Do You “Have To” or Do You “Get To”?

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What do you notice about your thought process when you’re about to start something that’s difficult or intimidating? Is your inner monologue helpful or hurtful? Here’s a hint – your self-talk is highly predictive of the result you’re going to get.

There’s a simple mental shift you can make that almost guarantees a better result when you have to do something you’re not totally excited about or find a little bit scary. Instead of telling yourself, “I have to do this thing,” say to yourself, “I get to do this thing.”

As I’ve written here before, I learned this little trick years ago from speaking coach Dr. Nick Morgan when he was helping me prepare for the biggest speech I’d ever given up to that point. It was a keynote to a 1,000 people at the Washington Hilton with production values that were through the roof. Spot lights, teleprompters, the works. When you’re walking from the green room to the stage at the Hilton, you walk through a hallway that is filled with pictures of every U.S. President who has ever given a speech there. It’s an intimidating setting to say the least.

Fortunately for me, Nick knew the venue from personal experience and gave me some critical advice for when I was sitting in the green room waiting to go on. He told me to skip past the idea that I had to go give a big speech and instead focus on the idea that I get to go share my ideas with a 1,000 people who could benefit from them. That simple shift made all the difference. I was actually excited to take the stage that day.

I’ve used that “have to”/”get to” distinction ever since when I’m facing a potentially intimidating situation. A few years ago, for instance, I gave another big speech to a conference in Mexico City where many of the 1,000 plus people were getting simultaneous translation in Spanish as I delivered my speech in English. Again, thinking “get to” instead of “have to” was the key to a good experience for both me and the audience. Thanks to the “get to” mindset, my energy and confidence levels were both high and matched up well with the room.

Today, I’m working on revisions and additions to the upcoming 3rd edition of my first book, The Next Level. A few weeks ago, I caught myself thinking that I “have to” do a bunch of line edits that were going to feel like tedious work. After a good night’s sleep, I woke up with the “get to” perspective. Sure, doing line edits isn’t the most fun thing in the world but the bigger and more important picture with the 3rd edition is that I get to share with my readers so many cool new things I’ve learned from working with great leaders in the eight years since the 2nd edition was released. Once I locked back into the “get to” mindset, the project really took off for me and my creativity and energy soared. (And I can’t wait for you to see the 3rd edition this Fall – I think you’re going to love it!)

So, what is it for you – “have to” or “get to”? What’s on your to-do list right now that could benefit from making the “have to”/”get to” shift? One way to shift your thinking is to focus on the people who are going to benefit from what you’re working on. Consider the difference your work is going to make for them and how it will change their lives for the better. When you develop that mental picture shifting to the “get to” mindset just seems natural.

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