Stop Playing The “Should” Game

Consider how many times you may have said the following:

“I should have gone to the gym today”

“I should have ordered the chicken salad instead of that double cheeseburger”.

Or something along those lines.

That’s what I call “the should game”.

The Should Game

The should game refers to things that didn’t happen. You should have got up on time but you hit the snooze button instead. You should have gone to the gym but were persuaded to go for lunch and drinks.

A good friend and mentor of mine, Adam T Glass, once told me that “to play the should game is dangerous.”

He was right.

If something didn’t happen there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what makes it dangerous. It’s history. You need to let it go.

Relating The Should Game To Your Health & Fitness Goals

When said, the statements mentioned at the start of this article tend to have a negative effect on your goals. Particularly when you are new to this thing we call fitness.

Why? Because of the mindset it instills.

When you focus on what you “should” have done, you lose focus on what you “can” currently do to make the situation better. If there is one thing I want you to take from this email it’s that focusing on what you CAN do is the most important game you can play.

When you play the “can” game you shift from a negative to a positive mindset. Focusing on what you should or can’t do puts you in a position where you no longer have control. Whereas focusing on what you can do puts you in a position to get shit done. That’s powerful.

Think: What can I do right now to get closer to my goals? If 80-90% of the time you were able to focus on what you “can” do, you’d be much more successful at reaching your health and fitness goals.

Let me give you an example I experienced with a client (for the purpose of this article I have changed the client’s name):

When John and I started working together, it was clear that he was stuck in the “should” mindset.

John had started his fitness journey a few months earlier and got pretty good results. But then those results stopped happening. He’d stopped losing inches, had re-gained weight and lost motivation. That’s when the “should” mindset kicked in.

He scrutinized every little thing he did and was constantly putting himself down when he skipped a gym session or ate something he deemed unhealthy. This only made him focus on the “shoulds” more and his progress came to a halt.

I remember during the first week of us working together, he messaged me one evening to say he didn’t make it to the gym. He then rattled of a list of 6-7 reasons why it didn’t and then finished by saying “but I should have gone”.

I replied by saying:

“John, it’s okay. Shit happens.  It’s easy to live in the past and think about the things you should have done. But you have to let the “shoulds” go and wipe the slate clean. The best way to do that? Change your mindset by focusing on what you can do right now.

I understand it’s frustrating when you don’t do something you think you should have. It’s easy to let it get to you. I know. I’ve been there. But doing that is not helping you. It’s not making you better.

Now, don’t tell me what you should’ve done. Let’s discuss what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

That seemed to be a light bulb moment for him. Over time bit by bit, we worked on instilling the “what can I do” mindset. The result? He’s reached his goal 6 weeks before his target.

How can you stop playing the “should” game?

Whenever the “should” thought enters your head, I want you to stop. Take a breath and start to focus on what you can do to prevent it from happening again.

For example:

Should thought: “I should have got up and gone to the gym this morning”.

New thought: “Next time I plan to go to the gym in the morning, I can put my alarm on the other side of the room so I have to get up to turn it off. I can have my gym clothes laid out ready so they are the first thing I see. I can put my gym trainers by the front door ready.”

Can you see the difference that makes? Instead of focusing on the negative that you didn’t go to the gym, you are focusing on what you can do in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s powerful.

Here’s another example:

Should thought: “I should have ordered the chicken salad at lunch instead of the double cheeseburger.”

New thought: “Okay, it’s done. I enjoyed the burger. Time to move on. Next time can I prepare a more nutritious and tasty lunch at home the night before? Can I have a lighter dinner so that the double cheeseburger doesn’t take me over my calorie goal for the day?

This subtle change towards a “should” problem when it arises has a huge impact on your mindset. When your mindset shifts to a more positive one you’ll find making better choices easier. And making better choices is half the battle for a lot of people when it comes to reaching their health & fitness goals.

Does this work all the time?

In a word: no. It will take time to develop this level of self-awareness and you have to realize that you will sometimes make “bad” choices. Put better, you won’t always make choices that are in line with your goals. That’s okay. Accept it. It’s part of being human.

Remember: When you focus on what you “should” have done, you lose focus on what you “can” currently do to make the situation better. 

Focusing on what you CAN do is the most important game you can play.