THE BLOG
06/19/2014 06:00 pm ET | Updated Aug 19, 2014

These Two Words Are Stealing Your Freedom

Kris Hanke via Getty Images

There's a downside to having a super smart 7-year-old living in your house. Witness the following exchange:

"Mommy! Will you read to me?"

"No, honey, I'm doing dishes."

"Mommy! Can't you read to me instead and do them later?"

"No, honey, I have to do them right now."

"Ha! You do not have to do them. You want to do them. You'd rather do dishes right now than read to your own daughter!" (delivered with a highly indignant countenance.)

Dang it. She's right.

You know when you say something to your kids again and again and then they turn it against you like a ninja Jedi mind-fucking savant?!

The truth is, I say the following phrase so often I should have it tattooed on my tongue I say it to myself, my daughter and my clients. Here it is:

"You don't have to. You're choosing to."

It makes my clients crazy when I tell them actually they don't have to do any of the things they tell me they have to do. Yes I do! they argue. I actually have to go to work, take care of my nephew, pay my bills, etc. etc. etc.

But that's not really true.

They choose to do those things because they want to, or at least because they like the consequences of not doing them even less.

They really could just stop going to work. Nobody is going to come to their house and make them go. They don't actually have to take care of their nephew. They could coldheartedly turn him out on the street. Really. People do that. You don't have to pay your bills; you have a choice, each month. You could choose to not pay them and get your power turned off.

We are freely choosing things all the time. But we don't realize it.

One of the most ubiquitous phrases in the English language is "have to." We say it all the time -- to ourselves, our partners, our friends, our kids and ourselves.

And that tiny little phrase is a veritable vacuum cleaner that sucks your juice, deflates your joy and sabotages your autonomy.

The phrase "have to" puts you in victim mode. When you say it, you're pissing your freedom down the drain. I know that might seem dramatic, but start listening for it and you will be amazed at how often people use that phrase... and what a nasty piece of work it is.

I have to go to work.
You have to do your homework.
Writers have to shmooze, it's part of the world.
Managers have to work late.
I have to take this call, it's my boss.
You have to eat your vegetables.
I have to go to the family reunion, it's tradition.

Blergh. Just reading that list makes me feel grim, resentful and resigned to a joyless life. It absolutely deflates my joy.

Weirdly, we even say it about things that are kind of delightful:

I have to meet my friend for coffee.
I have to get my nails done.
I have to pack for our vacation.
I have to work on my website.
I have to pick up my kids, check email, write my ezine, get some new shoes.

Eliminating the phrase "I have to" is the fastest way I know to get your power back.

Try replacing "have to" with "going to," "want to" or "choose to." I know it might seem like I'm arguing semantics here, but I have an up-close glimpse into a lot of smart people's minds, and I can tell you that the words we use to shape our experience are powerful.

So try this: Think of something you don't much like to do. Try telling yourself you have to do it. Notice how your body responds:

I have to stay in this job.
I have to change diapers all day long.
I have to put in the grunt work.
I have to pay my taxes.

Ugh. Doesn't your body feel heavy, sludgy and resistant? Don't you want to go drink a gravel margarita right now?

Try this instead. Say "I'm choosing to" and add the reason why.

I'm going to stay in this job because it keeps a roof over my head. And roofs are awesome.
I'm going to change diapers all day long because I love my baby with a love that is wild and fierce.
I am going to put in the grunt work because this is something that's just worth it to me.
I'm going to pay my taxes because I don't want to go to jail.

Whoah. Hello, you powerful being you.

The truth is, you're free. You're free to work hard or slack off. You're free to abandon your children or take tender care of them. You're free to buy a weapon and do something terrible or tell the truth and do something brave.

The truth is, you can do whatever the hell you want.

The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can make choices that really line up with what you want and what you value.

What's interesting is that when you switch your language, suddenly some of the things that you used to tell yourself you 'had' to do won't seem as onerous. You'll realize that you're freely choosing to do them because you like the result you get, even if you don't enjoy the process very much.

But other things will seem absolutely unbearable. You'll realize that you would never, in a million years, actively choose to put up with your toxic manager's bullshit -- no matter how good the pay is. Or that actually you simply won't go to the demolition derby this year, no matter how much it means to your significant other.

So this week, see if you can consciously catch yourself every time you start to say "I have to" and shift your words. I predict that if you do this for three days, you'll be amazed at how many times a day you told yourself you had to do all sorts of things... and you didn't even realize it.

When you break through the illusion that you're at the mercy of your life, you automatically start declaring dominion over it.

And that is a beautiful thing.