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The Magic Tool to release stress and guilt acquired from your to do list.

So often in conversation I hear the flag words, “I have to”, or “I need to”. We often use these words when we talk about something we would like to get done but haven’t chosen to do yet. “I have to reply to that email”, “I have to make a dentist appointment”, or “I need to go to the gym”.

We want to be responsible and we want to take action, but we have decided not to take care of it. Two factors often play into this occurrence, a paradigm we might not even be aware of and fear of results. Some common paradigms are: I don’t have enough time or I’m not worthy of someone’s attention or business. Fears also keep us from action, fear the results won’t be what we want, what if I don’t word that email well enough, or the visit to the dentist or the gym are painful?

As soon as we say “I have to” or “need to,” whatever follows becomes a burden, something we actively try to avoid. In a weird way we feel put upon and weighed down by our own desires.

I’m reminded of the concept of “Adulting,” how tiring it can be to do the responsible thing, the right thing. We don’t want to put in the effort to do all the things that are expected of us, but we like how smooth our lives run when we take care of the little tasks, like paying the electric bill so our lights stay on.

As soon as we use a “have to” or “need to”, we create an aversion to that activity, we feel stress and pressure to follow through and our inner toddler becomes defiant and says, “I’m not going to” and we avoid it. The stress builds even more when the guilt comes in soon after. We know we “should” and yet we still haven’t. We create a cycle that starts with “need to”, then moves on to aversion, then guilt we didn’t get it done, and the cycle restarts.

I often busy myself with everything else I can think of instead of spending time  doing the thing I really want to get done. My go to avoidance for business “need to’s” is cooking for my family. I can easily convince myself that it is more important to make a loaf of bread for dinner than to work on writing an email. I also have the compulsion to get more coffee or go the bathroom whenever I’m about to sit down and do the thing I’m avoiding.

I learned a magical tool for shifting our interest and energy around tasks we want to do, but haven’t done yet, from a Waldorf kindergarten class. It is common in our culture today to ask a child, “Do you want to take your plate to the sink?” or add “Okay?” to the end of a request. When we ask a child if they want to do something, most children would say no. Instead, in a Waldorf kindergarten they are given the opportunity to do something that is desired by the teacher: “You may take your plate to the sink”. It becomes a privilege and they want to do it. It is a magical tool because it works every time.

When we choose to change our language (and therefore our thinking) around the phrases, “have to” or “need to” and instead use “want to” or “get to,” there is an unexpected shift that happens and we feel a stronger desire to embrace whatever it is. It becomes a joy that we get to do this.

Focusing on the results we expect when that action is taken can help get us through “adulting” breakdowns. We want the results we will get when we do the thing. We want to let that person know we appreciated their email; we love how we feel after going to the gym; we want to have healthy teeth. In shifting to “want”, we feel a sense of excitement around the activity instead of dread.

When you find yourself frequently putting something off and using “have to” when speaking about it, I invite you to step back and check in with yourself. Check to see if you are doing these things out of a sense of duty or from an expectation, not from what feeds your soul. Only you can know if it is fear keeping you from doing something or if it really is something for you to do right now. If it is not something that you feel called to do, take it off the list. This decision removes you from the guilt/inaction cycle, freeing your time and energy for what you feel called to do.

I invite you to notice when you put the burden of “have to” on yourself. You get to be your own kindergarten teacher and remind yourself that you get to do this, you may do this thing you want to do. You will be amazed at how changing one word can shift your whole energy.


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