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The Illusion of “Have-to-dos”



As we enter this world, it seems we are given a list of “have-to-dos” by our parents, our community, and the culture in which we are raised. These have-to-dos are simply society's expectations about how we should live our lives and what we should value, and because they are instilled in us at such a young age, many of these expectations run at a subconscious level.


As we grow older, expectations continue to be laid upon us. Although we can’t avoid these outside pressures, we can take the unconscious force away by exposing the conditioned belief driving the illusion of “have to.” Everything we do or don’t do in life stems from a choice. But first, we must see them as choices.


Do we really have to …

… look a certain way (hair, clothes, make-up, body type)?

… go to college to be successful?

… have a certain amount of money or things to be happy?

… marry by a certain age?

… have children?

… hold a particular set of beliefs to be ‘right’?


What have-to-dos come to mind for you? Maybe it is as simple as believing you have to make the bed or do yard work. Make a list of them, and then get ready to flip the switch.


Just as things look different when the light is turned on versus off, the same thing can occur when we flip the switch to our thinking and begin to zoom in on our conditioned beliefs.


Imagine looking at your have to-dos like they are on Google maps. Zoom in first to identify the belief driving the behavior, and then begin to imagine yourself zooming out, away from the conditioned belief so that you can see the bigger picture. When we take the time to observe our thoughts, it helps us to create psychological distance from them.


Four steps to turn have-to-dos into choose-to-dos:


Step 1: What do you feel obligated to do?


Hypothetical examples/answers: Cleaning the house; going to college


Step 2: Notice the script that is playing behind your have-to. Why is it something that feels like a have-to-do?


Cleaning the house: It will be a mess if I don’t clean it. I won’t feel comfortable having guests over or enjoying my living space. I believe I will be labeled as lazy or nasty.


Going to college: If I don’t go to college, I will disappoint my parents; I will not be respected in the professional community; I will not make good money.


Step 3: Ask yourself, is this my script, or is it someone else’s?


Cleaning the house: A blend of my expectations and others.


College: Mostly my parents and society.


Step 4: Ask yourself if the have-to-do is important to you? If it’s a yes, then see if you can find the meaning in it. What is the benefit?


Cleaning the house: Yes. Having a clean house is essential to me, even though it’s not always enjoyable. I like a tidy home. It also makes me feel good knowing guests can come over at any time without me feeling embarrassed to let them in.


College: I’m not sure. I want to have a promising career. At the same time, I want to focus on and pursue my interests and not be pressured to do what others want for my life.

Pro tip- A quick way to turn the have-to-do into a get-to-do is to view the task under the lens of gratitude. For example, instead of dreading that you have to do the dishes, you can concentrate on having the financial resources to make a delicious meal.


If you are up for a mindset challenge, you could even dig deeper and spend some time thinking about all the people that helped to get your food on the table. Imagine the farmer growing the seeds. Picture the factory worker packaging the food. Think about the truck driver that transported the food from one place to another. Picture the grocery store worker who stocked the shelves to find the exact ingredient you needed to make your meal. Better yet, think about this while you are doing the dishes.


When we consciously flip the switch on our thinking by exposing the illusion of have-to-dos, we develop awareness around what we value in our lives, which opens up choices for how we wish to respond.


What would it look like if we changed the lens of the wording that we view life through? Instead of have-to-do or should-do, we could approach it with getting-to-do or want-to-do. We can breakthrough-conditioned beliefs through applying the lens of awareness.


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