Do you really HAVE to do anything?

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Today’s Martha Beck post is one of my favorite subjects … "have to" vs. "choose to."  Just ask my husband what happens in my household when he utters "I have to do this."  Reason #25 to be very wary of marrying a life coach.  Enjoy!


If you have ever watched the Discovery Channel, you have seen the
fury of a mother bear defending her cubs from the video lens of an
over-eager nature lover. With fangs bared and claws ready to attack,
she focuses all of her power and girth at taking down the potential

Such intensity almost matches a creative father who adamantly defends his miserable career as a network administrator since he "has to" pay for his children’s education.

Or a young college student who "has to" answer her overbearing mother’s calls, even in the middle of a date.

Or a mother who "has to" feed her children only organic carrots fertilized with vegetable compost blessed by Tibetan monks.

Or an executive who "has to" work weekends and vacations in order to stay competitive.

The fact is, we don’t have to do anything.  We choose to do things with specific consequences.  Different choices = different consequences.

This slight distinction has huge implications for your sense of personal power.

But releasing these ingrained "have tos," also called your "personal religion," is not easy.

To get you started, here are three short exercises:

1.  Body Compass:

  • Close your eyes and deeply relax. Vividly
    recall an exceptionally painful or unhappy experience. Notice how this
    memory is making you feel, not emotionally, but physically. What bodily
    sensations or symptoms are connected to the negative event?
  • Name this sensation with a word or phrase.
  • Assign a score to this negative feeling from 1-10, with the worst possible score being a 10.
  • Repeat this process, thinking this time
    about the very best time of your life. Notice your body symptoms, name
    the sensation, and assign a score.

Once you have this valuable information about your "body compass,"
you can use it to understand how you are really feeling about a
situation. When you think a thought or ponder a decision, what do you
feel in your body? Is it your "best" or "worst" feeling? What is the

2. Think of some things you have had to do lately that made you uncomfortable, sad or angry such as:

  1. I had to lend my brother $250 (again) so he could pay his rent
  2. I had to attend a boring all-day meeting
  3. I had to enter my credit card items in Quickbooks to prepare for my tax filing
  4. I had to attend a dinner party of a neighbor who I don’t particularly like
  5. I had to do my laundry
  6. I had to fire an employee
  7. I had to take my son’s car away after he had an accident
  8. I had to call a client and tell him we were behind on his project
  9. I had to decline a weekend away with the girls since I didn’t have enough money
  10. I had to walk the dog in -20 degree weather

Using your body compass, assign a  number from -10 to +10 to each item, based on the way your body reacts to each item.

3.  Take the item with the worst score and examine the belief. Read the rest here.

4 Responses to “Do you really HAVE to do anything?”

  1. Pam, I really got to thinking about this.

    Ya know, for those of us with a supercharged sense of self-responsibility, it’s easy to confuse the “have to” with the “want to”–and even ignore the “want to’s” completely at times.

    Then I got to thinking a bit more (only because I wanted to:-) :

    Is the notion of excess “have to” more a product of Western vs. Eastern culture? My gut tells me it is. I’ve lived and worked in both and the feelings are very different.

    Let’s face it, there’s always some stuff you just gotta do. The trick is to ask yourself why it’s on that list, do a reality check, and realize where you can free yourself up.

    Now I have to go. . .

  2. Richard says:

    I’ll apply what I’m learning from my Dale Carnegie course. Change the words “have to” to “want to”. There are many things I don’t want to do but it’s necessary for basic needs. We feel we “have to” because we already know the consequences of not doing them. Changing the way you think to “want to” makes it go down a little easier and helps prevent procrastination.

  3. Kimmoy says:

    Strangely enough, when I say “have to” do something, it usually mean it’s important in my book, but I can see where it pertains to those things I don’t enjoy doing (i.e. taxes!) as well. Definitely made me think twice about my vocabulary.

  4. Mark Krusen says:

    I “have to” say thanks for this post. It reminds me that I have way to many have to’s in my life. I think, although I hate to admit it. That I put too many have to’s in my wife’s life also. Hmmmm. I’ve got some work to do. Don’t I?