“Have To” Into “Get To”: How to Harness the Power of Words to Change Your Thoughts

I’ve been noticing a thinking pattern in my brain lately that keeps me feeling a bit stuck. I don’t think it’s just me. I hear my clients doing this, and I see what it’s creating for them.

 

When “I get to” turns into “I have to”

And as I was thinking about it, I remembered the first time I noticed this same thinking pattern happening in high school. 

I love to read. I remember reading all the time and everywhere. I got in trouble for turning my light back on to read after I was tucked in, and I was supposed to be going to sleep.

So what I thought was so fascinating was that in high school and college, when I was assigned reading, it felt like the worst punishment of all time. I was always complaining about it and procrastinating.

When I was young and spending all of my spare time reading, I was thinking, “I get to read.” Then, when it was assigned reading, I was thinking, “I have to read.” 

That’s it. One word changed my entire experience of my favorite pastime.

It changed how I felt about it, how I experienced it while reading, how I showed up for it, usually late and scrambling and grumpy. 

 

“I have to” thinking patterns

“I have to” is that thinking pattern that I’m noticing showing up for me now. It’s making things I’m doing anyway feel heavy and hard.

But it’s not just “I have to” thinking. It’s also I can’t, and I should, or I’m supposed to. 

So I asked myself, what are the things I think I have to do in my life?

I have to take care of my kids. I have to clean my house. I have to manage my mind. I have to manage my finances. I have to pay my bills. I have to go to church. I have to be an engaged partner. 

I have a lot of “have to’s” around my business. I have to work. I have to answer emails. I have to take care of my clients. I have to plan for the future. I have to create content. I have to market. 

It is the same thing with my health as well. I have to get enough sleep. I have to drink water. I have to take care of myself. I have to shower.  I have to work out.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t include all the “I shoulds.”

I should do more cardio. I should journal more. I should spend more time with my friends. I should spend more time with my family. I should be more punctual. I should be more productive. I should meditate.

Then add in the “I can’t.”

I can’t get a handle on this. I can’t get on top of this. I can’t seem to figure this out. I can’t change this.

 

Do you really have to?

If this is showing up for you, too, let’s talk about what we can do. You know I’m a strong believer that words matter — and this is a matter of words.

When we believe “I have to” about things we do anyway, it changes the experience of doing those things. It adds an emotional weight and obligation to the process of doing it that’s just unnecessary. 

So sit down and ask yourself the question, what are the things I think I have to do?

You can separate this into categories like work, home, personal, health, and weight loss. 

Now, let’s just get something out of the way. We don’t have to do anything. We are adult humans. We can do whatever we want. 

Think about the things you think you have no choice about that you have to do. But, of course, you don’t have to do any of it. 

Yes, there are consequences to not doing it, but if you think, “I have to take care of my kids. I have no choice.” that’s just not true. There are plenty of people who don’t take care of their kids.

Consider that when you’re making your list of “have to’s.” There will be things on that list that you truly believe you have to do, that you believe you don’t have a choice about.

Look at those hard “have to’s” and find evidence for how that isn’t true. For example, some people leave their kids, who don’t pay their mortgages, who don’t obey the law.

 

From “have to” to “want to”

When I look at the alternatives to some of my choices, it turns from an “I have to” to an “I want to.” For example, I want to pay my mortgage because I want to have a house. I want to take care of my kids because I love them.

Once you have your list, go back through, and change out the “have to” in the sentence to “get to.” Just because you change the word won’t mean now it feels true.

But “get to” changes it from an obligation to an opportunity. So we want to spend a minute asking, what opportunity does this present?

So maybe your sentence is, “I have to make a food plan for tomorrow.” We would switch to “I get to make a food plan for tomorrow.” 

Then we would ask, what opportunity does this present? You get to utilize your brilliant adult brain to make a decision now, so you won’t have to make one tomorrow.

You have an opportunity to practice making aligned decisions from a place of love for you. You get to practice the skill of considering and choosing what you want most ahead of time so that you don’t just choose what you want in the moment all the time.

 

Question your “I should’s”

Do the same thing for the “I should/I’m supposed to” sentences. They become “I want.” 

This changes them from outside pressure to inside desire, from extrinsic to intrinsic. 

This is also a test because some of your “should/supposed to” are not actually things you want.

They are things other people have told you to do or that society has suggested. Changing out should/supposed to for want will often reveal this. 

And if the “should/supposed” to are not things we actually want, we get just to let them go.

Some of my favorite questions for this would be:

  • How do I know I should? 
  • Who says? 
  • Do I want to believe them?

 Consider the source. If you don’t trust it, like it, or even know it, bye.

 

Dealing with “I can’t”

Now, the “I can’t” thoughts. I think when it comes to our weight loss journey, this may be an equally thick stack to the “have to’s.”

We want to change out the “I can’t” that is about to capability with “I will” or “I am going to.”

If your brain offers objections to believing this, then we want to inquire, how?

How will I figure this out?

Brainstorm some things you might try. We want to open up to the possibilities here. 

You could also ask, are there any examples of someone else doing this thing that I think I can’t do? 

How are they accomplishing it? 

What’s different about them compared to me?

We want to change out the “I can’t” that is about any rules or restrictions that you have for yourself to “I don’t.”

I love this shift because it takes you from restriction to identity, which is a much more powerful declaration.

When you think I can’t eat dessert, it disempowers you. It’s like saying there’s something outside of me forcing this restriction on me. It’s not my choice.

It feels terrible. Whereas I don’t eat dessert is a strong statement of who you are. It’s like saying I’m a person who takes care of myself in this way.

You can also add right now, or tonight, or today to your “I don’t” sentence if you have a lot of trouble believing it. 

Find a true sentence that counters it. 

I don’t eat dessert today. I don’t eat dessert right now. And then practice believing that. 

 

Practice a new thought

Practice is a critical component of the efficacy of any of this — with consciousness and commitment, you practice these new sentences, these new beliefs until they feel like the only truth.

The more you practice, the more you will look for and find evidence that they are true, and the more strongly you will believe them. 

This is a power cycle or a virtuous cycle rather than a vicious one. Both are feedback loops. One is a positive feedback loop, encouraging you to keep doing this, the other a negative one.

The words you choose will determine the outcome, and the choice is yours. 

 

This kind of thought work is invaluable on your journey to losing weight for life. If you’re ready to get started, watch my free video on how to lose the first five pounds — and keep going.

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Natalie brown certified life and weight loss coach

Meet Natalie

I spent over 2 decades battling my weight and hating my body, before I found a solution that worked FOR GOOD. I lost 50 pounds by changing not just what I eat, but WHY. Now I help other women like me get to the root of the issue and find their own realistic, permanent weight loss success. Change is possible and you can do it. I can help you.

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