Setting Goals Without Piling On the “Shoulds”

setting goals

For me some days it starts before I even open my eyes. The alarm goes off and the first thoughts breaking through sound something like this:

“I’m still tired. I should have gone to bed earlier.”
“I need to go to the gym. I should have set the alarm for earlier.”
“I want to eat something healthy for breakfast. I should have gone to the grocery store yesterday.”

And the “should” train is off and running.

Never mind that a lot of items on my daily list of things I “should be doing” compete with one another for my time.

I should read more. I should sleep more.
I should move more. I should be still more.
I should spend more time alone in prayer. I should spend more time serving others.

I ignore this conundrum and optimistically think of each thing as a bright and shiny opportunity to get things right. After all, no one can argue that getting more rest, hitting the gym, and having a healthy breakfast are not all great ideas. As are, “I should clean out my closet. Call my mother. Work on my blog. Practice obedience training with my dog.” The list of good things I should do goes on and on.

So I set off, listening to the voice inside telling me what I should be doing, and feeling kind of good about having some healthy goals.

But…there are a few things I need to remember before I get in too deep.

We can’t do all the things we “should.”

Not in one day, anyway. It’s just not possible. And no new-fangled planning tool or time management system is going to change that.

When I let “should” pile up, every day ends with a list of things I didn’t get done. Things I didn’t do well. Things I should try harder to do tomorrow.

Then the seeds of shame take root. Because for some of us, “I didn’t do enough” can quickly morph into “I am not enough.”

But we know that living with shame is not part of God’s plan for us. (Romans 8:1 NLT)

So, we need to be realistic about the amount of time and energy we have to invest each day. And find the things that matter most to God and us. Where is He inviting us in? What opportunities is He placing before us? Asking not, “What should I be doing?” But instead giving ourselves permission to ask, “What are the possibilities set before me today?” Then choosing and doing those things that bring us joy.

Proverbs 16:3


“Should” robs us of our joy.

It’s no secret that the grown-up life is full of responsibilities that simply must be handled every day. But when everything we do is motivated by what “should” be done, we miss out on something special. The sheer joy of doing something not because we “should” but because we actually want to.

What desires has God placed in your heart? And what gifts, talents, and resources has He handed over so you can make those desires a reality? Nothing will bring more joy than living into the things God has designed you to do. So don’t miss the chance to do something unique, beautiful, and meaningful because you’ve buried yourself under a pile of “should.”

Plus, when we focus only on what we should have done and failed to do, we can’t experience the full sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that come from all the things we did do well today.

Like I said, “should” is a joy thief.

Our “shoulds” spill over onto others and can damage our relationships.

This is a tough one. When we live our lives guided only by “shoulds,” it’s easy to project onto others what they “should” be doing, too. And “shoulds” ruin relationships.

I once knew a young mom who was angry with her husband. She told me, “He doesn’t even bring me a glass of water when I’m nursing the baby!” I asked her if she ever asked him for a glass of water and her answer was, “No! He SHOULD know to do that! He obviously doesn’t care about me at all!”

Do you see how quickly “should” caused that situation to go downhill?


As we set goals for the days and years ahead, let’s ask God to show us a better way to live.

Not trying to do everything we think we should be doing. But listening for His invitation. Watching for opportunities He sets before us. And stepping into each day with more peace and greater joy as we trust God to guide us toward the things that matter most.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

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  1. Thank you for this encouraging post! I literally just practiced listening to God’s invitation and being open to the opportunities he put before me, twice this week. I asked the Lord if I should sign up for that e-course…he simplified my approach. Then I asked him if I should grab hold of an opportunity…he showed me how it was his answer to my prayer. I want to go into the New Year keeping in step with his best for me.

    1. Thank you for the great examples! Proof that God’s guidance often comes in very practical ways when we take the time to seek Him before adding more to our “to do” lists! Can’t wait to hear how He leads you in the New Year!

  2. Patti Lowrance says:

    I needed this so much today as I sit in the waiting room while my husband is in surgery. I have major health issues, he has health problems, and I am responsiblr for my two 89 year old parents who have each been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

    My life is spent running and at the end of the day I rehearse the should haves. Thank you for this breath of sanity.

    1. Patty, I’m so glad you found a place to take a breath here with me. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you navigate through this challenging time. It’s a relief to know that we don’t need to have all the answers but can find rest in the One who does. May He provide you with the added measure of energy and hope you need today and throughout the days ahead.

      1. Patti Lowrance says:

        Yes! Thank you!

  3. That one statement, “We can’t do all the things we “should.”, just rocked me!! Thank you for this post and it’s a pleasure to visit from the H*W linkup!

    1. Right?!? How I wish I had learned this one simple truth way earlier in life! Just because something is without a doubt a “good” thing to do – something we most certainly “should” do – doesn’t mean we will get to it today. And that’s…wait for it…OK!! So much freedom packed into this one little truth! Thanks so much for reading and reaching out. So glad to be a part of the H*W community with you!

  4. Awesome my friend!!! Great thoughts to start off the New Year!!!

    1. Thank you, Martha! Hope to see you in the New Year!

  5. Randi-Lea says:

    Loved this so much! As a new mom the shoulds are never ending. And this really helped to remind me to also do some things that bring joy and I do them because I want to. Great post Jody!

    1. Yes! You have entered into the “heavy-lifting” season of all the “shoulds” we hear about motherhood. I’m so glad to know that you’ll also be following your joy because there is so much of it to be found in your little guy and the family you’re building!

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