Erik Van Alstine

Erik Van Alstine

Author. Leadership strategist. Expert in Perceptual IntelligenceTM.

Do you “have to” do anything? Ever?

We love freedom. We all want to feel powerful, like we’re fully in charge of our lives.

But there are forces in life that seem conspired against our freedom. Bosses and spouses telling us what to do. The responsibilities of work and family. The invisible need to conform to cultural norms. The build-up of laws and regulations. There’s a constant sense that people and situations and life are controlling us.

Can we ever be truly free?

The road to freedom starts between our ears, in our mindset, where we often sabotage our sense of power because we imagine ourselves as less free than we truly are. With a better sense of freedom and power, we’ll start living better immediately.

Think about these phrases. We’ve all said them:

  • I have to go to work.
  • I have to finish the dishes.
  • I have to pay my bills.

Are these statements true? No. When we say these things, we believe we’re powerless, that we’re victims, forced to do things we don’t want to do.

To unmask this lie, let’s imagine that we don’t “have to” do anything, for anyone, ever. How might our mindset about our work, the dishes, and the bills change?

Do we “have to” go to work?

No, we don’t. We can choose to stay home, skip out and have a free day. We can just call our boss and say, “I’m not coming in today,” and hang up. Or not call at all. Then we can refuse to pick up the phone when the boss calls. We’re absolutely free to go out and enjoy ourselves. We don’t have to go to work.

Unless we want to keep our jobs.

Do we “have to” do the dishes?

No, we don’t. We can let them pile up, forever. I’ve seen the hoarder shows on television that reveal how some people never do their dishes. There’s absolutely no truth to the statement, “I have to do the dishes.” We don’t have to do them. Ever.

Unless we want a clean kitchen.

Do we “have to” pay the bills?

No, we don’t. We can ignore them. Forever. We can ignore the phone when the collectors call. I know people who have ignored their bills then got sent to collections then lost their homes and their cars. We certainly can do all these things. We don’t have to pay our bills. Ever.

Unless we want a house, a car, or light and heat.

The One Thing We “Have to” Do

We don’t have to do anything at all, except suffer or enjoy the consequences of our choices. The better we understand this, the better we understand the full extent of our freedom, as well as the limits of our freedom.

It all starts by seeing ourselves as fundamentally powerful and free. Then, from that place of freedom and power, we think next about the consequences of our choices.

Ahh, the Consequences

But here’s where it gets tricky. Consequences are real. Consequences constrain us. Consequences can even imprison us. Consequences can and absolutely do take away freedom.

Even though we’re free to make any choice, we’re not free to choose the consequences of our choices. Which means we can be free now, but make choices that sabotage our freedom down the line.

Think about the consequence of getting addicted to heroin. We tell ourselves, I can do anything I want, so we go to a drug party and shoot up. It’s the best experience of our lives.

For about two hours.

Studies show that one in four get addicted to heroin in one use. Imagine we’re one of the four, and now we’re an addict. We were free a couple hours ago. Now we’re not as free. The choices we made yesterday reduce our freedom today.

Now imagine we make a series of choices to work hard and invest wisely, and by age 60, we have enough investment income to pay all our bills and more. We weren’t that free to spend money and slack off for a couple of decades, but now we’re more free than we would otherwise have been. The choices we made yesterday increased our freedom today.

Turning “have to” into “want to.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in a sense of duty that we forget why we’re doing our duty. But when we get a clearer view of what it’s all for, we can find the motivation and power to “want to” do things that we previously told ourselves we “had to” do.

It’s true that if we want to keep our jobs, then we have to go to work. If we want a clean kitchen, then we have to do the dishes. If we want a house, a car, and light and heat, we have to pay our bills. There are things we “have to” do now if we want certain things later.

It helps, however, to see the things we “have to” do as a bigger part of the things we “want to” have. We change our words to reclaim our power, saying,

  • I want a good job and consistent income, so I want to go to work.
  • I want a clean kitchen, so I want to do the dishes.
  • I want a house, so I want to pay my bills.


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