Take a second to think the last time you used the phrase “I have to…” or “I need to…”. Chances are you do this subconsciously without being aware of what you are saying, but I want you to look back at that statement and think about what it is that you had to do, or that you needed to do, and ask yourself: “Did I really need/have to do that?” The problem with using the terms “need to” and “have to” is that it applies unnecessary pressure to the situation. A common phrase I hear amongst my peers is “I have to go to the gym”, but do you really have to? What will happen if you don’t? The feelings of guilt, disappointment, and self-defamation are typically derived from our inability to cope with a given situation. However, if we make a simple adjustment to our vocabulary, we can veer away from these feelings and turn those statements into more of a motivational one. Personal experience One of my current athletes, who is 11 years old, struggles with this every week at her swim meets. Before every race, she tells herself the things she “needs” to do in order to be successful. Where she is struggling is that she realizes early in the race that she will not meet those expectations, which she responds by quitting mid-race and not swimming up to her potential, which decreases her enjoyment of the sport. At that age, the enjoyment of sport is the most important factor in their continued participation. According to the National Alliance of Youth Sports, around 70 percent of youth sport participants in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because they are not having fun (2016). Over the last month, we have worked on getting her to simply change her vocabulary and getting used to that process. By all it means, it was not a smooth transition and has not been perfected, but what she has noticed as that she feels less pressure while competing, which has allowed her to have more fun. Again, it may be a small change, but the difference it can make can be enormous psychologically. How to make the change There are scenarios where these negative feelings are more valid, such as making a false accusation about somebody, but there are other situations where these feelings are unnecessarily presenting themselves, like hating yourself for not going to the gym. The act of using “have to” or “need to” places unwanted pressure on our conscious, and if we don’t complete those tasks, we open ourselves up to the personal backlash of guilt, shame, and disappointment. Instead of using the word “need” or “have”, try using the word “want” instead. For example, change “I need to lose weight” to “I want to lose weight”, change “I have to make this putt” to “I want to make this putt”. By changing one simple word, you take the statement from being more pressure-inducing to motivational. Next time you make a statement that involves the phrase “need to” or “have to”, allow yourself the opportunity to go back and restate the sentence by incorporating a mental cue. This cue can be physical, such as a deep breath or clapping your hands, or it can be verbal, such as saying “start over” out loud or in your head. When you notice yourself make a “need/have to” statement, apply your mental cue, and then follow that up with your “want to” statement. It takes time to change something we have subconsciously done throughout our entire lives, but once we acknowledge it and raise our awareness, we can begin to shift the way we respond. Final thoughts There are activities that we have to do and need to do in order to survive: breathe, work, pay bills, etc. However, when it comes to activities that are done out of choice and not out of necessity, there are other things we could be doing with that time. You are choosing to go to the gym because you want to, not because you have to. You could easily go hang out with friends, go to the beach, go running outside, or stay home and watch your favorite television series. When you are making the choice, make it because you want to. Change your vocabulary in these situations and you will instantly feel less pressure to complete the things you set out to do.
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