You wake up in the morning, stretch, feet hit the ground, and immediately your mind starts rolling thoughts of all the things you have to do today. “I have to do the laundry, get the kids to school, pay the bills, and work out. Oh, and I have to take the car in for an oil change, call my broker, put an ad in the paper to sell the dog house, meet my buddies for a drink….” The thoughts come with increasing speed as you pile-on your list. The more you ponder all you have to do, the more overwhelmed you become. And as you become overwhelmed, a new set of thoughts start rolling across your brain…”There’s never any time for me. Nobody cares that I have a life. How did I get myself into all of this? Didn’t I just get done doing all this stuff yesterday? I can’t handle all of this! I’m going to go crazy!! STOP THE MADNESS!!”  Heart pounding, you look at the clock and realize you’ve only been out of bed for 5 minutes. Sound familiar?

I can’t know your exact thoughts, but I have a wild hunch that your next questions are “Why is there so much I have to do? and How can I feel better?” I’m so glad you asked.

My mentor, world renowned author and life coach Martha Beck, taught me the following life changing message:  “There are only two things you have to do in life…be yourself and die. Everything else is a choice.” I live by these words when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my have-to-do list, because they’re true.

I hear your cynical little voices out there. “Be yourself? And die? Everything else is a choice?” Yup. That’s what I’m saying.

You have to be yourself – who else can you be? Even when you’re trying to be someone else by impersonating or imitating – including the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type of being someone else, you’re actually still you. Even if you’re schizophrenic with 6 personalities, you’re all still you. Granted, sometimes we never find our “true” self for years – or even ever, but we are always who we are. We have to be ourselves. Clear?

Now the die part; and I’m referring to physical death. You were probably going to argue that life is eternal and that we never die, but what I’m talking about is on this earth, our physical bodies are going to die sooner or later. Do you know anyone over 120 years old still bustin’-a-move? I didn’t think so. We have to die.

Everything else we think we have to do is a choice. (Caution: if you are feeling increasing levels of cynicism, put your head between your knees and breathe deeply. Once you’ve centered yourself, read on.)

Let’s take one of the things from the to-do list that you feel beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt you have to do. You don’t have a choice about paying the bills, right? If you don’t pay the bills bad things are going to happen! They may shut off your electricity, repossess your car, foreclose on your house, or you could be sued by the doctors or dentists you owe. Not only could you spend the rest of your life living in a van down by the river – or even jail, there’s that added stigma of everybody judging you. Add to that your self-defeating thoughts of personal failure. You simply have to pay the bills!

To that I offer a resounding “uh-uh. Wrong.” You don’t have to pay the bills. How do I know? Because you just spewed a list of consequences that could happen if you don’t pay the bills, thus proving that the world will not stop turning if you don’t pay the bills. It might not seem as nice as it does right now, but it definitely won’t stop.

Whenever there are consequences, there are choices. Whenever there are choices, there are consequences. In this instance, if you choose to pay the bills, the consequences are positive: your lights stay on, you continue to drive your car and live in your house, and your doctors and dentists get to vacation in the Bahamas. Not to mention the freedom you feel to hold your head high and not be judged. If you choose not to pay the bills, you may want to start staking out a parking spot near the closest public bathroom down by the river given the particular scenario listed above; but even that is only one choice as so many others come to mind.

So, how do you feel better about all the things you have to do? By remembering you have the power to choose the way you feel about the consequences. Instead of saying “I have to pay the bills”, rephrase it to something that sounds more positive like “I’m choosing to pay my bills so I can live the lifestyle I’ve become accustomed to”, or “I’m choosing not to live in a van down by the river!” Your have to’s become choose to’s.

That’s the Ta-da! The great thing about making choices as opposed to feeling like you have to do a particular task is it empowers you. It gives you the feeling of being in charge instead of letting your to-do list overwhelm you.

Try these positive choices on for size: I choose to do the laundry because I like it when my family wears clothes (and so do my neighbors!); I choose to drive the kids to school because it is the best option for all of us; I choose to call my mother because I don’t want to feel the guilt of not calling (we’ll talk about this one later in another blog post).

I think you get the idea. Now go out there, be yourself, bust-a-move, and make good choices.

 Of course, you don’t have to.


  1. Jen on August 26, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Sheila, thanks for this post today! It was a good reminder for me. I once learned to change “have to’s” to “want to’s” and had forgotten. I am calmer now.

    🙂 Jen

  2. Ned Rios on September 4, 2009 at 9:21 am


    I loved this blog post. You definitely have a precise way of writing and you add humor along the way. Great job….Ned

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