The Living Joyfully Podcast

The Living Joyfully Podcast

LJ029: Examining Have To's [Relationships]

November 23, 2023

We’re back with another episode in our Relationships series and we’re talking about examining our have to's. We often use the words, "I have to," or "You have to," without even realizing that we're saying them! But those words add weight to our lives and they take away our choices. If, instead, we get curious about our language and start questioning all of the have to's, a whole world of possibilities opens up. It's then that we can learn more about ourselves and our loved ones and really tune in to what we want and need. It's powerful!

We hope today's episode sparks some fun insights for you and we invite you to dive deeper with our Episode Questions. Join us on Instagram or YouTube to continue the conversation and share your reflections.

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Let’s dig deep, challenge paradigms, choose connection, and live joyfully!


1. Look at the places you are using the words “have to”, find the why and identify some different choices. How does it feel? 

2. What areas are you telling the people in your life that they “have to” do something? How does it affect your connection? Initiate a conversation with them to find the why and see if that changes the energy around the request. 

3. Use the lens of everything being a choice this week and see if you notice any shifts or recognize any resistance.   


ANNA: Hello! And welcome to the Living Joyfully Podcast. Navigating relationships can sometimes be tricky because people are so different. Thanks for joining us as we dive into tools, strategies, and paradigm shifts to help you decrease conflict and increase connection in your most important relationships.

If you're new to the podcast, we encourage you to go back and listen from the beginning, particularly the episodes in our introductory Foundation series. If you want to dive deeper, we also have courses and coaching, which you can explore at our living joyfully shop. Follow the link in the show notes, or you can go to

Okay, so this episode is part of our relationship series, and we will be digging into the idea of have to's. Have to's are an interesting idea to deconstruct. It's part language, part intention, part external noise. And I feel like language is probably the best place to start. When we use the words "have to" for so many things, like it's so ubiquitous. It really has become such a common phrase that we don't even realize the weight it's adding to everything. "I have to go to the store." "I have to call my mom." "I have to do the dishes." "I have to, have to, have to." And then the weight of that is actually even, I feel like, compounded when we put have to's onto our children or to other people in our life. "You have to brush your teeth." "You have to go to bed." "You have to finish the food on your plate." "You have to go to school." "You have to cut the grass." "You have to finish that project." And on the surface, those things may seem like have to's, but orienting to the idea that everything is a choice can really help empower and bring a lot of clarity about our actions.

We're going to dive more into that in a minute, but bringing some intentionality to our language can really change the energy. And understanding the why behind the things we're viewing as have to gets us to the root of what's going on and is often where the choice lies.

PAM: Yes, yes. I think intentionality can make all the difference in how it feels to do so many things.

I think the phrase "have to," is often used as a shortcut. So, skipping right past the intention and into expectation. The language that we use, both when we're speaking to others and when we're speaking to ourselves can make a huge difference in the energy with which we approach the task at hand.

So, when I notice myself saying, "I have to do X," I notice that it often feels like a weight and I immediately start to build some resistance to doing that thing that I need to overcome before I can even get started, because apparently I don't like being told what to do.

So, to play with that, I just try to change up my language, maybe saying something like, "I want to do X," and just see how that feels. Sometimes my first reaction is no, I do not want to do that. But I can still stay with that for a moment. I might ask myself, "Why might I want to do that?" So, exploring those reasons can help me move from those expectations back to my intentions. I suspect there were originally some reasons that made sense to me that shifted my language into that shortcut realm of "have to," and rediscovering those can help me lean back into, "Oh yeah, that's why I want to do X."

So, the language we use, both with ourselves and others, can just be so helpful in more gracefully navigating the ins and outs of our day. I mean, that shortcut, oh, that's going to save me time. I'm going to be more efficient. But eventually, we forget about the intention that was behind it. And that can drag it out. It's definitely worth exploring.

ANNA: It starts to carry as a weight. I think that's where the weight comes, because suddenly we're like, "Oh, we've got all these have to's. Where is this coming from? What's happening?" We really have lost sight of why we're there and why we wanted to be there and what was the whole purpose in the beginning. And I just feel like language makes such a difference with that.

And I will say that I know saying everything is a choice is something that can sometimes raise hackles for people, because I've been saying this for a very long time. But as soon as you start to break things down, the choice is more evident. And it's often rooted in the why, why we want to do something. I don't have to brush my teeth, but I do because it helps them to remain clean and healthy. It's not the only way. It's one way. And once I understand that, I can make an active choice about how I want to address my, why my need for clean and healthy teeth. Then I'm in control. It's not happening to me. I've regained my agency.

And as humans of any age, we want agency over our lives. And yes, this applies to children as well. So, taking that time to find the choice with our children paves the path for learning, growth, and empowerment. They don't have to go to bed. They might want to, if they need to be up early the next day, or they might not. They might be fine with a couple nights of getting less sleep and then they may want to sleep in longer the next night. They might try it and learn that it didn't feel good the next day and they tease out what works for them.

But the learning in that is so much more robust than being told what to do, where what we're learning at that point is that they have no agency and are supposed to do what someone else thinks they should do. And when we walk that out just a tiny bit, we can see what a slippery slope that is, disconnecting them from that understanding. And we'll talk more about autonomy in our next episode, but it just wanted to plant that little seed for now.

The important piece, I think, to consider today is, what does it feel like to realize that everything is a choice? What I know for myself is that as soon as I think something isn't a choice, I need to stop. I need to take a breath and get back to my why, because there is a reason I'm doing whatever task is at hand.

It serves some purpose in a bigger picture. And as soon as I can identify my why, I can start to see the choices.

So, I can stare at a full sink of dirty dishes and think, "I've got to clean these dishes." The reality of it is, I don't. I could go out to dinner. We could use paper plates. I can throw all the dishes away. And while I might not do that, sometimes it's helpful to take it to the extreme because again, it highlights the choice. Then, if I do the dishes, I know that I've decided it's the choice that best serves me in that moment.

And so, even if we look at jobs, because this one I'll come up a lot with the jobs are important. They are. If my job is feeling like a have to, though, I really want to examine what's going on, because of course I can quit. There will be consequences to that, but I don't have to go to work. And if we look on the smaller scale, let's say I don't have to go to work that particular day. If I was sick or there was an accident, I wouldn't be there and the world wouldn't end.

If I find that I'm feeling bad as an ongoing pattern, then I want to look at the bigger picture to find my choice and my why again. Maybe I choose to go because it's an easy commute and the hours work well with the rest of my life. Okay. I'm back to understanding my why.

When the time comes that those things aren't enough, then maybe it's time to look beyond that job and start to find the priorities that are bubbling up in my life at this current moment. But if I stay in that "have to" place, I just end up resenting the job, probably not doing it very well. And then that discontent bleeds into the rest of my life.

I want to catch that as early as possible and ground back into my knowing that everything is a choice. It may take a minute to see it, and I might still end up making the same choice that called it all into question, but it will feel so different. And that energy makes all the difference in my overall engagement and just joy.

PAM: Yeah. I find it so interesting to remind myself that I have a choice, particularly at those times when I feel like I don't, right? At first it can be confronting, but it can definitely be fun and enlightening to find the choices that are buried underneath all those expectations that we've brought in.

And one that comes to mind for me is attending family gatherings through the holiday season. It can sure feel like I "have to," but again, it's really, really not. Do I actually want to go? I can ask myself that. As you mentioned, if I was sick in the hospital, I wouldn't be going and nobody would be hassling me about not being there.

And you mentioned going to the extreme as well. And it's interesting that we sometimes need to do that to remember that our wishes have value in this choice. But it can also be such a great way to just knock loose that initial "have to" pull. "If I broke my leg and I'm in the hospital, I wouldn't have to go to work.

I wouldn't have to go to the family gathering," all those pieces.

So, what I find really interesting is that once I can just release that "have to" my resistance to it also fades, and I can actually start contemplating the choice itself. So, I start to envision what I would do instead of doing that thing and what I would miss by not going.

So, that leads me to ask myself why I might want to go. And again, once the expectation is released, those intentions have space to start bubbling up. Now I can acknowledge, maybe there are a couple of things that I enjoy about attending and I can start looking forward to actually going. And even more interesting, if I choose to go, as you mentioned, I now realize what I enjoy about it and my energy when I show up is anticipation rather than feeling put upon and looking to leave as soon as possible. "I have to stay for two hours and then I won't get in trouble," etc. And when I'm there, I'm also intentional about engaging in the things that I was looking forward to, because I've thought about it now. Maybe it is striking up a conversation with a particular cousin or an aunt who's going to be there or leading a fun game of charades for whoever wants to play, or just enjoying the food that we don't normally get to eat.

So, I can soak in the pieces that fill me up, enjoying the whole experience much more than if I just showed up because I have to. There's another tick box that I filled. So, even if I do that expected thing, my experience can be very different just because I remembered that it was my choice to go.

ANNA: Oh my gosh. I love that example, because I'm sure it's one that many of us can identify and have. faced, probably, at some point over our lifetime. And understanding our choice and operating from that place really does allow us to move through a holiday season with intention, more joy, we aren't being dragged around and controlled by have to's. We're choosing with intention and that energy changes everything.

And I think it helps to realize that, so often, these have to's are actually external voices weighing in with agendas or prescriptions and those voices tend to champion a singular path. "You have to go to college, you have to get married, you have to buy a house, you have to play sports, you've got to play an instrument, you have to learn a language." But you can see with those how it's saying way more about the speaker than it is about you or your child.

So, people have their biases and there's a comfort in moving other people towards the path that feels comfortable to them. I'm sure I've been guilty of it, too. But like we've been talking about since the beginning, people are so different. And there are so many different paths to learning and growth and for just being a human.

Being aware of where the voices are coming from gives us so much information. We can start to see that it is more about the other person, and perhaps that's something that they want in their life. And then we have a choice, if we want to take that on as our own, or if our inner voice is leading us in another direction. And I have found 9 times out of 10, have to's are coming from these external sources and I really don't want to be buffeted around by other people's expectations of me. I want to tune in to my inner knowing and decide on the path that makes the most sense to my life and to the relationships that I want to cultivate.

And again, it's just bringing intention to that and recognizing that, okay, that's outside of me. What is in me? What do I want to do going forward?

PAM: Yeah, yeah, that's definitely been my experience with so many of the have to's that bounce around my head, and as you said, sometimes come out of my mouth, have much more to do with expectations from others that I have just absorbed over the years.

So, basically a mix of all of the conventional wisdom that surrounds all the things I need to do to be successful in society's eyes. And it really can take a while to tease that apart from what I actually think and feel, because they have become so intimately intertwined. And, in fact, it didn't take long for examining my have to's to become questioning my definition of success, right?

I realized I have absorbed what success looks like over time, but what does success actually mean to me? And that really helps me tease apart the things that I actually feel motivated to do. And I could be motivated to do things I don't particularly enjoy, because they help move me along a path to a bigger picture goal.

And I find it more helpful to recognize that bigger picture than try to keep beating myself up with, "You have to do this," over and over and over. Just remembering why I'm choosing to do this. Even if I didn't really feel like getting up early to do the thing, or I didn't really feel like working on it this afternoon, et cetera, but recognizing that bigger picture can really help me realize that it's not a "have to," it's an, "I choose to." And as you said, Anna, there are just so many different paths, because people are so different. That one-size-fits-all approach of the conventional path doesn't actually fit well for very many people. So many outliers.

ANNA: True, and it can take years to unpack that and to find the path that truly makes the most sense to us, especially if it happens to be a bit more alternative or not fit into the narrow lines that we've been told. But I think understanding all of this that we've been talking about in this episode, we can bring intentionality to our language. We can release the agendas that are being handed to us and find our own unique paths. We can understand and help articulate our why and help our children find and articulate theirs. Through that process, we learn more about them. We learn more about ourselves. And I've just found it really empowering. And it's just also a red flag that I look for when I'm feeling a little disenfranchised or a little dysregulated, or just not feeling happy with what's happening in my life, this is usually a good place for me to go. What am I putting as weight or have to's? What's happening? And to find that why, to find those reasons, to look at that bigger picture, like you were saying, and then suddenly I'm like, oh, I've got it. I know why I'm here. I know why this is feeling that way. And here are the things I can change. So, there's just a lot there.

PAM: I know it, it really is. It's such a simple concept, such a simple idea, when you notice yourself saying "have to," especially if you don't go, "Oh, yay!" it is so worth digging into. Because it doesn't have to take a long time. Some are a little bit harder to dig into than others, a little bit more challenging. But it's just so worth taking that extra minute or two to reground ourselves in why we want to do the thing, because literally it changes our energy, because we found our intention.

We bring a more intentional energy to it. We can appreciate the act of doing the thing, whatever it is. Even if it's doing the dishes, remembering that I'm choosing it. Ah, now I'm going to set myself up to enjoy this a little bit more or I'm going to more intentionally bring some zen energy to it or whatever it is that I have found that I can appreciate. Or maybe it's like, Ooh, what I appreciate is having it done and let's see, how can I speed it up? It brings back that playful energy that we talk about so much, right?

ANNA: Exactly. Open and curious. What can we do to change that feeling that weight that we're carrying around about a particular thing? And I think you're right. It's that combination of finding that why and then, like, okay, what can I do to make this feed me and be more interesting or bring in something different? And so, yeah, I love that point as well.

So, just a few questions to ponder this week. First, let's look at places where you find yourself using the words "have to." Find the why and identify the different choices. And how does it feel? What does that process feel like to really dig in there a little bit?

And second, look for areas where maybe you're telling other people in your life that they have to do something. Step back a bit and look at how is that impacting your connection, maybe initiate a conversation with them to understand their why, to talk about your why, and see if that changes the energy around the request in general.

And then I would just say, let's use the lens of everything being a choice. Even if your hackles were raised when you heard it at first, just bring it in and see how it feels this week. And just see if you notice any shifts or if you recognize the resistance and then look at that. Because again, when I'm feeling like I don't have a choice, that is my red flag to like, whoa, I want to understand where that's coming from and look at what can I do? What can I do to release some of that weight?

PAM: I really do find that is such a fun question. What if I didn't do that? What would happen? It is really interesting, because so often we've got that weight of, oh, there'd be so much trouble and all these people would be mad at me. And it's so interesting to just contemplate, because then, even if you're sure you would never not do the thing, it's that shift to realizing, but it's a choice. Everything is a choice.

ANNA: Right. I absolutely want to do it, because this is what feels best to me. And then, oh, my gosh, it's just so different to just go, "I want to do this." And so, right. I just find it such a valuable process. I'm so curious how that lands for everyone and what they uncover over the next week. But anyway, thank you so much for listening. And we will see you next time. Take care.