I’ve observed a trend among those I mentor, consult with, and train. I can’t say for certain if this is a growing trend, but I’ve observed it my entire professional life, and it has always been an obstacle to success.

The problem? “Have to.”

You see, most people ask what they “have to” do. They ask whether they “have to” be there. They wonder whether they “have to” work that hard. I never hear successful people – in an area of life – ask this question.

Here’s the problem with “have to”: it’s externally motivated. That means when you ask, “Do I have to do that?”, what you’re really asking is, “Is someone going to require that of me, or can I get by with less?” When you ask this type of question, you’re setting yourself up to do the least possible to not be punished by someone else. If your boss says you have to be at work by 9:00 AM, do you show up at 9:00 AM? Most folks do. Why? Because they have to.

So, what’s the alternative? Try this one: “need to.”

If you change your vocabulary on this one, you go from what someone else requires of you, to what you have decided is necessary. What’s the real difference? Well, if your boss tells you that you have to be in at 9:00 AM, but you want to get ahead and get that next promotion before the guy at the next cube, you might decide that you “need to” get in before him. Maybe he’s been showing up at 8:45 AM (which the boss likes). So, you decide you need to show up at 8:30 AM (and start working at that time). You don’t have to do that, but it’s what you need to do in order to reach your goals.

What if you’re self-employed? Do you avoid this trap, because there’s no boss? Actually, I’ve seen it worse in the self-employed. Here’s how it works. Assume you’re a self-employed independent insurance agent. You work within a large organization, but remember you’re self-employed, so you have no boss. They’re having a conference, and you’re thinking you’d like to just work those few days in the field, rather than go. Do you start to wonder if you “have to” go? If you’re like most people, you do! But instead, stop and ask whether you “need to” go. See – one word changed, and we have a different question: does this conference provide a benefit that I need?

Now it’s easier to assess the value of the conference. Maybe you’ll learn some new techniques or information that will help you serve your clients better. Maybe you’ll learn how the best in the field look at their business and clients, what their mindset is. Maybe it’s nothing more than being part of the culture. This can be important in most organizations. Some managers in this type of organization actually use conference attendance as a deciding factor in where to spend their time. They know that folks who attend are tuned into the culture, business model, products, and techniques of the organization, so they decide this is where they should spend their training time (and where they should send the best leads!). Okay, even if YOU don’t accept that as a valid reason, you still know it’s going to happen. So, even if you think there’s no direct learning benefit from the conference, you still know you need the best leads and access to your manager to perform your best, so you “need” to go to the conference!