bonus: If you have said something hurtful, obviously an apology is always helpful. And no qualifiers! Just take responsibility and apologize.

  • Disempowered: “I shouldn’t have said that to them. Now they probably think I’m an idiot.”
  • Empowered: “It wasn’t ideal to say that to them. In the future, I will rephrase and instead say, xyz…”
  • Bonus: No stinking thinking! Most of the time, people aren’t obsessing about what tiny thing you said (unless it was personally directed and/or really out of place or character). So take responsibility for your words and figure out how you’ll choose different words next time.

  • Disempowered: “I have to run errands after work.”
  • Empowered: “I am going to run errands after work.” or, “I want to run errands after work so that they will be off my mental to-do list.”

  • Disempowered: “I have to pick up my kids from daycare.”
  • Empowered: “I am going to pick up my kids from daycare.”

Don’t worry, you’re not slacking off on responsibilities

Remember, just because you’re not saying “have to”, “need to” and “should” doesn’t mean you’re neglecting any responsibilities. It just means you’re fully taking ownership of your actions. It means you’re taking back your power. Really, you’re doing the very opposite of slacking off.

Even with the example on picking up your kids, of course you would never imagine leaving your kids at daycare or school! But do you notice the difference in how it feels to say the more empowered version? Try saying both versions again and see how it feels (even if you don’t have children).

  • Disempowered: “I have to pick up my kids from daycare.”
  • Empowered: “I am going to pick up my kids from daycare.”

Really let yourself experience how it feels to say both. Say them both a couple more times until you notice the difference in how it feels to say both options.

Not only does it feel different to say the empowered version, it also means you’re allowing more latitude to make different choices at any time.

For example, you don’t necessarily always or forever HAVE TO pick your kids up.

Maybe you reach a point that you choose to start asking a partner to pick them up, or you hire a nanny and get them to pick the kids up. Or maybe you’re perfectly happy to pick them up so you remove the sense of obligation and fully immerse yourself in the joy of picking them up.

It’s in this arena that your language becomes particularly important.

You can always make different choices. The choices are not necessarily the opposite choices. Maybe they’re just different. Maybe the choices shift ever so slightly enough that they are serving you and adding to the quality of your life.

I recommend giving this a go for a couple days to start, and notice how it feels. It might feel a bit awkward at first. But that’s okay. It’s also okay to catch yourself saying to someone, “I have to…” and then revising and saying, “Actually what I mean is that I’m going to…”.

You have nothing to lose by experimenting with this. So stop “shoulding” all over yourself and take your power back!!!


I am not being compensated to reference these resources.

  • Brain Software with Mike Mandel (a podcast by Mike Mandel and Chris Thompson)
  • Living a Life of Awareness by don Miguel Ruiz, Jr.

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