Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


From Have 2 to Get 2! The Power of Changing Our Words

Nov 24, 2015

“Watch your mouth!”

I was a second-grader. My friends and I were playing outside during recess. Our team had just lost a game of kickball (the other team cheated, I’m sure of it)! I was angry and without thinking about my words, I dropped an F-bomb. 

words - microphone

Photo Credit: Mandy Versailles via Compfight cc

I know! I was 8, a pastor’s kid no less. But before I could push the word back in, it was out of my mouth. One of my friends threatened to tattle-tale on me and I was terrified. He didn’t and I never got in trouble. I don’t think my parents ever figured out either. (Sorry, mom! I know – I didn’t learn that word from you.)

It’s been a long time since that fateful day on the playground. Like many of you, though, I still use vocabulary today I don’t notice. No f-bombs, but plenty of words whose power I underestimate. 

Words We Take For Granted

One of the phrases we all use too frequently is “I have to _______.” 

-I have to go the gym.

-I have to take the kids to school.

-I have to go to a meeting.

-I have to pick up groceries.

-I have to grab coffee.

I challenge you to pick a day or week to audit your vocabulary and monitor how often you use the phrase “I have to” compared to how often you use the phrase “I get to.” 

Through the impact and influence of Stephen Brewster, creative director at a church in Nashville, I discovered my vocabulary was littered with the phrase “I have to.” While I wasn’t trying to communicate these tasks or responsibilities as obligations, my words told others I viewed them as duties, not privileges. An audit of all of our vocabularies might produce similar discoveries.

What drives “I have to”?

“I have to” is driven by three factors.

1) Diminishing motivators – guilt, fear, and obligation. These three are effective motivators, but they are not good long-term motivators. They are all subject to the law of diminishing returns. “The Law of Diminishing Returns” states that it takes more and more of these to get the job done because they grow less and less effective the longer we use them.

2) A sense of entitlement. We view what we are doing as a burden because we feel like we shouldn’t have to do it. Over time, entitlement turns our “get to” into something we resent. Asserting our “rights” or “due privileges” leads to frustration when we don’t get what we want.

3) An overfamiliarity or loss of appreciation. Our initial sense of gratitude and appreciation often erodes. We begin to no longer see the experience as a privilege. For example, our perspective in a romantic relationship often shifts from the first date to the perspective we have seven or eight years into marriage. On our first couple dates, we would never say “I have to take him/her to dinner.” But over time it’s easy to shift from a “get to” to a “have to” mindset.

Each of these 3 forces are at play in my life and likely yours too. What was once viewed as a gift and privilege has now been pushed out by obligation, entitlement, and over-familiarity. 

During a season where we turn our attention to gratitude, we can all take control of our vocabulary in order to cultivate a “get to” attitude. While becoming aware of destructive motivators is helpful to diagnose the problem, leaning into empowering motivators is even more helpful!

What drives “I get to?”

I believe there are three root motivators for a “get to” mindset.

1) An awareness of our calling and purpose. Instead of being driven by guilt, fear, and obligation, we continue to see the privilege of an experience when we focus on purpose. I believe each of us has been created on purpose, for a purpose. When we are driven by a greater sense of calling, the value of our actions and work skyrockets. We see the value of our work and regularly marvel with wonder – “I get to do this!”

2) The discipline of gratitude. When we are regularly giving thanks for the opportunities we have, we cultivate a “get to” mindset. Stop and think about this – other people are longing for what we are experiencing. Our source of complaints are often the subject of other people’s prayers. Our sense of entitlement really does end where gratitude begins.

3) A sense of awe and wonder. When we are able to cultivate the perspective we had in the beginning, we live from our imagination. If an overly-familiar perspective drives us into a “have to” mindset, then maintaining the sense we had in the beginning changes everything. People who are most naturally curious and who are in touch with their imagination live everyday from a sense of awe and wonder. Cynics and skeptics might call these folks “true believers”, but an essential component of wonder is believing your task/work/responsibility is a privilege. 

A Year of Words

I launched this site a year ago this week. Over the last 12 months, I’ve gotten to write 65 posts on this site. After years of frustration and inconsistency, writing and being read this regularly is a huge privilege. 

Truthfully, as a writer, what moves me is often a deadline. I promised my readers that I’d deliver a new post every Tuesday morning (and then I added a Thursday morning interview last month). But, what keeps me motivated is the awareness of people actually reading and the impact of my words. Sure, there have been some late Monday night sessions where I told my wife, “I have to write a new post.” I’m human! But this is a great privilege.

As a writer, I’m extra attentive to words. The words we use shape our attitudes. While life is full of challenges, most of us are abundantly blessed. We simply fail to live with an awareness of how blessed we are. A simple shift in our vocabulary from “have to” to “get to” can make a huge difference. 

A Word Challenge

If you realize today (or after the audit I mentioned above) that you’re using “have to” more than you realize, challenge someone who spends a lot of time with you to hold you accountable. My friend Mike is a great partner in this cause for me. Just last week, in the middle of a phone call, he asked me, “You have to? Or you get to?” 

It’s a simple question with incredible power. 

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