I Should vs I Could

How many times a week do you find yourself saying to yourself, or others, the words ‘I should….’?

  • I should feel happy about this…
  • I should eat more healthily…
  • I should have moved on by now…
  • I should apply for that job…
  • I should try harder…
  • I should be doing more…
  • I should exercise more frequently…
  • I should go to bed earlier…

In this context, when you say those two words, what does the implication of it mean? How do you interpret it? How do you act? Or not act? What weight and power do those words hold over you?

Firstly, you set the scene up to sound like you’re on the back foot, that you’re behind where you think you need to be. That you’ve let yourself down and that you’re not doing what ought to be done to get there. It feels like you’re in a constant uphill struggle where you aren’t quite hitting the mark.

uphill escalator

Secondly, and most importantly, the ‘should’ places the value of the sentence extrinsically. It is the external consequences, rewards, pressures or expectations upon you that are driving those sayings. Another comment frequently goes hand in hand with this is; ‘What will others think or say about this and about me?’

I add the word ‘expectation’ into the previous paragraph very loosely, as if you were to ask the people you assume are ‘expecting’ you to do what you repeatedly say to yourself that you should be doing, most would probably look back at you bemused and say they had no expectations on you in first place! This can also be applied to the external pressures and consequences too.

Here in lies the problem.

This extrinsic pressure is more often than not something that we have created from within ourselves (albeit most likely influenced by experiences that have shaped us in our younger years), and now has nothing to do with anybody else. It is in this projection that we put onto others unknowingly which we then mirror back to ourselves, fuelling the sense of guilt, failure, lack of drive, or inadequacy we feel when we ‘should’ have done something and didn’t.


(This isn’t to say that external pressures from others don’t exist, in some cases of course they do, but that will be the focus of a separate blog post).

So what could be an alternative of the phrase ‘I should’? How can you start to look at changing this self-imposed mindset?

The Power of Could

What if you switched out the word ‘should’ with ‘could’?

I should feel happy about this I could feel happy about this
I should eat more healthily I could eat more healthily
I should have moved on by now I could have moved on by now
I should apply for that job I could apply for that job
I should try harder I could try harder
I should be doing more I could be doing more
I should exercise more frequently I could exercise more frequently
I should go to bed earlier I could go to bed earlier

The power of the subtle shift from ‘sh’ to ‘c’ is a huge one.

When you say ‘could’ you hand the power back to yourself.

Where ‘should’ implies an expectation from others, ‘could’ reminds you that you’re in control, that ultimately you’re the one deciding why you have or haven’t done something based off of your own reasons.

I could =

  • Possibilities of change ahead by looking through a positive lens.
  • Regaining power of the action or inaction.
  • Opens up options that there’s more than one way to approach the situation.
  • Puts you in the driving seat to analyse properly why you haven’t done what you ‘could’ be doing and decide whether it’s for a legitimate reason, if there are other competing priorities, or if there’s another deeper reason why you aren’t doing it.

It also puts the ball firmly in your court for deciding and exploring options of how you want to move forward, and that whatever choice you make it’s on your terms and is your choice, and that you are 100% responsible for it.

ball on beach

Why Am I Sharing This With You?

Language is hugely powerful, and if you aren’t consciously paying attention to how much the small details within words can affect your thoughts and determine your actions, by the weight and messages that they subconsciously hold, you will struggle to find your real sense of power to harness it to achieve what you want.

If you really desire long-lasting change in your actions and habits then searching for the right words to tell yourself have to be the first place you start doing something differently. This takes time and sometimes lot of practise depending on how engrained the behaviour is within you.


But if you want to move forward with shifting something in your life then these small bite-size changes added into your daily routine, along with some perseverence, will eventually mean you won’t have to consciously think about these language choices, they’ll just happen. Then watch to see the matching positive actions from yourself start to follow suit.

How To Add ‘Could vs Should’ To Your Daily Language Toolkit

As with any change to habit, it’s important to start small and then build up from there;

  1. Focus on 1 -3 key sentences where you find yourself frequently saying ‘I should…’
  2. Write them down on a piece of paper or on your phone / laptop / tablet.
  3. Then re-write them with ‘I could….’ instead, and write down all the ways that the sentence(s) change because of that.
  4. Write down or think about the difference in how you feel when you switch ‘should’ with ‘could’
  5. Put the paper somewhere prominent where you will see it every day. If you’ve saved your sentences electronically its a good idea to put your list as your screensaver so you see it frequently.
  6. Anytime you find yourself saying in your head, or out loud to others, these 1 – 3 focus sentences you’ve chosen, ensure that you stop yourself and change the ‘should’ to ‘could’ – repeating the corrected sentence out loud is a good way to start solidifying this new language use.
  7. Repeat point number 6.
  8. Re-read number 5 often.
  9. Repeat point number 6.
  10. Repeat point number 6.
  11. Re-read number 5 often
  12. Repeat point number 6.
  13. Repeat point number 6.
  14. Repeat point number 6.
  15. I think you get the jist of where there rest of the list is going!

From that point forward then keep adding more phrases once the ones you have been working on are said as  ‘I could…’ without having to consciously think about it or correct yourself. That is the point at which you’ll have been success created a new positive habit for yourself!

This is where change starts.

Understanding your power and realising where it currently lies and who else you have given it to, both knowingly or unknowingly.

Take that power back from your words having control over you to you having control over your words.

The power of using the correct ones will make all the difference.

*If you would like information on the Business & Personal Coaching services that I offer and pricings, please do go to my Coaching Services page or email me via my Contact page.

Angela Gault




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