The Power of One Word: How exchanging the words "have" and "want" can alter your life
Author: Colleen Lennon, LCSW
Edited: Julie Raymond, LCPC
Our minds are very powerful tools and have a significant influence in how we perceive the world, ourselves, the actions, behaviors, or words of others, and the positive or negative impacts that situations, people, or information have on us. Many believe that when something is “wrong” or negative in their life, something external needs to change, such as their job, the amount of money they have or make, their partner, something about their clothing or appearance, where they live, etc. But actually, when we want to change something about our lives or ourselves, the first place to start should be with our minds and how we think. The way we phrase or think about things can have a significant impact on our mood, our perception of the activity or action, and how motivated we are to complete it.
Think about when you have a “to do” list, a responsibility, or something to be completed. Do you think “I have to do this” or “I want to do this?” When you use the phrase “I have to,” it implies a sense of expectation or requirement to complete the action and removes any personal thinking or decision making in the process. Using the phrase “I have to” completely leaves out the sense of optionality or personal decision in doing the activity. This sense of requirement and lack of personal decision could possibly lead to negative feelings about the act, disappointment, failure, or guilt if it is not completed, feeling forced to do something, and/or anger or resentment towards either the person asking for it or who is included in the task to be done. Also, constantly using the words “have to” when referring to tasks or activities will not allow you to figure out what you truly enjoy and want to do. If you feel or think everything in your life is a “have to” item, then you will not be able to separate the true necessities from the pleasures.
However, with just a simple change in the way you think about the tasks, you can change it from a possible negative experience into a more positive one. If you use the phrase “I want to,” instead of “I have to,” then it implies a personal desire or decision to complete the action or activity. When you think or say “I want to” do something, then you may feel a greater sense of control, enjoyment, pleasure, and/or accomplishment when the task is completed. In using the phrase “I want to” there will also no longer be a feeling of disappointment, failure, or guilt if the task is not completed because the decision was personally made. If you do not complete the action, rather than thinking of yourself as a failure or another negative thought, you can think “I guess I must not have really wanted to do it then” and use it to determine what you actually want to do. When you really sit down and think about the tasks or activates in your life and determine which ones you truly WANT to do, you may feel more fulfillment and enjoyment in your life and more positive feelings toward others who may be involved in the tasks or activities.
By changing just one little word in the way we think about our responsibilities, actions, or activities in our lives, we can change our whole world. Before you go about trying to change all the external factors in your life with the hopes of feeling more positive or happy, look at the way you are thinking and how you are phrasing your thoughts. You may be surprised at what you find and the possible negative impact it is having on you. Identifying negative thought processes and changing them can be a challenge for some, but therapy and the assistance of a therapist can help to identify the negative thoughts and ways to improve them.