Sure, you may be thinking that word might be “hate,” “poverty,” “illness,” or “death.” No, these words are mild compared to the life-sucking, contentment-robbing, depression-boosting, anxiety-causing and anger-building word I’m thinking of.

That word is “should.” In the wonderful words of my mentor and teacher, Albert Ellis, Ph.D., “Should-hood leads to shit-hood.” He also observed, “It’s far better to masturbate than MUSTurbate.” Yes, he was a straight talking guy.

It appears that of all the thoughts people hold onto, the most harmful ideas are that:
1. they should be a certain way, should do well
2. others should treat them well, and
3. life for them should be filled in a certain way and be fair

The idea, the nutty idea, that things should be the way you demand them to be is extreme. It’s extreme in that you believe, down deep, that nothing could be worse than something not being as you think is should be.

A non-extreme version of this thinking relies on the belief that it can always be worse. Sure you’d like to do well in life, but it’s not awful if you don’t, right? Of course you’d prefer people to treat you well but they don’t have to and it’s not horrible if they don’t. And while it would be better if life was fair, it might be bad if it’s not, but it’s not a terminal disease.

See someone more talented than you? Better off financially? Healthier? Enjoying a better relationship? Driving a nicer car? Living in a finer neighborhood or in a larger home? Better job? Better looking? Of course you do.

When you think you should have all that, it should be yours, you’ll make yourself depressed thinking, “I’m a loser because I don’t have what I should have.” Or, you’ll make yourself angry thinking, “It’s horrible, terrible and awful that I don’t have what I should have and I can’t stand it!!!!” Or you’ll make yourself anxious thinking, “Uh oh, why don’t I have what I should have? What bad thing is happening to me? Will other terrible things happen to me and I’ll lose even the little that I have?”

Depressed, angry and anxious are far from being content. That harmful word should causes despair, feeling inferior and propels you to continually compete with others but never win.

What’s wrong with running your own race? What’s wrong with recognizing that what you have and are moving towards is exactly what was designed for you? That’s contentment thinking. That’s secure thinking. That’s healthy thinking. Why not be what YOU are meant to be, instead of demanding, insisting and expecting (D.I.E.) that you should have and be like someone else?

Where did this erroneous, harmful thinking start? What goes on in society, the media, marketing, advertising, schools, playgrounds, camps, work, that creates this idea that the other person’s suitcase is filled with what I should have? It’s destructive, harmful and is the type of thinking that separates us from one another. It kills kindness between people.

Want to get rid of this cancerous word? Here are the steps to be more mindful of stepping in a pile of should:

1. Catch yourself shoulding on yourself, shoulding on others or shoulding on your life
2. Challenge the should by asking “Who says I should have that, should be that, should look like that or should not have to struggle with what I am struggling with in life?” Ask yourself it it’s absolutely true that something should be different. Recognize how thinking something should be different than it is, leaves you feeling. How might things be like for you if you didn’t should on yourself or others?
3. Change it with a simple, “I’d prefer…” Ask yourself when you hear that should if you really mean you “prefer, want, wish, would like” something.
4. Create a should-free zone, a place or a time that is filled with preferences and wants, not shoulds.

You see, we might all like things to be different. That seems pretty common and normal. When we don’t have things we’d like to have, we prefer to have, sigh, oh well, that’s a bit disappointing. But that doesn’t kill our contentment. Up it a notch to ten to “I should have that and I don’t…” and the end result is inevitably “…awful, terrible and horrible.” While the truth is, of course, it’s none of those at all. It’s only too bad, or unfortunate.

Try this on: “I may not be the best _____ in the world and that’s OK, but I am going to be the best _____ that I can be.” See the difference? Staying in your lane, running your race, being the best you were designed and created to be makes sense. But be careful. Thinking you should be better than you are can lead you to insecurity, negativity, and labeling yourself a loser—if for some reason you don’t become better as you think you should.

The Junior Varsity believes “I will be the best,” “I will get the promotion,” “I will succeed.” The Varsity believes, “Nobody says I should be the best,” “I don’t have to get the promotion,” “It’d be nice to succeed, it’d be a good idea, but I can live content regardless if I don’t.” See the difference? In the JV team, that should is removed with a pat on the back and a wink that says, “Yes you will.” The Varsity players fully remove the should and change it to an “It’d be nice,” “I don’t have to,” “I can be content regardless.”

They run their race. The Varsity players stay in their own lane. The winners win being and giving it their best, not feeling like losers because they weren’t someone else. Be what you were created to be. That’s success. Be angry and complain that you aren’t someone else and you’re destined for a life of unhappiness.

It’s your choice. Always.

Author's Bio: 

Michael R. Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, where he wrote his thesis on the psychological aspects of obesity. His career includes serving as the Chief Psychologist for Children’s Hospital in San Diego, and as the founding Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He served on the faculty of UCSD’s School of Medicine, Dept. of Psychiatry. After 40 years of diagnosing and treating those with mental illness, he has fully retired from clinical practice---and as he describes, is now “reFired” and “reWired.”

He now provides advanced behavior agility coaching/mentoring for sustainable strategic outcomes in mindful, values driven and positively adaptive ways to business leaders, entrepreneurs, athletes, individuals, families and organizations to reach breakthrough levels of success and significance in their professional and personal lives. He focuses on five key functions of human performance, agility, coordination, endurance, balance and strength for optimal interpersonal fitness.

Michael is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Council on Active Aging, the Chief Consultant for Behavior Science for the Premier Fitness Camp at Omni La Costa, and served as the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for the American Council on Exercise. He travels the world speaking with fitness and health professionals to provide the most current thinking and tools for behavior change. He has been a member of SAG/AFTRA since 1981, having appeared regularly on Good Morning America, as well as numerous talk shows and weekly appearances on TV and radio news.

Michael is an Organizational Advisor to Fitwall, Rock My Run, amSTATZ, speaks for Rancho La Puerta and the Asia Fitness Convention in Bangkok, in addition to numerous other fitness-health organizations throughout the nation. He is interviewed frequently for fitness and health magazines including Details Magazine, Men’s Health USA and UK, Women’s Health US and UK, Weight Watchers, Shape, Natural Health, Real Simple, Women’s World, MetRx, Better Homes and Gardens and a host of others in the optimal health/wellness/fitness world. He has written and spoken for the International Council on Active Aging, the Medical Fitness Association, Athletic Business,, IHRSA, IDEA, and a host of other professional organizations in the health and fitness fields. He has been a keynote speaker/presenter for the University of California’s FitCon, UCLA’s “Stress Less Week,” and UC-Irvine’s “Building Healthy Academic Communities.”

He is a best-selling author of three books including the 25th Anniversary updated edition of his 1988 original “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, P.S. It’s All Small Stuff,” and his 1996, “Ticking Bombs: Defusing Violence in the Workplace.” He is listed in’s 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.” His fourth book is due out soon.