If you pay close attention, you’ll likely notice that you frequently say things like, “I wish I could help, but I have to take the kids to soccer“, “I need to stay in this crappy job for the paycheck”, or “I wanted to go to the gym, but had to work late.”
In life, there are very few “have to’s” (or the closely related “need to’s”). While something may FEEL like a “have to” because you don’t like the consequences of not doing it, most things in life are actually a “choose to.”
After all, you could maintain your commitment to go to the gym, but you’re choosing not to. You could pursue a job you love, but which may pay less. However, you’re choosing not to make the sacrifice. So while you may not like the ramifications, no one is forcing you to do anything. We choose to spend our time exactly how we want.
Hearing this can be frustrating and the initial response is usually defensive. But if you think about it, we have a lot of freedom to choose our actions. We choose to hit snooze instead of get up to jog. We choose to stay at the office and skip dinner with the family. None of these is a “have to”, although you might be able to convince yourself it is by catastrophizing the consequences (e.g., “But if I don’t stay late, my Boss will fire me!“). The hard truth may be you’re avoiding a difficult conversation with your Boss, or possibly have a reason for choosing to work late that you don’t care to admit. Change is hard, and the devil you know can be seductive.
But, the more “have to’s” we create in life, the more stuck and demotivated we feel. When something is framed as a “have to”, it sucks the joy out of it (e.g., “I have to cook dinner for the family.“). When something is framed as a choice, it feels empowering (e.g., “I get to make dinner for my family!”). This simple shift in perspective (and word choice) gives you an instant boost in energy.
Even if you ultimately end up foregoing the gym to stay at the office, using the term “choose to” psychologically makes you feel more in control of the situation versus being a victim of circumstance. When you feel in control, you’re able to see new options (e.g., “I choose to stay late to finish the report, and instead will go to the gym tomorrow morning”).
Whether because of guilt (If I NEED to do this, then I have a valid excuse not to do that), fear (If I HAVE to do this, I can’t possibly do that), or habit (Today I HAVE to do these chores…), we’re adding unnecessary stress to our lives by framing everything as a “have to.”
Why not start tomorrow by saying, “I choose to wake up early, hit the gym and have a productive day at work”?
The difference you feel may surprise you.