Three little words that will kill your motivation every time

Do you ever catch yourself saying things like…

I have to be on the departmental Zoom call at 10am. I have to drive carpool three times this week. I have to get to the grocery store today. I have to stop eating those Cheez-Its®.  

Me too. Cheez-Its® are the best.


Believe it or not there is more for us to worry about here than hydrogenated fats and empty calories. The phrase I have to, whether we say it out loud or think it in our head, is a motivation killer.

Simply put, I have to implies obligation. When you say I have to do something like a meeting, errand, or avoiding bad carbs, your brain’s desire for autonomy, the need to make its own decisions, kicks into high gear, and puts the brakes on any have to. Without realizing it, your own self-talk may what’s standing in your way.

You might find yourself showing up late or procrastinating your have to without a clear understanding of why. You might get out your violin and play a sad tune about how busy your life is or how much you’ve got on your plate in addition to all your many have to’s. And if it hasn’t happened yet, you’ll definitely start wearing out, winding down, and wondering why your life lacks action and energy and that elusive sense of joy. The culprit? I have to.


Take a second and think of the last time you said, I have to

I have to talk to my boss. I have to read to the kids. I have to get new tires. I have to be there by 5. 

If you are like me, you’ll find that you either say I have to or think I have to all the time. 

What are some of your go-to I have to’s?

(Hint: They are probably things you’re not all that excited to do, but someone either needs them to be done or tells you they should be done.)

The list is endless and exhausting and truth be told, the enemy of your soul. When you’re living with I have to’s, you are not living your best life.


Right about now you may be saying, Wait a minute, Dale. You may be right, but I DO HAVE TO DO this stuff.

I get it and agree with you. I’m not suggesting that you chuck all the things in life that you have to do. Rather, I am suggesting that a small shift in verbiage can make all the difference in your attitude and turn your frown and your lack of motivation upside down.

Instead of I have to, rephrase your to-do’s as I choose to. It’s that simple.


I choose to is a phrase of intention, not obligation, so it has the opposite effect as I have to. Instead of draining your battery, I choose to gets your motor running.
Go ahead, give it a go. For every I have to you identified above, substitute the words I choose to in its place.
I choose to talk to my boss. I choose to read to the kids. I choose to get new tires. I choose to be there by 5.
Don’t you feel better already?
I choose to is a statement of ownership, intention, and stewardship. It makes you stand a little taller because you are now taking responsibility for an action. No one is forcing or pressuring you, so there is no internal defiance like you get with I have to.
And you don’t even have to like the activity to be motivated to do it because by prefacing your tasks with I choose to, I choose to pick up dog doo, you are now focusing on the outcome, the benefit you get from doing that activity (a doo-free yard) which is always motivating.


Actually, I’m just agreeing with God. 

Each man (or woman) should give what he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

This means do what you do without a begrudging attitude or a nagging sense of guilt. This means do what you do not out of duty, not because of obligation, and never because of the pressure you feel from the expectations of others. God doesn’t want your I have to’s.

…For God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7-8).

If you watch your words and own your actions, you will be able to say I choose to most of the time. And if not, I choose not to can be just as powerful. You were not designed to be everything to everyone, so make sure that you are being intentional, not resentful, and saying no when necessary.


In the box below, list all your obligations, those activities you feel you have to, should or should not. Next, in column 2, rephrase your obligations as intentions OR admit your realization in column 3. Often this step leads you to a realization that you don’t want to be doing something. How liberating! Hire someone else to do it, delegate it, go without it, do it next year, or admit the cold hard truth that this is not who you want to be, and make a change.

I have toI choose to…I choose NOT to…
I should…
I shouldn’t…
Download your own copy of this chart here.

What are you now unleashed to get done?

If you want to make a difference in the world, but aren’t quite sure how to make that happen, book a call. As a life & career coach, author, and speaker I work with professionals and organizations who want to see their hidden strengths and define their authentic purpose so they can engage in meaningful work and become all they are meant to be.