For years, I have taught that if you really want to keep yourself motivated, it is important to understand the difference between “have to, should and must” and “want to.”

Since we were born, we have been programmed with what we “should do” to be accepted, what we “have to do” to get good grades or get promoted, and what we “must” do to avoid a consequence. Fear, “I have to or else,” and duty, “I should because it is expected,” are external motivators that create inconsistent motivation and behavior. When the outside force is present, we comply; when it isn’t, we don’t. Think of a sales contest. When the contest is on, everyone is performing at a high level. As soon as the contest ends, performance goes back to where it was before the contest. If you are a parent, when you pay your child to get good grades, s/he works harder and gets them; when you take away the incentive, s/he takes the pressure off and reverts to his/her comfort zone.

If you really want to be internally motivated and be consistent in your behaviors, you have to figure out what you WANT versus what you believe you have to or should do. One of the earliest examples of this for me was when I was working with a coach and my children were babies. I complained to my coach that I had to go home and get the diaper bags ready for the next day. He said, “You must really love them to invest your time and energy in making sure they are well cared for when you are not with them.” I was a bit miffed, but I got it. I saw this chore as a “have to and should,” and it felt onerous and demanding. When he named what I was doing as a sign of love, my whole attitude shifted, and it became an activity I cherished until the day my last son graduated from high school – I continued to make his lunch each day.

The shift from “I have to or I should” to “I want to” often requires some inquiry about what is behind the “have to or should.” For instance, I once had a client who kept saying, “I should be able to manage my time better.” I asked, “who says?” He thought for a minute and answered, “my wife.” We explored what managing his time, from his perspective, would look like and he designed a system that would better fit his personality and style. He let go of measuring himself against how his wife did it and he was freed up to create a system for himself that worked because he wanted it to work. He realized that he wanted to manage his time better because he felt more accomplished at the end of the day and that allowed him to be home and more present to his family.

What “shoulds and have to’s” do you have in your life right now? What are you wanting to do but can’t be consistent in doing it? Here are some questions you might ask yourself to get the shift that will get you the desired outcomes or behaviors you want:

  • What are the results that I am getting from my current behaviors?
  • What specific behaviors are contributing to your current results?
  • What are my thoughts, attitudes and/or beliefs about the behaviors or the results that I say I want? [Watch for “have to, should, must” beliefs]
  • If you didn’t “have to, should or must” achieve the results or do the behaviors, would you still want it? What external pressures or influences are impacting what you are wanting? If those influences or pressures were not there, would you keep doing it?
    • If you answer “no” to these questions, then you are really getting somewhere!
  • What do you really want to be doing? Why do you want it?

If you get stuck, know that we are always here to ask that next question to help you unleash your true potential. There is nothing like tapping into your true desires to keep you motivated and on course with the life you want!