Meet the Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s

Meet the Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s

Join our guest blogger Mitchell Pauly of for a serious topic with some funny twists: "Meet the Shoulda Woulda Coulda's."


Meet the Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s: they are a proud, if not slightly delusional, subset of the Do Nothing’s. Although they are perfectly aware that they live in self-righteous irony, they persist in utilizing their favorite word as both a shield and a weapon. This word, of course, is “should.” “Should” is the basis of every cop-out in history; it is both justification and hollow motivation; it is an empty promise. It is to the Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s what God was to the Blues Brothers – a justification for their actions, or more specifically, their inactions.

How We Make Use of “Should”

Of course, we are all members of the Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s depending on which aspect of our lives is being referenced. Psychologically, “should” is a loaded's like your girlfriend saying she had a lot of “fun” in college. It’s a word we use to express our own self-disparagement, as in “I should go to the gym” (because you don’t want to or haven’t been) or “I should learn a second language” (because you recognize the benefit, but are turned off by the commitment). Essentially, “should” is a word inserted into a sentence to express our deeper conflict on a subject, most typically in a negative sense.

“Should” and Psychological Barriers

Psychological barriers are the things that stand in our way when we are trying to get something done. They apply to the mundane tasks that together add up to major and meaningful change. Most people are as familiar with their barriers as they are with cosmology; if everyone was in touch with their barriers two things would be different about our world: 1) psychologists would be out of their jobs, and 2) we would all be rich, successful, in shape and basically Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie.

There are two types of psychological barriers: active barriers and passive barriers. Together they combine with “should” to create a ménage à trois of behavioral stagnation

  • Active Barriers – Active barriers are the physical barriers that prevent us from reaching a goal, like plastic wrap on a food item or Steve Buscemi auditioning for the role of “good looking man.” Usually they are easy to get rid of (remove the wrapper); other times they are impossible (sorry, Steve). In general they are not worth thinking too much about; they are either in your control or not, but they are rarely in the middle.
  • Passive Barriers – Passive barriers do not actually exist, either in an actuality or psychologically. For example, if you are craving a burrito but no burrito-armed restaurant is near you, you'll get a burger; the distance and your reluctance to walk/drive it was a passive barrier. Another example would be a reluctance to wear glass eight-inch heels because they would make you feel self-concious. In both instances, the “barrier” is an inconvenient fact or opinion we didn’t like. We could have driven to the burrito joint, and we could throw societal opinion to the wind and don glass heels. We don’t because we don’t want to, not because we can’t. Typically, passive barriers are the greatest impediment to reaching our goals. “Should” is a catch-all for expressing passive barriers and can act as a guide towards discovering them.

Overcoming Barriers: Create a “Should” Log
Much how your mother had a swear-jar for every time you utilized a four-letter word of color, you as an adult should have a “should” log. A “should log” is a place were you record all the topics on which you used the word “should” in discussion. And it's easy: Every time a new topic is breached, jot it down in a new column. Every time a topic is revisited add a check mark or, if you are super diligent, a quick note on the specific part of the given topic you were speaking to. After a while, take a look at where your “shoulds” typically fall. Don’t get caught up on granularity at first: try to identify general overarching areas. For example, you might find you say “should” often when talking about the gym, taking evening classes and volunteering. A passive barrier for you therefore may be a reluctance to commit to activities that require participation several times a week or activities which will create a schedule. Essentially, you are leveraging your own subconscious’s underlying unease with its own passive barriers.

Passive barriers are not bad per se; it's not being in touch with them that can be harmful to our ability to achieve our goals. After discovering your passive barriers, you may decide the goals they are inhibiting you from achieving aren’t really realistic. By scaling down on your goals you may better align your happiness to your hopes. Of course, you may recognize that you’re a full fledged member of the Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s, which is like being a member of Lambda Lambda Lambda without the revenge. You may recognize that that is a membership you want to revoke...and should.

Mitchell Pauly is a Financial Professional with experience working for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses. He enjoys investing and personal finance, comedy and sports. In his spare time he writes for various publications about personal finance, with a mind towards young adults and parents of young adults. Check out the premier of Mitch's new website,

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TB at BlueCollarWorkman's picture

TB at BlueCollarWorkman wrote:

Mon, 10/22/2012 - 12:45 Comment #: 1

Wow, this is actually pretty awesome. For starters, I love Blues Brothers, and any post that references that movie is okay in my book. We're on a mission from God. -- The active versus passive barriers is a neat way to break it down. For me, it's usually laziness. I actually do what I want and get done what needs getting done, I dont think I"m too much in the "should" crowd, but when I do get into that, it's always laziness. I should fix that one shingle on the garage. But I'd rather watch the game. It's cold out now. Lol, great post man.

AverageJoe's picture

AverageJoe wrote:

Mon, 10/22/2012 - 19:04 Comment #: 2

Great guest post. It reminds me of the Yoda phrase: "there is no "try." Only "do.""