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‘I Have to’ Versus ‘I Get to’

Practice Management

Here’s a phrase I’m striving to eliminate from my vocabulary: “I have to…”

This occurred to me recently when speaking to my children. I used to say things like the following, whether to the kids, peers, or colleagues:

  • “I have to go to work.”
  • “I have to go to a meeting.”
  • “I have to finish these emails.”
  • “I have to take an early flight.”
  • “I have to go work out.”

And on and on.

What kind of message does “I have to…” send to other people? In my mind, it’s something you’re doing begrudgingly—or worse, something you’re doing against your will.

My kids both started their school experiences with Montessori, where they refer to what they do at school as their “work.” I love that, because work can mean myriad things, many of which are pleasurable. At age 3, they both learned that work can be both fun and gratifying. Actively changing my own vocabulary has set a new example for my children while improving my own ways of optimistic thinking.

Borrowing from the Montessori model, I’m replacing the word “have” with “get.” Just look at the difference in these two phrases:

  • “I have to go to work.”
  • “I get to go to work.”

The former implies drudgery; the latter has endless possibilities.

By making this adjustment to your vocabulary you are subconsciously changing your mindset entirely. Exchanging “I have to...” for “I get to...” actually changes your mindset from “I am forced to do this thing...” to “Aren’t I lucky to be able to...”. This attitude shift creates a greater sense of purpose and bliss in both your personal and work life. 

Read more commentary by Spencer X Smith here

When your “chore” becomes your “I get to,” you will begin to focus more on the added value that task brings to your life, instead of dwelling on the hardships it takes to get there. Maintaining this positive mindset creates a greater sense of accomplishment once you reach that finish line. An added bonus? The process of actually getting there is more enjoyable. 

Just like with my children, this attitude is infectious in the workplace. Adapting this new habit will affect your team members' philosophies. Want the people you work with to find greater enjoyment in what they do? Show them how grateful you are that their contributions help the company achieve its business objectives and goals. Subconsciously, your team members will shift their own prejudice from “I have to…” to “I get to…”. 

However, just being aware of your good fortune is not enough to maintain this attitude over the long term. You actually have to begin feeling and believing it for it to transform into a habit. Actively start to ponder your life’s luxuries. If you find yourself dwelling on the negatives, make a conscious effort to find the positive in all situations.

What does it mean to feel it and not just to be aware of it? It means you actually begin to believe that you are fortunate to have the life for which you have worked. The phrase “I get to go to work” helps to put into perspective how lucky you are to have a job that provides for both your own life and the lives of others. 

Finding appreciation for all things in your life may seem like an overly simplified concept and unrealistic. However, making the shift from negativity to positive thinking is very possible. It is the practice of optimistic thinking and seeing “the glass truly can be half full.” Once you’ve begun practicing these behaviors, you will find that your overall mood and outlook towards ‘negative things,’ such as Monday mornings, are now enjoyable.

What nuances in vocabulary—however minor—could you see yourself changing for the better?

Spencer X Smith is the founder of AmpliPhi Social Media Strategies. He’s a former 401(k) wholesaler, and now teaches financial services professionals how to use social media for business development.