Living More AuthenticallyThe Way of Compassion

The Two Most Important Words to Drop From Your Life (and How to Do It)

By January 19, 2009 One Comment

I want you to get rid of two toxins in your life, two little devils. They show up in the form of two words: need and should.
I want you to get a taste of living free of them, and to experience life without them. And I want that freedom for myself too.
This week, watch your speech and thought for these two terms, and replace them with alternatives that love you better. We’ll explore those alternatives here.
What Are Your “Should” And “Need Thoughts” Doing to You?
You know those “should” and “need” thoughts. Sometimes they come about the little things:
“I need to wash the dishes now.” “I should go to bed early tonight.” “I need to improve the presentation.”
And sometimes they come about the big things:
“I should start looking for a new job.” “I need to repair my relationship with my father.” “I should be a better parent.”
Call up a few examples of should or need thoughts that are in your life these days. Review them mentally, or, even better, write them down. As you do so, notice: what sensations do these thoughts evoke in your body? Do they create feelings of openness or constriction, peace or stress? What is their effect on you?
Here’s what is true for me: needs and shoulds are not very inspiring. In fact, they are always at least mildly depressing. They feel like a burden, they put a subtle yoke on my shoulders. This effect is so subtle, and our use of these words so habitual, that for a long time I didn’t even feel it.
Why do these words have this impact? I think there are two reasons:

  1. They reflect lazy, imprecise thinking that hides the truth
  2. The are based on lies that send a destructive message to your heart

The Three Big Lies of ‘Need” and “Should”

What are you really saying to yourself when you have a “should” or “need” thought?
Lie #1: Obligation. You are telling yourself: I am not at choice. I am obligated. I am a person who takes actions out of obligation and constraint.” That’s a lie.
Lie #2: Imperfection. Needs and shoulds are often connected to a desperate feeling that we must be different in some way (“I should be more patient, I need to lose five pounds…). This too is a lie.
Lie #3: Lack. When we use the word need, we make ourselves incomplete, as if we needing something in order to be okay or to be whole. That’s an illusion.

The Three Big Truths Hidden By “Need” and “Should”

What’s the truth?
Truth #1: Choice. You are always, always, always at choice in this life. If I say “I need to get a job,” for example, isn’t the real truth more like, “I am choosing to find a job because I made a commitment to go back to work in 2009 and I would like to honor it” or “I am choosing to get a job because I want to be able to feed myself and my family?” Underneath every need or should is always a choice you are empowered to make. Why would you diminish that by telling yourself you are doing something out of obligation?
Truth #2: Perfection. You are perfect in this moment. You don’t “need” to lose five pounds or be more patient or change yourself in any other way. You might want to, and changing yourself might have particular positive consequences, and that’s great. But you are perfect in this moment, even as you are growing, expanding, becoming more.
Truth #3: Wholeness. You are whole and complete in every moment, and your wholeness is always waiting to be brought into your own awareness. You don’t need to do or be or have anything to be whole.
On this point, its worth adding that the very concept of “need” as we use it in our culture is false. Other than food, air and water, humans don’t have “need” of any specific thing. There are always infinite pathways forward to get to any one goal. So apart from nutrients, air, and agua, …..Congratulations! You have no needs.
What Treasures Are Hiding Underneath Your “Needs” and “Shoulds”?
Not only are “should’ and “need” thoughts based on lies, but they really represent lazy, imprecise thinking.
Think about the difference between “I need to get a job” and “I am choosing to find a job because my husband was laid off and I feel responsible to now help support our family financially.” Isn’t it interesting how “need” and “should” act like a compressor, squashing many beliefs and circumstances into one little word? It’s like taking a complex scene of objects in an intricate composition and throwing a drop cloth over it.
Our task is to take the lazy, oversimplifying “should” or “need” thought and find the precise thinking and language underneath. Then, we can look at that real thought or feeling and decide if its worth holding on to. We want to hold on only to those thoughts that serve our heart, happiness and our dreams. Here’s how the process words:

Step 1: Lazy, depressing “should” or “need” thought arrives Step 2: Identify the real thought underneath, with precise thinking and language Step 3: Ask, does the real thought serve my happiness, dreams and heart?
I need to do the dishes. I want to do the dishes because I like to have a clean kitchen. 


I am choosing to do the dishes because my mother in law is coming over later and I want her approval.


I am going to do the dishes because I am just having one of those moments where I feel like I absolutely must do the dishes or the world will stop turning!



NO, I’m tired of doing things for her approval.

NO, I think that’s an irrational thought and I’ll let it go rather than act on it.

I should set the alarm for an earlier wake up time. I am having this thought that if I woke up earlier, I might feel better about my productivity. 


I have a belief that successful people get up early.


I made a commitment to start getting up earlier, and I think I’ll feel better if I honor it by setting the alarm.

YES, I’d like to try that. 



NO, that seems silly now that I’ve spelled it out.

YES, I want to honor myself in this way.

Any no’s….throw them out the window. Toss them into the trash.
With yes thoughts, go onto the next steps.
What Alternative Will Support Your Heart?
Take any “yes” thoughts, and revise the original should or need thought to a positive, more precise alternative (like those listed under Step 5 in the chart below).
Then, just to find out for yourself if all this work with “should” and “need” thoughts is worth the effort, evaluate how the two different formulations feel, what different results they yield in your life (column three).
That process looks like this:

Thought (lazy and precise versions) Step 4: Choose a positive alternative to the “need” / “should” thought Step 5: Find out the impact of the original vs. alternative thoughts
I need to do the dishes/I want to do the dishes because I like to have a clean kitchen. I want: I want to do the dishes because I like to have a clean kitchen (This was the original “more precise thought” from Step 2 above, and you might choose to stay with this one. Or you might choose an alternative from the list below. Choose whatever feels most true, sane, safe, and loving to you.) 
I choose: I am choosing to do the dishes now because I enjoy a clean kitchen.
If…then…:If I do the dishes now, I’ll enjoy the clean kitchen, and have more free time later.
By doing x, I am giving myself the gift of… :By doing the dishes, I am giving myself the gift of peaceful, serene feelings when I walk into the kitchen for the rest of the day.
Explicitly free yourself of need: I do not need to do the dishes, but I am making the choice to, because I don’t want feel bothered by this task for the rest of the day.
When I think the original thought: 
What does it feel like in my body?
How peaceful am I?
How resourceful am I?
How motivated am I?
How free do I feel?
How much fun am I having?
And when I think the alternative thought:
What does it feel like in my body?
How peaceful am I?
How resourceful am I?
How motivated am I?
How free do I feel?
How much fun am I having?

Let’s walk through one more example:
“I need support.”
Really? In what sense? Will you keel over with out it?
“No, I won’t keel over but…..I need support in order to get through this time of taking care of my mother in her illness without losing my mind!”
Need implies that you are really not going to be okay without the support. I’m not sure that’s true. Let’s tell the more precise truth.
“Well….support from my friends relaxes me a lot. I want to get through this period of taking care of my mom with as little stress as possible, so I want to build that support into my life.”
Wonderful. Those sound like sane, loving words to be telling yourself.
In your original statement, “I need support” you had made yourself and reality imperfect without support. You had sent your own heart the panic-inducing message that you needed x, something out there, to be okay. It will always be (subtly but profoundly) panic inducing to tell you heart that you need something out there, because that’s a lie, and because somethings from out there are always unreliable, unstable. In the words of that final statement, you are complete, you are whole, you are at choice. That’s who you are.
Watch Out for Sneaky Shoulds
Perhaps now your brain is absorbing this content and saying, “Okay. Got it. Should/need = bad/wrong. I should not use those two words.
Whoops! Not so much. You just created another should. Shoulds can be sneaky. Just use one of the replacements listed above, like “If…then:” “If I use the alternatives to the word should, I’ll feel more agency over my life. That’s a feeling I want and deserve.” Or “I want to stop using shoulds, just to run the experiment for a while and see how it goes.”
See what happens this week with your needs and shoulds, and let me know.
And Finally
I’m going to argue that we should consider dropping these two words not only from our vocabularies, but from the English language entirely. Can you think of any truly useful purpose they serve?
Here, my loves, is the message I want to leave you with:
You are always at choice.
You are perfect exactly as you are.
You are whole and complete in this moment.
I wish you freedom from every impulse that would tell you otherwise.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • watson says:

    lovely post. i particularly liked this sentence: “Other than food, air and water, humans don’t have “need” of any specific thing.”

    to which i would add that we really need far less food than we actually eat. don’t feed your compulsions! literally.

    i am curious about one thing:

    “I’m going to argue that we should consider dropping these two words not only from our vocabularies, but from the English language entirely.”

    was this intended to be ironic???

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