Before you read beyond the next paragraph, I’d like you to engage in a simple exercise. After reading the rest of this paragraph, close your eyes, and then run through your “to do” list. What’s on it? More importantly how would you articulate it to someone? When you’ve got it, literally speak it out loud as you would to someone else. Then come back and keep reading.
My experience has been that most people will begin by telling me what they “need” to do. On that I call bullshit. There are five things you “need” to do – eat, drink, breath, sleep, and go to the bathroom.
Everything else is a choice. Yes there could be some pretty nasty consequences that emanate from not addressing some of those needs, but there are no guarantees that doing or not doing A always leads to B. The key takeaway is to always remember it is a choice, your choice. Own it.
When I inspect someone on their list of “need to dos,” it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that that list did not originate with them. It usually is someone else’s voice setting the priority – a parent, spouse, boss, society – and it feels incredibly heavy and virtually impossible to feel motivated to begin. The reason is fairly easy to understand; there’s no emotional connection. Often times when I took on something I thought I “needed” to do I resented it and rarely gave my best. I’d get frustrated by the lack of progress and quit until pressed to make a “new” commitment. Then I’d trot out the “need to” list and back on the treadmill to failure. Sound familiar? How many times do you have to commit to losing 10 pounds before you accept you’re not committed to it?
Why Does This Need to be Done?
So these days I use the following litmus test. Rather than saying I “need” to do something I insert the word “want.” If that feels right I know I’m on the right track. Language can be subliminally powerful. “I need to” sounds and feels oppressive and forced, whereas saying “I want to” is a declaration of ownership.
When you speak it, it resonates with commitment and triggers action. It inspires others to want to collaborate with you while the “I need” paradigm usually leads to dispassionate inspection.
So, my suggestion is to take inventory of your to do list. What are “wants” vs. “needs?” Focus on the wants.
The feeling of accomplishment from achieving some modicum of progress towards your wants might inspire you to move on the perceived list of needs. To ensure it is a true “want” and not merely a “need” in “wants” clothing, speak it aloud to someone you trust. Your voice will reveal what is true.
Of course there are some “needs” it might be in your interest to take on. However, as long as you view them as a needs rather than a want, taking them on will feel as heavy as that unwanted 10 pounds.
In order to reclassify them you should get to the why behind the goal. Ask yourself “why does this need to be done?” Better yet, have someone you trust ask you. Whatever the answer, subject it to the why test. Do this five times, the amount of repetition necessary to peel away the bullshit and get to the core truth. If the why doesn’t feel deeply personal enough to inspire you to want to do it, YOU NEED TO HONOR THE TRUTH.
It is someone else’s “want” that you’ve allowed yourself to be enslaved by. It might sound harsh but try it, it can set you free.
Hopefully, this is something you’ll want to do because I submit it is an exercise you need to do to find happiness and fulfillment.