“I have to finish this presentation.”
“I have to go in early for the meeting.”
“I have to answer all these emails before I go home.”
“I have to follow our policy because that’s the way we do things.”
Um… no you don’t. Last I checked, the vast majority of us operate on an “employment at will” basis. AT WILL. YOUR WILL.
These are choices you make. You choose to work on the presentation. You choose to go in early for the meeting. You choose to reply to those emails and follow your policies. In saying you have to, you’re robbing yourself of your freedom. Not only that, you’re coloring your workplace with an unfortunate shade of 1970’s olive drab and cowpie brown.
When you say you “have to” do something, you’re abdicating control. You are making yourself a pawn. You’re taking on the victim role. As long as you see things as “having to be done” you will never exert the control over your life that you truly have. When you put yourself in that situation, you tend to feel helpless, frustrated, dissatisfied, and generally unhappy.
So let’s change that dynamic, shall we?
The Chains of “Have To”
When you speak of tasks in terms of “have to,” you are declaring yourself helpless in the situation. You’re enabling some external force (your boss, your company, the policy, etc.) dictate your actions. No one likes to be told what to do. When you adopt this terminology, however, you are verbally and mentally subjugating yourself to some unspoken master.
Just because there are emails in your inbox, it doesn’t mean you are required to answer them. Sure, there may be consequences and you might not like them but you don’t have to answer those emails or go to that meeting. Until you can see how the words “have to” limit your freedom to act, you’ll never be free and you definitely won’t see alternative solutions to problems. I mean think about the Wright brothers. “Science” told them they “had to” stay on the ground, right?
The Right to Choose
Try looking at your work through a different lens – the lens of choice.
“I choose to finish this presentation.”
“I choose to go in early for the meeting.”
“I choose to answer all these emails before I go home.”
“I choose to follow our policy because that’s the way we do things.”
Feels different, right? All of a sudden there’s a sense you’re making a tradeoff. It makes you think about alternatives and what you’re giving up to pursue the given activity. It leads you to question the activity itself.
Perhaps you choose not to answer all those emails today and go home to spend time with your kids. Or perhaps you’ll choose to send a member of your team to the meeting so they can step up and grow into new responsibilities. Maybe you’ll choose to look at why we have the policy in the first place and question whether or not it still meets our business needs.
Making the Choice Even Clearer
Now that you’ve realized you have choice, let’s make sure your choice is deliberate. Let’s ensure it’s the best choice. Before you make your choice, think of an alternative (like going home to see your kids or changing the policy). Now say “I choose to (x) instead of choosing to do (y).” If that doesn’t make the choice clearer, I don’t know what else can.
Your days are full of choices. I know you can make better ones. When you start making choices deliberately instead of adopting the victim or hostage mentality, you’ll have more control over your environment. That increased sense of control should improve your satisfaction with your work. First, the work you’re doing is now work you’re choosing to do. Second, the work you’re choosing not to do is probably the stuff that you hated and was low value in the first place. And by challenging that low value work and replacing it with more important things, your overall performance (and therefore job satisfaction) should improve commensurately.
Make your choices deliberate. Stop saying “I have to.” Everything is a choice – a tradeoff. Heck, you don’t even have to pay taxes. Now the choice you’re making is incarceration or being a fugitive but it’s still a choice. Go look at your work with a fresh lens of choice and see what changes after a month or so.
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