Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda…
“All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas Layin’ In The Sun, Talkin’ ‘Bout The Things They Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Done… But All Those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas All Ran Away And Hid From One Little Did.”
― Shel Silverstein
Have you ever given much thought to your life moments when someone tries to help you think about options to an issue you are facing and they say, “Hey, maybe you should…”? Or how about when you make a hasty decision and then realize in hindsight you “should” have chosen differently?
How about when you play the game of if I were you I would, those times in our lives we imagine trading places with someone else’s chances to make better decisions, like “Oh, if only I were rich I would….”.
What about when the “I can’t” takes control where the little voice inside of you comes up with all kinds of reasons why you just can’t get something done, or volunteer, or find the time. “Well you know I would help if only I could get out of this other thing I’m doing” or “I could go with you if….”.
I think it is safe to say that we have all been through these scenarios at least once.
What if I told you there is a way, a real way, to feel more confident about how to approach these situations when they arise?
Let’s break it down:
For the most part, these 3 words, would, could, should, have top implications even though they each have a variety of definitions. For example,
SHOULD usually implies a personal obligation. “I should have been more careful.”
WOULD implies consequence. “I would lose too much time taking that other route.”
COULD indicates possibility. “I could go out with him tonight if I get my homework done now.”
When thinking about a “should” situation I have found that people are very eager and willing to help others by telling them what to do or giving them ideas about how they should go about solving their dilemma or how they should address a specific situation that crops up. I myself have used the word should a thousand times with my husband. “Hun, you should take the older chairs to Goodwill before we bring in anything new.” Or, “Well, I think you should spend time with the kids today because it’s important.”
When “should” comes along it leaves a very dictatorial presence and takes away a piece of autonomy from the person trying to figure things out. What might be obvious to you is not usually so obvious to the person with the problem. I have found that turning the should into a question gives power back to the person trying to solve the problem. The reframe sounds like this: “Hey hun, what are your thoughts about taking the chairs to Goodwill first?” or “Hey babe, what are you doing with the kids today?” Rephrasing the should implication into a question of choice leaves the person you are speaking to in charge of their own issue and more importantly their own decisions. What if the person with the problem asks you for your opinion? Should you offer up your own should? In cases like these I like to simply ask, “Well, what do you think you should do?” Sometimes it helps to be the sounding board for all the options they might offer up. Power to the people.
In the instance of “would” there is pressure to decide and be right because being wrong not only feels awful but creates doubt in oneself and doubt toward your decision-making process from others. When facing a “would” situation I have seen many times where clients choose to just not decide rather than make a wrong decision and so there is no forward movement. Again, I have used this line of thinking in my own relationships and on myself more times than I care to count. It sounds something like this: “I would consider going to that meeting but I hate driving in the dark” or “If I were you I would….”; that’s a tried and true one right there especially with my children. It almost crosses the line into “should”.
We can’t possibly ever be that other person so let’s find another way down this rabbit hole, shall we? There is an awesome technique that works just about every time I use it with my clients assuming I get their permission to try it. It is called the “if, then” game. Here is how to play:
My client presents a situation where she perceives her reputation is on the line with the decision she ultimately needs to make or she just doesn’t want to decide because she is having a hard time finding solutions. She is honestly looking for me to consult her rather than coach her and this means that I am being looked upon to give her A, B, and C options to choose from. No way says I. You, my dear decision-making client, will be creating your own best fitting option. The situation goes something like this: “I promised I would bring dessert to the meeting tomorrow night but I realize now that I really do not want to go to the meeting and I hate driving home in the dark and I do not have time to make a nice dessert and well, I just don’t want to go to the meeting.”
Let’s create an if, then option plan. “If I go to the meeting then I could…., If I don’t go to the meeting then…?”. In this creative decision-making game, the client gets to think up many options that run the gamut from crazy out there to more down to earth and realistic possibilities. The idea is that at some point the client, you, will have created an option that fits, an option he/she can live with and feel empowered by because the final decision feels right. The crazy out there options always get a laugh or two and truly relieve some pressure.
Finally, the “could” situation. This word is positive in its implication. “Could” creates possibility, is hopeful and has an air of lightness and freedom to it. The situation that creates the “could” might not be great but the outcome might turn a negative into a positive. Let’s give it a try: “I could be sitting on this highway all night if the news report is right.” Not a great situation. At this point ask yourself, what are my options? It seems obvious to me that this would be the question to ask, thinking of ways to not have to sit in traffic but I have found that when I or my clients ask the question out loud then in that moment their bodies are starting to de-stress because the brain is going into problem solving mode. Sure, you could scream and shout and curse and stay annoyed and wallow in self-pity for your rotten luck or you can get creative and think about ways to get moving. Even if there are no other roads to take at least you tried and can live with the trying.
Throughout our lifetime we are all faced with uncomfortable situations that we must get through. These situations cause us to, in hindsight, create wishful thinking feelings, things we wish we had done or said in that critical moment. By course correcting, taking a bit of time to ask ourselves some simple but key questions and/or doing a mental comparison of pros and cons we all can get a bit closer to an outcome of resolution we feel proud of.
Call to Action
Share some of your woulda, coulda, shoulda situations with me. How did you get through it?
What were the consequences of your decisions? Remember, consequences can be good and/or bad?
In what ways have you learned from each incident that has made you more aware and self-confident the next time a woulda, coulda, shoulda situation presented itself?