"But I have to do the washing up this evening," objected Alan, a participants on a programme I recently facilitated.
"There are consequences if I don't", he said.
"Yes," I replied, "but you can't equate doing the washing up with dying. We have to die: it is the one certainty we do have in this life. Washing up is a choice."
He was on to something, however. Very often, we weigh up pros and cons, the consequences of different actions and, choosing one set of consequences over another, we feel that we 'have to' take a certain course of action. We don't. We choose to take a certain course of action or, we choose a specific set of consequences (as far as we can predict outcomes).
The complication is that many of the choices we make - to stay in a certain job, to leave a certain job, to pick up the children from school, to care for an elderly relative - are unconscious choices. We may feel that we have an obligation to perform these actions, but they are, 99.9% of the time, choices that we make.
If we see these choices as 'have to', we rob ourselves of our own power. We fail to acknowledge how much choice we do exercise in our lives. Yet we can always become more aware of why we make certain choices and, from this place of deeper understanding, make different choices. But if we assume we are powerless, then we make ourselves powerless. We rob ourselves of the possibility of choosing differently.
'Have to' really is qualitatively different from 'Choose to'. Try this simple exercise Georgeanne shared with me. Tell someone (even yourself) about the rest of your day, and put the words, 'I have to...' before every action you need to perform between now and when you go to bed tonight. E.g. I have catch the bus, I have to stop at the shop to pick up some milk, I have to...."
Now, repeat the exact same exercise, but this time, replace 'I have to' with 'I choose to...'. E.g. "I choose to catch the bus, I choose to stop at the shop to pick up some milk, I choose to....'
How does that feel? It's much lighter and more freeing to choose. Even though the actions are the same, our relationship to those actions changes when we choose to undertake them, when we no longer see them as obligations.