The vast majority of people on the planet earth feel trapped in their lives. They feel overwhelmed by stress and pressure. But the underlying cause of this negative feeling is not something that most people are consciously aware of. That underlying cause is the feeling that they have to do things that they don’t want to do.
Before I explain this pattern in depth, I need to throw a universal truth at you. It is a universal truth that is going to take you way out on a scary limb of freedom. There is no such thing as a ‘have to’ in this universe. You could decide to walk out your front door, throw the keys down a sewage grate, leave your car wherever it is forever, walk to a different country and not tell anyone where you have gone and live an entirely different life. You could never get out of bed, pee and crap the bed when you have to use the restroom, never eat again and simply wait for death to happen. You need to realize that you have free will. No one can actually take that away from you. All they can do is use their free will to escalate consequences or reward for your choices. If someone has a knife to your throat wanting something from you, you can choose to die rather than to give them what they want. But most people in this position want to live and so they give the person what he or she wants. Here is the problem, if we find ourselves in this kind of situation, we don’t tell the story of “I consciously chose to give them what they want because I wanted to live.” We tell the story “I had to give them what they wanted, they made me.” We disown our free will. We do this because we don’t want the pain or pressure of the responsibility of having done something bad or wrong.
Every decision you make comes with a consequence. It’s nothing personal; it’s simply the law of cause and effect in the universe. And it is usually those potential consequences that cause you to decide to do something, even when you don’t want to do it. In this very minute a split occurs within you between the part of you that doesn’t want to do that thing and the part of you that does want to do that thing in order to avoid consequences. The thing is this immediately makes that thing a “have to” instead of a “want to”. We feel like we ‘have to’ do things when we are doing to them in order to avoid a consequence rather than when we are doing them in order to create or bring about something that we want.
We are trained from a very early age that doing what we want to do is selfish. We are often punished for it. On the other hand, we are rewarded for doing things that other people want us to do, but that we don’t want to do. Our wires become crossed. We believe there is virtue in “have to” and that the only life that is right is one entirely made up of “have tos”, duty and obligation. To understand more about this pattern, watch my video titled: The Freedom/Connection Split within Humanity.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but ‘have to’ has become a way of avoiding social consequences. It isn’t socially acceptable to tell someone who invites you to a party “I don’t want to go to the party.” Instead we say things like “I can’t”. The truth is, we can. We are choosing not to because we have another priority. If someone asks us to join him or her for an activity, we say, “I have to work”. The truth is, you don’t have to work. You want to work because you want an excuse to avoid them or it’s a higher priority to keep your boss happy than to see them or you want money more than you want closeness with that person for example. For the sake of today’s conversation, the problem isn’t that you’re lying to them. It’s that you’re telling yourself the story that you have to and because of that, you are losing your access to free will and the feeling of agency.
Long story short, before we know it we have a job we have to go to, bills that have to be paid, a partner we have to please, kids we have to take care of, dogs we have to walk, a gym we have to go to, healthy food we have to eat etc. We even manage to turn things that were once a ‘want to’ into a ‘have to’. This causes the pressure to build and build. We feel stress because not all parts of us are on board with what we are doing. We don’t feel free. We feel like a trapped slave in our own life.
Here are some suggestions for what to do if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you ‘have to’.
- How you speak has the capacity to affect your mentality greatly. Every time you are going to say “I have to” change it to “I want to”. This is going to mess with your brain at first. You will become conscious of the ways you are in opposition to your own sense of free will and why you are in that state of opposition. You will be forced to face your actual feelings about the things you are doing in your life. You will be forced to acknowledge the truth within the universe that nothing is a have to. It is also easier to feel and recognize the parts of you that aren’t on board with what you are doing. If you are choosing to do something that you feel is a ‘have to’, say, “I want to” and ask yourself why… Why am I doing it? For example, “I want to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles”. You will feel instant resistance to that statement inside. Then “why am I choosing to go? Because I want to feel the relief of the pressure of having to renew my driver’s license when I can scratch it off of my to-do list”. Saying ‘I want to’ connects you to your free will, your desires, values and motives. It will help you to see that you really shouldn’t be doing some things you are doing. On top of this, “I have to” is a word that the mind has a negative association with. This will cause a negative feeling chemical release in the body, which will in turn cause you to form a negative association with whatever thing you are doing or considering doing. Saying the word ‘have to’ relative to something decreases your motivation towards that thing every single time you say it.
Remember that nothing is actually a ‘have to’. There is only want and don’t want. If you feel like something is a ‘don’t want’, there are two distinct options. The first is to find a way to not do it. The second is to change it or re-frame it so that you actually want to do it. For example, there is a sink full of dishes in the kitchen. If you take the road of finding a way not to do it, you could simply not do them and let them sit there until you feel the desire to do them… even if that means the food rots and your house is disgusting. You could swap days with your roommate, you could pay a cleaner to come in or you could invent a device that does it for you for example.
If you take the road of changing it or re-framing it so that you actually want to do it, you could decide to find something in cleaning the dishes that aligns with something you really consciously want, so you suddenly feel motivated to do them. For example, if you are really motivated to practice present moment meditation, the dishes could be a present moment mediation. For more information about this brilliant strategy, watch my video titled: Priceless Motivation Tip (Find The Self Serving Motive). You could figure out what you hate about doing the dishes and resolve those things so it is a more pleasant activity. You could focus on your desire to have a clean house and how good it will feel to have a clear living space, so suddenly doing the dishes is a part of creating something you really want for example.
- Do parts work to address the two parts of you that are at odds, the one who wants to do it and the part that doesn’t want to do it, so as to create alignment between them. A decision or choice that both of them can be on board with and that create a harmony between their currently seemingly opposing desires. To understand the basics about how to do this, watch my video titled: Parts Work (What is Parts Work and How To Do It).
- Take what you don’t want to do and completely play out not doing it mentally as far as you can. We don’t usually ‘stare the devil in the face’ of choosing not to do something. We loosely feel, but can’t consciously see, the consequences of that choice. If we can’t see the consequences of that choice, we can’t find ways to mitigate them and the part of us that is in resistance to doing whatever it is we don’t want to do, can’t be an active participant in the law of cause and effect. It simply stays in an attitude of rebellion. For example, you don’t want to go in to work. So imagine not going. Imagine how your colleagues and boss would respond; imagine what you would do instead. Imagine both the payoffs and consequences of doing so as far as you want to play them out. The unwanted parts of this experience will make you aware of what you really want and need. What are some other ways you could get those needs and desires met? When you do this exercise, you may just find your ‘have to’ changing into a ‘want to’.
- Remember how I said that we feel like we ‘have to’ do things when we are doing them in order to avoid a consequence rather than when we are doing them in order to create or bring about something that we want? This means we can flip the way we are looking at something we don’t want to do so as to see how doing that thing creates what we really want. Why is doing this thing important? How is doing this thing a part of the vision of what you want? How is it good for you? What will it accomplish? Who is it helping? What good are you creating for yourself and/or others by doing it? Going back to the analogy of doing the dishes, you might not immediately think that cleaning dirty dishes matters, but those dishes are what you serve food to people on, and that food nourishes not only you, but also other people so that you and they can go out and do something good in the world in a healthy way. So connect whatever you are doing to the good that doing that thing does. Find a personal, meaningful why behind doing what you choose to do. Find a good enough because.
- Professional athletes know what most people don’t know and that is that you can add any meaning to discomfort that you want to. Going for what you want is going to entail a certain amount of discomfort. The meaning we add to discomfort is everything. Most people assign the meaning ‘we need to stop’ or ‘not do what we are doing’ to discomfort. This greatly limits your life. It means when you are faced with the inevitable downside of things you want, you might just give up and not do them. Every other suggestion I have given you in this article has been about either not doing something or getting yourself to feel good about what you are doing. The hack I am suggesting as a final potential tool is to add different meaning to the discomfort of doing what you don’t want to do. You could consider this the ultimate re-frame. For example, the burn in my muscles means I am getting stronger. The discomfort I feel doing this thing that is not fun to me means I am developing self-discipline, which makes me feel less out of control relative to myself. Question the meaning you are adding to the discomfort inherent in something you don’t want to do. For more information about this, watch my video titled: Meaning, The Self Destruct Button. From there, change the meaning you are adding to the discomfort. This tip simply must come with a warning; this could be used as a tool of suppression.
Life is about expansion. Expansion occurs as a result of following your desire. It is not virtuous to force yourself to do what you don’t want to do. But following what is wanted will always give rise to what is unwanted as well. This opens the door for things to be a ‘have to’. When you encounter these unwanted experiences, you have the choice to take them off of your plate (not do what you don’t want to do) or change them or your perception of them so that you want them on your plate (turn them into something you want to do). The unwanted can diminish motivation and inspiration. However, motivation and inspiration is not completely out of your control. You can live a motivated and fulfilling life if your life philosophy changes from “”I have to” to “I want to”.