‘I have to’ v. ‘I get to’: A small change in vocabulary that can change your attitude

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 yet, something you’re doing completely against your will.

My kids both started their educational experiences at a Montessori school, and there they refer to what they do as their “work.” I love that word association 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 word association modeling, I’m replacing the word “have” with “get.” Just look at the difference in these two phrases: “I have to go to work” v. “I get to go to work.”

The former implies drudgery; the latter has endless possibilities.

By making this adjustment to your own vocabulary, you would subconsciously change 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.

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 directly 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 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 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 others.

Finding appreciation for all things in your life may seem like an overly simplified concept and unrealistic. However, making the shift from negative 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 toward “negative things,” such as Monday mornings, are now enjoyable.

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

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