You Don’t “Have To” Do Anything | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

You Don’t “Have To” Do Anything


One thing I’ve learned about blogging is that, whenever I tell myself I “have to” write another blog post, that’s basically a surefire guarantee that I won’t finish one that day.  Or, maybe I’ll end up churning out something that feels second-rate to me.  Whatever happens, I probably won’t be happy with the end result.

I wondered for a while why this seemed to be true.  One day, when I caught myself thinking “it’s about time I wrote something new,” I noticed my neck and shoulders tensing up in response.  It was as if an angry two-year-old inside me was insisting “I won’t!” in response to a parent’s command.  No wonder my writing turned sluggish and frustrating when my body was so uncomfortable.

As it turns out, many psychologists have come to the same conclusion—when you tell yourself you “must,” “should,” or “have to” do something, you’re going to create resistance inside.  Marshall Rosenberg puts this well in Nonviolent Communication:  “human beings, when hearing any kind of demand, tend to resist because it threatens our autonomy—our strong need for choice.  We have this reaction to tyranny even when it’s internal tyranny in the form of a ‘should.’”

Recognizing Your Choice

I do my best work, I’ve found, when I keep in mind that I always have a choice about whether to write or not.  There’s no rule or law that says I have to write.  If I wanted to, I could choose never to write another article.  As important as I sometimes make myself out to be, the universe would probably survive, and I’d find other things to do with my time.  When I come to my work with this no-pressure attitude, I get the most done and have the most fun doing it.

Some people I’ve told about this have been skeptical.  “If I didn’t tell myself I have to go to work, I wouldn’t go,” one of my friends insisted.  This is a common attitude—that if we didn’t punish or threaten ourselves into working, we’d never accomplish anything.  Somewhere along the line—probably when we were kids—many of us learned that we’re basically lazy and we need a firm hand to push us where we’re “supposed” to go.

And I think there’s another fear lurking beneath this habit of ordering ourselves around—the fear of being overwhelmed with options.  For instance, if my friend stopped commanding himself to go into the office every day, and acknowledged he has a choice in every moment about what to do with his time, he might start thinking about all the possible things he can do with his life—from trapeze artist to termite rancher.  It can be dizzying to realize how much freedom we really have.

You “Have To” Try This

Adopting a no-pressure attitude to motivate yourself may be against the conventional wisdom, but if you try it I think you’ll experience how liberating it can be.

A useful exercise you can do to see this for yourself is to watch for a moment in your daily life when you start telling yourself you “have to” do something—whether it’s washing the car, typing that presentation, calling your friend, or whatever else.  Check in with your body, and notice what sensations are coming up—how do you feel inside when you order yourself around like that?

Now, take a moment and acknowledge that you don’t “have to” do it at all, and that it’s actually up to you.  Say to yourself, inside or out loud, “I can choose whether to do this.”  Watch how your body responds to recognizing your freedom.

What I think you’ll notice is that, when you acknowledge your power to choose, your body actually relaxes, and it’s much easier to focus in this calmer state.

Link LoveEvan Hadkins writes insightfully and provocatively about psychology, health, politics, and the proverbial “much, much more.”  You may also want to check out my interview with Evan about his book, Living Authentically.  It’s got real depth and definitely isn’t your average “book promo piece.”

20 thoughts on
You Don’t “Have To” Do Anything

  1. Evan

    Hi Chris, thanks for the mention.

    A therapist once said to me: If you are procrastinating; consider not doing it. It went home to me like an arrow – I’ve never forgotten it.

  2. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    I love the timing of this post, Chris. Just the other day I was trying to finish a blog post but it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t make the one I wanted to use flow. Then I thought, “Crap! I need something to post. I should try to churn this out.” The thing is, I really liked the idea I was working on, but the day wasn’t a good writing day. So I set it aside, left it unfinished, and found a quote to use instead. Immediately I felt better.
    I’m with you – if I think I have to do something, I become “distraction girl” (not a superhero name by any means). I resist in very peculiar ways: I get tired, I get hungry, I get antsy — sometimes all three at once.
    When I stop thinking I have to do something, though, and put it into the mindset of “I want to do…” the positive energy rushes in and I’m excited to accomplish whatever it is!

    Again, I loved the timing of this. Perfect for what I was going through earlier this week.

  3. Craig | BloomVerse

    Chris, great point here. This is one of the easiest ways to get stuck fast. In these circumstances, it’s highly effective to notice when it’s happening, get in touch with the feeling of resistance, and then let it go. The relief is usually instantaneous and a couple times through that simple process can make a world of difference.

  4. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Evan — that reminds me of the hypnotists I’ve seen who ask people to start doing one of their bad habits and then yell “stop!” and it really can “break the pattern.”

  5. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Megan — it sounds like you have a lot of awareness around the ways that inner resistance comes up. I think just having that awareness can do so much to help get through moments of creative blockage.

  6. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Craig — yes, I’ve definitely experienced that putting my attention on that feeling of inner tightness or resistance is sometimes enough to help the tension dissolve by itself.

  7. Evelyn Lim

    You must be addressing me in this post of yours….LOL!! Due to other work commitments, I had been having less time to write. So I decided to allocate a day in the week just for writing. Well, today is the day! And no words flew out easily the whole morning! So here I am…going round doing blog commenting and I read your post!

  8. Robin

    Well Chris – I am reading blogs at the moment because I told myself I HAD to do it… but wait – it makes me feel better to get on with it! So maybe I am in tune with myself at the momet. Seriously – I love your blog and your words, Chris – like Evelyn says, they are meant for me.

  9. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — yes, it doesn’t seem like our imagination sticks to a predetermined schedule, does it? I find that the same thing happens when I set aside specific time to write, which is why I usually just keep Notepad open all day and trust that inspiration will come.

  10. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Robin — I hope you’re not feeling resentful that you “have” to read this blog. :) No, it doesn’t sound like you are. Thanks for the appreciation and I’m glad this piece was inspiring for you.

  11. Sara

    Chris — I liked this post very much and it’s a good reminder to me of what I’ve been trying to do with my life. I like the imagery of not “ordering myself around.” It makes me want to tell my bossy side to go take a hike for the day:~)

    I’m semi-retired now, but for ages I kept up the 8 – 5 work pattern. I was so used to pushing myself and demanding that I be “productive” that I couldn’t even see that I had choices…and then it was also a long time before I was comfortable with those choices. The “shoulds” and “must dos” were strong voices inside me.

    Slowly, I am learning the wisdom of your words. Now, if I don’t feel like writing, I go sit outside, read a book or take a nap. I let the writing sit. It’s not always easy for me to do this, but when I do, I usually find my voice again.

    Thanks for this post:~)

  12. Davina

    Hi Chris. How true is this! Those “shoulds” add a lot of pressure. I’ve been feeling that same way about blogging lately. Feeling like I “have” to write. I LOVE to write, but when I add the should or have to, it makes it so much more difficult.

  13. Stacey Shipman

    Hi Chris – I have been feeling the same way, too about blogging, my business. So many shoulds! When I think I “should” writing is so much more work! I’ve been working to follow my gut more, rather than my mind. When I do life is “easier”.

  14. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Sara — I liked what you said about being comfortable with having choice — I definitely experienced that in my old job, where I found myself preferring feeling trapped in my career situation to staring into the abyss of all the possibilities out there. Letting writing percolate for a while is hard for me to do as well but I’ve always found it rewarding.

  15. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Davina — yes, it does seem hard to like what we do when we “have” to do it, doesn’t it — when we start becoming our own parents or drill sergeants to try to keep a routine.

  16. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Stacey — yes, I think it’s hard to have faith in our instincts when we aren’t following some rational-sounding plan, but it also seems like the only way creativity can really come out.

  17. Giovanna Garcia

    Hi Chris,

    I believe if we are all doing our very best, than none of us have to justify anything to anyone.
    In the end, there are only a few things that matter. And I live by just honoring those few things.
    Thanks for sharing, I enjoy this topic.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  18. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Giovanna — I like that way of putting it — that if you focus on meeting your own expectations rather than everyone else’s, that heavy feeling like you “have to” do everything goes away.

  19. Jannie Funster

    Geez, we’re on the same wavelength today in the olde blogosphere, Mister Edgar.

    I have totally hit that “Oh no, it’s been 3 (or 4,) days since my last post — I HAVE to publish something Great NOW” wall. Well, to heck with that self-erected wall. That wall has been busted down by the blog angels to be replaced by windows of higher understanding, windows without even screens. Let’s call it more of a pergola, really. An open pergola of self-love and positivity.

    Or maybe just going for a walk. Or singing to the moon, a change of consciousness that opens our hearts to the flow of our own creativity.

  20. Chris Edgar - Post author

    There’s no one I’d rather share a wavelength with, Madame Funster. That pergola sounds like an awesome place to hang out. I imagine it being by the pool and exotic drinks with umbrellas being available.

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