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In this episode of The Optimized Mom Podcast, I chat about trying to change my attitude about my to-do list. The things I do every day are not “have-tos” but things I have chosen to do as the hero of my own life’s story. I suggest that we can enjoy our tasks more by changing/clarifying:
- Our identities
- Our purpose
- The game we’re playing
- Our language
I reference a clip from the movie Office Space in the podcast. Here it is, if you’re curious.
Note: This transcript was produced using speech-recognition software and has received minimal edits. If possible, I encourage you to listen to the audio version.
Welcome to the Optimized Mom podcast where we explore strategies for trading burnout, overwhelm and exhaustion for simplicity, efficiency and joy. Why? Because I want you to have the time and energy to care for yourself, have fun with your family and share your sparkle with the world.
Well, hello there, Anissa here. Excited to chat with you today about have-tos. This particular topic came up this week because of a little incident that happened when I was chatting with my son, Carson. He’s my younger son and he’s super just tuned in and intuitive to how people are feeling and what’s going on. And he’s like my little Buddha.
I always enjoy chatting with him, but this week he came up to me at one point and he said, “Mom, you seem really stressed” and I said, “well, you know, I actually, I am a little bit stressed this week. I have to do this thing and I have to go here and I have to do X and Y and Z” and he said to me, “boy Mom, that sounds like a lot of have-tos” and then I went, “it sure does” and what do I talk about all the time? But this idea of, you know, we get to choose how we see the world and how we walk through the world. And am I doing that at this very moment? Not so much?
So, yeah, I said, “you know what buddy? That is a lot of have-tos, and you are absolutely right.” And, yeah, so that happened and then in the way that the universe often does just reminder, after reminder about that came to me within the last week or two. So I thought this would be a super fun time for us to chat about that–About this idea that there are these things that we have to do. The, the close relative to that is the things that we should do, um which, you know, isn’t really any better but have to do.
It comes from this place I think of, you know, us almost feeling like a victim like we’re put upon by the world, like we have zero control over our experience in life. And yeah, it can also come because we have lost a little bit of our purpose. It can come because we just have forgotten how important the game that we’re playing and the language that we use as we play that game is.
So that was what I wanted to talk about today. Some strategies that we can use when we get into this ‘have to’ syndrome which like I said, even though I try to be really cognizant of it, I fall into it as much as everybody else.
So let’s talk about the first strategy here. And the biggest and most important one is to change our identities. You know, we ideally are the heroes of our story. We’re not the victim in the story, we’re not the villain in the story. Hopefully, we’re not the buddy in the story. We are the people who are running things, the people in charge, you know, and if we could recognize that everything that is on our life’s to do list is there by our choice, it completely changes the way that we feel about it.
Now, I can hear some of you arguing with me saying things like, well, I have to take care of my kids. I have to do what my boss says or I have to clean my house. You know, all of this stuff is important, but I want you to get back a little bit of your power. There are plenty of people in the world that walk away from their families and don’t care for them at all. There are plenty of people that ignore every single word that their bosses ever say. There are people living in messy homes, there are people not paying their taxes, there are people murdering people. I mean, there are, there are some, some people making some different choices out there. Now, lots of people living in your exact circumstance have made choices that you would think are unacceptable.
I know if you are listening to a podcast called The Optimized Mom, you likely have higher standards than that, but you are choosing the standard. You’re not the victim in this scenario, you are the creator. And if you don’t like what you’re creating, you have the power to create something different. And that is super important and, and I hope it feels super empowering for you.
You know, if you look at we would love to be able to change our circumstances. But look at all the people who have been in miserable circumstances and have created an incredible response to it. They have been the heroes in the situation that they were forced into. So imagine yourself as the hero of your story. And what would you do if you were a hero rather than a victim?
Does that change the way that you feel about what’s on your to do list? Do you look at anything on that differently? If I’m not being forced to do something, if I am the the superhero in the story and I can choose anything I want. Is there anything that I’m gonna take off? Because maybe that does change things. Maybe this just, you know, completely blew the lid off of everything and you go, you know what? No, I don’t have to do that anymore.
It makes me think of, um, the movie, uh, Office Space. Where, uh, what’s his name? Peter? I think it was. I’m aging myself here because there’s probably people listening to me that have never seen Office Space and you really should because it’s a super funny movie. But, uh, he says something, he’s talking to Jennifer Aniston in the movie and says he’s decided he doesn’t like work and he doesn’t think he’s gonna go anymore. Now, he’s kind of an antihero sort of character. But realizing that we can make these different choices, this can make your to do list, automatically get a little shorter.
For the things that you have kept in your hero’s story. Maybe you’re still not feeling great about them. You know, you, you’ve decided you do have to do them, but it’s still feeling, it still feels like a have to rather than a choice. So we have another tactic we can use here. Let’s think about how we can then change our purpose. If you don’t have to do something. Why are you gonna do it?
I remember hearing a story a while back where they were, were talking to hospital workers and these were the hospital workers that were cleaning the rooms doing some of the, you know, I, I guess we’d say more menial tasks that could be looked at as drudgery by some. when they talked to these hospital workers, the ones who saw their job just as kind of a, a way to earn money, uh, put food on the table, that sort of thing, they didn’t have an incredible amount of job satisfaction. But when they connected what they were doing with the, the comfort of the patients that were in those rooms, they enjoyed their jobs a lot more and they saw purpose in it. You know, they were making someone who was suffering more comfortable and I think we can really take a lesson from that.
Just connecting with the idea that your, your job is a service. These things that you’re doing are a service to somebody and are making the world better for somebody, even if that’s just you, that has tremendous power. So if you feel like you have to declutter your home and you’ve thought about it and you’ve said, yes, I, I believe the hero that I am would have a clutter-free home. Well, what’s the purpose? The purpose is because I relax better in a place that has fewer possessions around. I, I, I am changing my son’s diaper. I have to change it. And yes, I, I think that is something that a, a mother does. Why? Well, because I love my child and I don’t want him to get diaper rash, even something, you know, that is, is less of maybe a noble purpose. I’m cleaning up my house because I’d be embarrassed if my neighbor dropped by and I would prefer to clean than feel the feeling of embarrassment even that is a clear purpose.
This is not something that is being forced on me. This is not something that I have to do. This is a choice that I’m making that aligns with part of my purpose in life, part of the way that I want my life to go. Can you see how that gives you so much more power as a creator, as a heroine, as a hero to uh really craft the life that you want?
OK. So maybe that’s still not working for you. We have, we’ve changed your identity, we have changed your purpose if it’s still feeling like it. No, it still feels like drudgery. Consider changing the game. The default programming for most of us humans generally seems to be to make things as easy as possible, to stay in homeostasis, to be comfortable to do as, as little work as possible and stay at 72° and that sort of thing.
But what if we switched to another game? One that provided us with more challenges, one that made acting the way the best version of you would want to be a game. So I did this in a small way recently and a lot of people have this, this is you’re gonna laugh when you hear it because it’s not like it’s exactly brand new. But I had never done the 10,000 steps a day game before. If you’ve heard me talk in the past about exercise in general. I had always for the last year or so for my target, I’ve had 5649 steps. Sounds like a totally random number of steps. But that is the number of steps which below which we hear more incidences of anxiety and depression. That’s where we get into being pretty sedentary. And so to thrive as a human, I believe that you should have, you should listen to me using the old language. I believe that it is, it is in my interest to have 5,649 steps a day. But that is actually pretty easy for me to get as just part of my day, you know, going around and throwing in laundry and walking to the mailbox and that sort of stuff that has not been a struggle for me.
But I recently challenged myself, even if I’m doing a workout during the day, even if I have lots of stuff going on to still try to get the 10,000 steps. Now again, this isn’t a tremendous amount of steps. If you, if I take any sort of a walk during the day, I can get it easily. But what’s been really interesting is that the way that it’s changed my mindset now that that’s the game and I know it’s just a little bit hard to get it changes, you know, when somebody didn’t take out the recycling. Well, I can take out the recycling and I’m trying to get more steps anyway, if the kids are around the corner and they’re playing with their friends and I, you know, called to them for dinner time and they didn’t hear me. Well, it’s not drudgery for me to have to walk down the street. I don’t have to walk down the street. I have the opportunity to walk down the street, pick up a few more steps and get closer to my 10 k goal.
Now, this is a silly example, obviously, but even if you are in a tough season where life sucks and you feel like you have more than you can handle. Can you make that into a game? I love the contemporary Stoic William B. Irvine. If you’ve never listened to any of his recordings or read any of his books, he just, he just comes across as this wise grandpa and, and so kind, I think that the stoic philosophy can kind of come across sometimes as a little stark or a little harsh and, and his, his way of presenting it is just gentle I feel. but he talks about what he calls the stoic test strategy. And he says that when you’re faced with a setback, treat it as a test of your resilience and resourcefulness devised and administered by imaginary stoic gods. So I love that.
How does your life and your feeling about your responsibilities change if you look at it as that kind of a game, a test of how quickly you can regain your composure or how gracefully you can manage a heavy load. That’s different. Right. It doesn’t feel the same way. It doesn’t feel like something I have to do it. Let’s see how, how quickly I can regain my composure when I snapped at my kids. Let’s see how quickly I can recover my cool when I lose it. I urge all of us myself included to look for these places where we can change the game. The game is not to make life super easy and to never have conflict and to just float through it, it, the game can be a little bit more challenging. rules, make games fun, right?
So if you know, reconnecting to your purpose, if making your identity a little more heroic, doesn’t feel like it helps you then see if you can make a game out of it. And finally, if you have tried all these other strategies and you still are feeling that you’re sort of in, have to land, just do the simplest trick which is to change the language.
have to, is not empowering at all. Again, it sticks you right into this victim framework of being put upon by life. There are zillions of more empowering or even just softer words. I like to when I’m making my list of priorities, I do that. I’ve started doing this every night, I write it on old fashioned paper as part of my night time routine. Writing down what my top three priorities are for the next day and then ranking the first one because we really can only truthfully have one priority. Right? But then the other top three things that I would like to do and then after it making a list of other might dos, not to dos, might dos.
It’s a subtle change in language but it leaves me feeling more calm about it. This isn’t something I have to do. This isn’t something I should do. This isn’t something that must be done. This is something I might do once the other three things are accomplished. If life doesn’t come and drop something in my lap, like it sometimes does. These are possibilities, but we could get even stronger with it.
How about I commit to? Now, that’s for those of us that are a little bit more, you know, type a, but that’s different than I have to. I’m committed to this. Why? Because it’s part of my identity, it’s part of my purpose and it’s part of my game. I’m committed to doing it.
And if you really want to get crazy about it, I get to do this, I’d like to do this. You know, I alluded at the beginning to how this lesson has kind of come up several times this week. First, my, my son saying, wow, you’ve got a lot of have to mom. But then in the way that life sometimes does, I was on a call this week with my mentor, Brian Johnson and someone was talking about having a laundry list of things to do. And he mentioned to her, why would you call it a laundry list? Why not call it a Christmas list? These things that you have to do are presents that you are leaving for your future self, which is I use that language all the time. You know, I will say I’m gonna make coffee now because future me will really like this. So I’m gonna clean the dishes for the me that’s gonna come home from taking the kids to the park and is gonna wish they were already done. So, yeah, these aren’t a laundry list of tasks. This is a Christmas list of tasks it’s a present that we give for ourselves.
and even better was, I heard, Steve Chandler speak recently. If you don’t know him, he’s a coach and he’s the author of about 30 different books. And I, I have paraphrased what he said here because I was writing it down quickly. But it was so beautiful. He said that his appointment book. He thinks of it as a sacred text. It is the field guide for opportunity and possibility and the things on it serve him and others. Nothing in it is burdensome.
How beautiful is that, you know, if we’re looking at ourselves, you know, let’s face it. I called my podcast The Optimized Mom. A lot of you who are listening are probably mothers. But imagine if you looked at your list of tasks that way. So you’re the hero of your story and your purpose here is raising these amazing human beings. And as part of that, you have, you know, your, your list of targets to hit each day and you’re playing this game where you try to get your cool back as soon as you lose it and all the things that you’re doing during the day, these are gifts to yourself and gifts to your family, things that serve other people and nothing on it is burdensome.
Can you imagine how we would all feel if we looked at our lives that way? I mean, come on, that’s amazing, right? And as I said, I, I started this whole thing with telling you a story of how I don’t always feel that way. But boy, it’s so much more empowered to feel that way. And we know we can practice thinking the thoughts that we want, we can practice changing these automatic responses to new automatic responses that are more empowering. So why wouldn’t we try to cultivate that mindset and practice that kind of thinking?
So, so just for a funny story, I’ve been trying to put this more in practice this week, like I said, when the universe is sending me all of these lessons, whether we want to call it lessons for the universe or cognitive bias that my brain is just picking up on it because I’ve been thinking about it. For whatever reason I, I do like to try to put those lessons in practice when I feel like I’m getting them.
So I, I have a programmable coffee pot and, one of my tasks in the evenings is to program, you know, set up the coffee and get it ready for the next morning. And, yeah, I don’t always feel like doing it and sometimes I kind of grumble about it. Often I will grumble about it if I am upstairs in bed already. And I remember that I haven’t set it up to go yet. So, yeah, recently I, I had this situation where I was up in bed, and I thought, oh, I didn’t make the coffee and I had that moment of, UGH.
and then I said, wait a second. First of all, I’m a person who likes to do any task that’s gonna take two minutes or less as soon as I can do it. That is part of my identity as the hero of my story. Ok. Why do I want to do that? What’s the purpose for it? Well, I like to smell coffee when I wake up. I want my husband to be able to get a cup of coffee if he wakes up early. I, you know, these are just, it’s a silly purpose but it, it is something that’s valuable and important to me. Ok.
Then I, I add in the game thing. Wait a second. When I checked my steps before I got into bed, I needed just a few more. I was at like 9000 something. So, ha ha. Part of my game for the day has not been won yet. So I had the opportunity to go down and and program that coffee maker. And then in addition to that, wow, aren’t I lucky that first of all that I have this coffee maker that can automatically make coffee for me. I mean, this is ridiculously, you know, abundant and amazing that there’s that we have the technology to even do this and that I’m fortunate enough to have it in my house. The, the biggest problem of this particular day probably was that I forgot to program the coffee maker. I mean, ridiculous. You know, when I’ve been through seasons of my life where people have died and I’ve had cancer and there’s been all this other drama that life is going so well that this actually feels like a little bit of a blip to me.
Yes, this is a ridiculous, small, silly example, you know, but just walking through those little steps on a small silly example. Like, I don’t feel like going back downstairs helps us practice for when the really big stuff comes. For those places when it really is hard to keep your equanimity and stay in the identity that you want to be in. That’s why we practice this stuff.
So I encourage all of you and myself, all of you and myself to really pay attention to this, pay attention to the way that we handle the little things and the way that we handle the big things and, and practice switching this attitude of, of life is against us and it’s all uphill and it’s, oh, it’s just a slog and I have to do all these things to wow, I have an amazing opportunity here and when it doesn’t feel like an amazing opportunity, I’m gonna to take steps to make sure that I can, I can make it feel like an amazing opportunity again.
Now I’m gonna pause for just a second and say we all have seasons. You know, we have seasons where we are in deep grief where we are in deep hardship. And I don’t want to be mistaken that I’m just saying, you know, put on the rose-colored glasses and, and don’t feel any emotions and ignore all of that. I am saying that ideally a season would be a season.
You know, there’s a season of life where you have a newborn baby and it’s really, really hard and you are sleep deprived and you are caring for something that doesn’t even know how to smile yet. And, and it can feel really thankless and, and all of that, I still think you could feel better about all of it by adopting this particular attitude. But maybe you can’t. That’s ok.
But know that if you don’t love your life for months and months and years and years, that’s a red flag. You know, especially if you go through these steps and you’re actively trying to practice making things better. It just still all feels like it sucks. That’s something to pay attention to. I love the there was that graduation speech that Steve Jobs did where he said he asked himself every day if today were the last day of your life, would you want to be doing what you’re doing? Now? Truthfully, the answer is not always going to be yes. But boy, if it is no for day after day in a row, then maybe it’s time to reconsider what we’re doing with our lives.
So if you feel like you have your own case of the have-tos, I invite you to join me in making some of these little changes. Let’s just review what we talked about first changing your identity. Remembering that you are the hero of your story, not the victim, not the villain, not the buddy. You are the person in charge. Also consider changing your purpose. Know why you are here. Why you are doing what you’re doing. If you can’t find a good reason for it, consider cutting it out or creating a great reason that makes it feel more acceptable, more palatable.
Once you have changed your identity and changed your purpose, consider changing the game, put some rules in place that make that thing that you want to do that, that you have to do something that you actually want to do. That is really easy to do just with some little tweaks. You know, there are, are 10,000 steps a day. Our no complaint experiment, our games like that really can change the way that we approach things and finally make sure that you are always checking your language and changing it to something that is empowering. Have to, is not empowering. You can change it to I might to, I get to, I’d like to, I commit to. your to do list is a Christmas list. The things on your schedule are opportunities for you to serve the future you and to serve others. Nothing is burdensome when we look at life that way. I hope that this has been inspiring to you. I hope that you will join me in getting rid of our cases of the have-tos and I’ll talk to you soon.