“I have to do laundry.”

“I have to give a presentation at work.”

“I have to get the oil changed in my car.”

“I have to exercise.”

No, you don’t—you don’t have to do anything. 

We all have a tendency to feel pressured by the things we think we “have to” do. Not only do we burden ourselves with our own tasks and obligations, we also spend a whole lot of energy tending to our kids, our friends, our parents and our spouses. 

“I have to drive my father to the doctor.”

“I have to go to dinner with my friend.”

“I have to cook a dinner for my spouse each night.”

“I have to mow the lawn every week.”

“I have to plan my daughter’s birthday party.”

What an unhappy existence it is to constantly feel obliged to perform something for yourself or someone else. But what if you could free yourself from that burden?

The answer comes in the simplest concept from one of my favorite authors, Louise Hay, in her book The Power Is Within You. I listen to this book in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. Hay has a very soothing voice, and her messages of self-understanding and empowerment are delightfully simple, accessible and freeing. So there I was at two or three or four in the morning recently, listening to Hay talk about the power of choosing to do something rather than feeling that you have to do it.

That message woke me up! And then it gave me this grand sense of calm.

According to Hay, feeling like we have to do something is rooted in our parents’ demands when we were young. We believed that unless we did things our parents requested, we wouldn’t be loved. Performance = Love. In our young minds, tending to things such as homework, cleaning our rooms, brushing our teeth and eating spinach was equated with acceptance and love. If we didn’t do those things, we did not receive the attention and love we craved. We became little beasts of burden, making sure that we completed our tasks “or else.” Our parents didn’t do anything wrong…and they didn’t ruin us by having behavioral expectations per se. It is just how a child’s mind processes parents’ requests.

Fast-forward to adulthood. Those children have grown up viewing the world through that same childish filter of having to do things to be accepted and loved, putting them in the role of victim trying to earn approval. If you feel like you have to do something, you are beholden to some external force and lack power over your own life. By choosing to do things, the control and power goes back to you.

The truth is, everything we do is by choice even though it may not seem so. Yes, you may have to go to work…but you choose to do that job to pay the rent and put food on the table. Choosing not to go to work would make life extremely unpleasant. 

Choosing to exercise makes you feel better and healthier. Viewing it as an obligation makes it heavy. Choosing to do it puts you in charge of the process and the outcome. 

Choosing to help an aging parent is a privilege that many who have lost their parents would love to “have to” do. Choosing to make your child’s dreams come true with a magical birthday party will create memories of a lifetime.

There’s another aspect to Hay’s advice—there’s the power of an act, and then there’s the language that we use to communicate something. For her, every word we say lives in our minds and our bodies as experience. In turn, our bodies react to those thoughts or words in a physical way. Think—or speak—a positive thought, and your body feels good. Think—or speak—a negative thought, and your body reacts negatively. If you pay close attention, you can feel how your body relaxes when you speak about happy things versus how it tightens when you are having an argument or are frustrated. This extends to all of our words…say something positive and your body relaxes, but say something negative or view things negatively and you tense up just as you do when you feel obligated to do something

By flipping the perspective and language to one of choice and personal power, it lightens you emotionally and strengthens you physically. 

Every individual yearns for independence and control over their own lives…yet we each have put ourselves in emotional servitude to our obligations. Simply shifting the perspective of daily tasks and interactions from an obligation to a choice supercharges your power over your day and your life.

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