“I get to…” vs “I have to…”

How shifting an “I have to” to an “I get to” made cleaning the bathroom fun.

I hate cleaning the bathroom. In our house that is one of my tasks. I usually only do it when my partner asks me to because it is bothering her. I usually only clean to the degree that I think I can get away with her not giving me a hard time about it. But about a month ago, I had a really fun time cleaning the bathroom.

I’ve recently had a few opportunities to engage with lots of ideas around positive psychology from presentations, books, and conversations. I’ve found this very rewarding both personally and professionally. Too often when we want to make things better we focus on what doesn’t work so that we can fix things (or people). However, there is just as much to learn from what has worked. Recently I’ve been both seriously and playfully trying to re-frame things that I have come to think of as an obligation as things that I enjoy. In my mind this is shifting the “I have to…” to “I get to…”

Here are a few examples…

  • “I have to get up and workout,” re-framed as “I get to get up and run this morning through beautiful autumn leaves in my neighborhood.”
  • “I have to get this presentation done,” re-framed as “I get to work on this presentation that could be really great.”
  • “I have to meet with this difficult student,” re-framed as “I get to meet with this student who has been difficult in the past, but if I can get through to him – that would be a huge success.”

I find this helpful in re-framing my mindset around things that I enjoy but have come to think of as an obligation – like running in the morning.  I also find it helpful in re-framing things that I really don’t want to do – like cleaning the bathroom.

About a month ago, I was really energized by a conversation about this idea with some friends. I came home from our conversation and decided to choose to think of my task of cleaning the bathroom as an “I get to…” rather than “I have to…” The challenge for me was seeing if I could consciously decide to have fun and actually enjoy cleaning the bathroom.  Turns out…I had a blast. I put some fun music on and really focused on how much more I would enjoy our bathroom if I really did a great job. I also reminded myself that in my work, there are few tangible measures of success but a cleaner bathroom would be something that I could point to and say, “I did that.” I spent more time cleaning the bathroom and did a better job than I probably have in the past five years. I had fun while I was doing it and I felt great about it for the rest of the day.

How many things did you want and choose that you now think of as an obligation? How many things really are obligations that you could re-frame as “I get to…”? How much better would you be as a leader if you re-framed more of your obligations as opportunities? How much more enjoyable would your day be?

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