ADHD-shouldsAs adults with ADHD, we can sometimes sabotage our best intentions when we compensate for weakness in follow through by nagging ourselves, or playing back the nagging words of others.

Either way, these negative, energy draining messages often begin with “I should have…” or “My mother says I ought to…”  It’s best not to should on yourself, but if you do, take a moment to examine the facts.

Shoulds and oughts come from a place that does not create real incentive. It’s a bit like dragging ourselves to complete a task by a chain around our neck. It’s not going to work—at least not effectively.

When we catch ourselves thinking of a should, it may help to pause and ask ourselves why we should.  If the matter in question is a legal, health or safety issue, as in, I ought to renew my driver’s license or I ought to clear the skateboard away from the stairs, then once considered, we might jump past I should and go right to RED ALERT or DO IT NOW!

If it is a case of I should send Aunt Emma a thank you note for the set of dish towels, we might ask ourselves, according to whom? When it comes to social nicety shoulds, it’s usually OK to keep it simple. While a card with a hand written note might be what Miss Manners would suggest, timely follow through may be better served with an e-mail or phone call.

When we are up to our knees in clutter, shoulding on ourselves for letting it get to that point usually makes matters worse by calling up should’s wicked step-mother, shame. Get out of that thinking quickly and with humor, as in, yes, and I should also figure how to bring about world peace! (Hint: Act locally).

Following through with tasks, even potentially overwhelming ones, is more likely to come from a place of what I can do, rather than what I should do.


Brett Harrington About Brett Harrington

Brett Harrington of ADHD Sorted ltd is an ADD Coach Academy trained life coach, writer, wife, and mother of two teens living in New Zealand. Formerly a wardrobe person in New York, Brett is delighted to now be a part of the Auckland ADHD community.


  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thought I’d catch up on your posts and read this golden oldie – great post on ‘shoulds’, Brett. I had a father who ‘should’ to me all the time. By the time I was a teenager I was in full reactive mode – hear a should – think ‘NO WONT’. A terrible combination of life-affirming and self-defeating. Age fortunately brings some reasoning to this process.