The Important Difference Between ‘Want To’ and ‘Have To’

Be careful about how you talk about your creative work. Remember, you have to be specific about wanting to do creative work. If you don’t have the desire to do it, you have no reason to do it. And then you won’t. >>

This fantastic guest post comes to us via the lovely Amanda Lee (whose blog is now defunct). 

Be careful of using the phrase “have to” when you’re discussing your personal endeavors.

In conversations with others, I try my best to reserve “have to” for the things that I actually do have to do, and say that I “want to” do.

Every Friday I have to do laundry. Every day, two or three times a day, I have to vacuum the dog hair off my floor so my clothes will be sufficiently hair-free and my nose doesn’t start to run. Once every three months I have to change out the box of baking soda in my fridge.

And when my parents call I have to call them back within a few hours, or otherwise they’ll have the NYPD banging on my door to make sure I’m not dead. (No, seriously.)

But, I’m staying in tonight because I want to write. It doesn’t matter that I might be working on someone project, on a deadline that wasn’t self-inflicted. It doesn’t matter that I have other stuff I’d like to be doing if I could be in more than one place at once. I’m still choosing to write because that’s exactly what I want to do.

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

Without actively affirming that you want to do something, you have less incentive to do it. “I have to write tonight” becomes “Damn it, I have to write,” which isn’t too far off from “I really don’t want to write tonight, so I’m going to blow off my novel so that I can go drinking.”

Remember, you have to be specific about wanting to do creative work. If you don’t have the desire to do it, you have no reason to do it. And then you won’t. Click To Tweet

How often do you use ‘have to’ when you could be using ‘want to’? Do you think there’s a difference between the two?

P.S. How to chase your dream without hating your life

photo credit: david mao // cc

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  1. Antonia M.

    I think there's a very big difference between saying "I have to" vs "I want to", and not just linguistically. There's a world of difference between how have-to feels as opposed to want-to, and have-to often leads to a downward spiral that ends in hate-this and don't-want. It might just be one word, but a have-to mentality also puts a lot of pressure on ourselves – more than necessary – and that takes the fun out of things. So yes, I think there's a difference and it's lovely to see it pointed out so clearly in this post.

  2. darklyndsea

    See, it works the opposite way for me, which I guess is why NaNoWriMo works for me. When I say I have to do something, I'm making it my first priority. When I say that I want to do something, it just gets entered into the list with everything else I want to do–and much as I hate it, in the list of things I want to do, the internet wins against nearly everything else.

    • RicMic

      Nice one .. But fk I you got a point

  3. Project Blog365

    I find it odd that somehow "having" to do something always relates with a negative feeling of pushing yourself to do something you don't really want to do… I guess it is rooted and inculcated to us when we were young and we always "have to" take out the trash or we "have to" finish our homework… "having" to do something always seem to take out the fun in it.. but seriously… now that I'm all grown up haha I feel good when I actually finish something I "have" to do.. it makes me feel responsible and disciplined? hahaha just a thought.

  4. Luinae

    I use "have to" for dance because I do have to. A day I don't dance is a day I don't live.

  5. Shauna (Fido and Wino)

    I think that is an important distinction to make- language is that powerful. If when we say "have to" we say it with heavy obligation in our hearts and minds that is the energy we will put into it and the energy we will get out.

    If we want to be free we have to speak Free. Just by saying "want" we start to change our minds.

    • RicMic

      Have to is the thought and wanting to is the action .

  6. mylifereinvented

    The difference is so huge. I often find myself resenting things when I feel I "have to" do it vs "want to." Fun hobbies often become the last thing I want to do when they become forced.

  7. Corrine/Frock And Roll

    F-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c! What an excellent reminder that a simple switch of words can completely alter our perspectives!

  8. Jon

    "Want to" means you put some thought into it, weighed your options, and did (or didn't) do it. "Have to" takes less thought. That's a's outside your control. Even if your the one making up the command.

  9. Manny

    I’m in that mode now at 53 n realizing a huge difference between have too n want too. Just like a huge difference between a trained person n a untrained person, I want to live, I want to love my wife, I want to be heathy,I want to leave a legacy, now what ever comes with all that I WANT to do it, especially I want to serve GOD

  10. Anonymous

    ‘have to’ use for compulsion or ‘want to’ use for desire.

  11. steve thompson

    I would like to propose that each person creates a situation where a person’s entire life is spend in “want to” things. My vision of how to do this is for each person to be born with a financial foundation that will support their basic needs so that they can focus on a life of exploring self fulfillment. To me it is a vision that I am devoted to. I have, at age 55, gathered enough funds so that i can meagerly and cautiously retire. When I die this foundation will pass to my son and with guidance he will understand that he can pass this reality down the line. “the two cent solution” on you tube.

  12. Ziggy Rosado.

    Life is is a balance of things we want to vs we have to. In any given urgency we are more likely to apply the HAVE TO concept. On none urgent situation it would be a matter of WANTING TO. It’s circumstantial.


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