Could have, Would have, Should have

Have you ever noticed how these three little words, could, would and should, tend to dominate our language?

They all have many important and rather innocuous uses of course, … but they can also be reflective of a life not lived to its full potential.

I’m referring, in particular, to the use of these words when paired with the word ‘have’, as in “could have …”, “would have …” and “should have …”.

“Should have. Would have. Could have. Didn’t.”

― Gabrielle Zevin

could have, would have, should have

Could have, would have, should have (continued)


Raising a red flag

This is the type of language that we pay close attention to in life coaching because it can tell a lot about what is going on in the mind of the person concerned.

Could have, would have and should have are frequently used in conjunction with two other little words to raise a red flag in coaching. The words, of course, are “if” and “but”.

Take these examples:

“I could have achieved a better grade if they had allowed more time for the exam.”

“I would have helped the old lady across the road but I was in a rush to get to work.”

“I should have looked after my health better but I was too busy earning a living for my family.”

Justification and blame

You hear this sort of comment all the time, not so?

In fact, please be honest here, perhaps you use this kind of language yourself regularly?

In life coaching we call this the language of justification and blame.

Living from the outside in

I’ve written on many previous occasions about how people in today’s challenging and frenetic world tend to live ‘from the outside in’. By this I mean that we look to the outside world both for recognition of our worth and success and for solutions to our problems.

If you aren’t convinced, then take a look at social media and how obsessed people are by posting stuff that will attract admiring comments or show off how successful, active, beautiful or clever they are! And when it comes to solutions, people fall all the time for adverts that promise a ‘quick fix’ with the minimum of effort on their part.

A convenient excuse

When you assign responsibility to others for how you feel, whether you are regarded as successful and whether or not you can overcome your challenges in life, you gain a convenient excuse for everything in your life you’re not satisfied with.
You can can justify why your situation is less than ideal and/or you can blame something or someone else for your lack, mediocrity or misfortune. Simply invoke your choice of could have, would have or should have!

Should and ought

Should is perhaps the most fascinating of the three words because it often reveals a life lived from the outside in, even when not spoken with the intent to justify or lay blame. In such cases it is interchangeable with the word ‘ought’.

Take these statements for example:

“I really don’t feel like going to Ted’s party but I suppose I really should be seen at the event.”

“I actually can’t stand the thought of studying law but I ought to do it or I’ll upset my parents.”

“I think my boss is being unfair in his request for me to work the weekend but I guess it’s something I should do if I want to get on in my job.”

Giving your power away

Can you see how easily we allow the outside world to dictate to us what to do and how to live our lives? This is called giving over responsibility for our lives to others.
The next time you find yourself justifying or blaming someone or something else for a less than ideal situation or acting as a ‘martyr’ because you don’t want to risk upsetting or falling out of favour with others, think about how you are giving your power away.

Start living from the inside out

Then challenge yourself to start living life from the inside out, where you take control of your life and responsibility for your decisions and their outcomes.

Start to live authentically, driven not by what others think or might think or how your actions might be judged but by what you really and truly want for yourself.

The way to true freedom

Living from the inside out does not in any way imply having to be selfish, aloof or rude. Quite the contrary. It simply means being honest to yourself and taking full responsibility for your actions and behaviours … and what comes from them.

It is the way to true freedom and living your best life!


This is the official Blog for New Insights Life Coach Training. Find out more about life coaching and becoming a life coach here:



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  1. Trudie
    Jul 20, 2017

    This is exactly why I want to become a Life Coach and decided to enroll into the 101 course. I know it is going to enrich my own way of thinking and when I have to make a decisions.

  2. Amanda Burgess
    Jun 22, 2017

    This blog has come at a very good time for me and is really making me think. Thank you Bill, I seem to be inching closer and closer to making the decision to become a New Insights Life Coach.

    • Bill
      Jun 26, 2017

      That’s wonderful news Amanda. We can’t wait!

  3. Nina Cleland
    Jun 21, 2017

    A life worth living is your own life, no one else’s. Not living the life someone else had planned for you, not trying to make someone else happy, and not saying yes when you want to say no.
    A life worth living is a full life; decided by you, lived by you and kept, just for you. No one else has one like it, there will never be another. Be honoured, because you are.

    • Bill
      Jun 21, 2017

      Thank you for the ringing endorsement Nina!

  4. Karen
    Jun 21, 2017

    This type of freedom tastes so good and feels so much more comfortable, doesn’t it, Bill? I was blind, but as a result of coaching, I now see. What an unforgettable moment it was when I realized that I can “be” and “do” things differently. And now, as a New Insights Life Coach…I spend my time passing it on to others. I feel contented and fulfilled.

    • Bill
      Jun 21, 2017

      Fabulous – thanks Karen!

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