Want-to Goals vs. Have-to Goals2 min read

Is your goal a “have-to” goal or a “want-to” goal? 

Do you want that new BMW because all your friends have one, and you believe that you are lagging behind? Or do you want it because you saw your dad enjoying his, and you desire the sense of freedom and independence of driving your own?

In the first case, it’s a have-to goal; it only makes sense if you can show off the car to others. In the second case, the motivation is a bit more intrinsic, and whether people know about your car or not, you’ll enjoy having it; it’s a want-to goal.

Self-control studies show that students with have-to motivations experience more obstacles and temptations than those with want-to motivations. The have-to group had to make more effort, and they wore out their willpower more easily. 

A goal, habit, or activity that is a vehicle for your true aspiration will feel like something you want to do. The need will come from within you, not from other people’s expectations or from status benefits. It will fit what you deeply want for yourself, and not something you do just because you’re sup- posed to, because people expect you to, or because of status benefits.

Do you take a shower every day because you’re supposed to, or because you enjoy feeling clean? Do you want to get a PhD because of status, or because you want to take your research skills and career to the next level? Do you want to eat healthy because you “have to”, or is it because you know and feel that it’s good for you?

If your current goal feels like a have-to goal, you have three options.

1. Change your attitude toward the goal, to want it for its own sake.

Tell yourself a different story about your goal. To start eating more salads when you hate them, open your mind to enjoying salads. Or tell yourself that eating is not just about enjoying taste, but about enjoying health and energy. 

Sometimes rewording your self-talk from “I have to” to “I get to” can do the trick. “I get to spend time with my kids every night” feels very different from “I have to spend time with my kids every night. 

2. Find a different strategy for achieving the same goal, so you can enjoy the process.

If you need to exercise but hate going to the gym, try running or a team sport that you might enjoy. If you want to grow your business but hate using social media, try ads or partnerships. Choose a goal-promoting activity that can be more enjoyable for you.

3. Choose a new goal.

If options one and two don’t work, then you will need to change your goal. Otherwise self-discipline will involve constant fights with yourself—draining your energy—and achieving the goal will feel less than fulfilling.

Once you have fine-tuned your goal to be a want-to goal, the whole journey of self-discipline because easier.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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