Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda — Changing Negative Self Talk


In my presentation to a new group of Green Mountain participants on Monday, we spent a fair amount  of time on the subject of negative self talk.  The big question was how to change it.  We’ve got a lot to say on that in our classes; you can read about changing negative self talk, too, on our website.

The day after that discussion, I found myself involved in a negative self talk session.  One of the first ways to change negative self talk is to notice when you’re doing it.  So I had a great success there!

My most current negative self-talk session arose from a book I’m reading on global warming and other ecological mishaps that involve the way we produce our food in this country.  I’m not generally an alarmist when it comes to modern techniques/technology, but this book, along with everything else I’ve been reading/hearing about global warming, has me concerned.  After I finish it, and do a little more research on the subject, maybe I’ll write about it here.

Back to my negative self-talk.  That session began by me berating myself that as a nutritionist, I ‘should’ have known and acted on what the book reports long ago.  After all, it isn’t anything new that the author is talking about.  But rather than falling into a morass of despair over how my lack of awareness might have not only contributed to the problem, but — as any mother can relate to – also caused harm to my children, I realized that I was using the word ‘should.’

‘Should’ is a word that pops up a lot in our speech, and it very well may be one of the most destructive words in the English language!  It carries the tone of someone telling me I’ve got to do something that often I don’t want to.  The thesaurus lists equally unappealing synonyms like ‘have to,’ ‘obliged to,’ required to,’ and more.  They all have the same implication: it’s not a need/desire/whatever that comes from within.

I’ve come up with a few good alternatives that work for me:  want to, need to, choose to, would like to, feel better when, am happier when…I could probably go on for a while.  But look at the difference in the statement “I should do…” compared to “I want to do…” or “I need to do…” or I am happier when I do….”  Changes the whole meaning and the way I react to it.

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘stop shoulding on yourself.’  It’s a good one!

Photo courtesy of and copyright Free Range Stock,

3 responses to “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda — Changing Negative Self Talk”

  1. kh says:

    This is helpful. I’m trying to learn to stop the negative self talk myself. The notion that you don’t HAVE to do things you don’t want to is a relatively new one to me.

  2. Kathy says:

    Marsha, excellent article! I can hear my former therapist saying “there are no shoulds!” And when I subscribed to that a few years back, it made a dramatic reduction in the amount of guilt I carried around. I’ve found that in order to eat intuitively, I definitely need to nix any mental “shoulds” and just listen carefully to what my body is telling me.


  3. Marsha says:

    Thanks, Kh and Kathy, for your comments. It is amazing that we often don’t realize we don’t have to do things we don’t want to do. I guess we’re all such responsible beings that the thought is rather foreign. Good point about the guilt. Guilt is such a saboteur of mindfulness. It definitely takes us elsewhere, and clearly is something we all could benefit from a little less of. probably goes along with the responsiblity thing, too.


About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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