How a Shift in Your Vocabulary Can Instantly Change Your Attitude

This past year I have noticed how my vocabulary impacts my attitude. Words have power. They impact others, of course, but they can also have an impact on us.

A Key with a Collection of Newspaper Clippings - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #8702274

Photo courtesy of ©

For example, several weeks ago, I was headed out of town to a speaking engagement. A friend called and asked me where I was going. I said, “Oh, I’m headed to San Jose. I have to speak at a convention.” I said it with a little resignation in my voice.

When I hung up, it hit me. I don’t have to speak. I get to speak. That instantly changed my attitude.

How many people would gladly do this for free—or even pay for the opportunity? Yet I was getting paid to do it.

The first expression (i.e., I have to do it) is the language of duty. Nothing wrong with that. I am all for responsibility. But too often, we say it with a sigh, like it’s a sentence—or we are a victim.

The second expression (i.e., I get to do it) is the language of privilege. It is as if we have been given a gift, and we are relishing the opportunity.

This subtle shift may seem small, but it has had a big impact on my attitude. I am choosing the language of privilege every chance I get.

  • I don’t have to workout this morning; I get to workout. What a privilege to be healthy and be able to care for my body.
  • I don’t have to write a new blog post. I get to write one. What a privilege to have readers that actually care what I have to say.
  • I don’t have to meet with the guys in my mentoring group; I get to. What a privilege to meet with eight young men who want to learn and grow.
  • I don’t have to go to church today; I get to go to church. What a privilege to belong to a church where I can worship God and where I have such good friends.
  • I don’t have to stop by the grocery store on my way home; I get to stop by the grocery store. What a privilege to live in a place and at a time where we don’t have to forage for food.

You get the idea.

You can make this shift, too. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Become aware of your vocabulary. This is a little like my post last week on the difference between try and do. The first step is to actually become aware of the words you are using.
  2. Start using get to rather than have to. You don’t need to become compulsive about this, but start intentionally using the language of privilege rather than duty.
  3. Notice the difference it makes in your attitude. For starters, it can suddenly make you grateful. Rather than dreading or resenting an activity, you can be thankful for it.

A few days ago, I was talking to an author friend, who was lamenting the fact that he had to actually write his book, now that he had a contract.

I stopped him and said, “No, Josh, you get to write this book. This has been a goal of yours for as long as I have known you. You are living your dream, buddy!”

Instantly, his attitude shifted. “You’re right. I get to write this book.”

Question: What do you GET to do today? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • DoMoneyBetter

     Thanks Michele. Trust me, I don’t bounce off to work in the morning beaming with gratitude, but definitely needed to hear what Michael had to say on this article.

  • DoMoneyBetter

     John, really good point. Thank God! Attacking student debt would be even harder with limited work available.

  • RonnieTabor


    I am always fascinated about “How Things Work”.  When I saw your post about how our vocabulary affects our attitude, I immediately think about “how” that happens.

    Maybe the answer is found throughout the Bible, here is one example.

    Young’s Literal TranslationAbove every charge keep thy heart, For out of it are the outgoings of life. 

    I think that you change your vocabulary by what you think about, and what you think about changes your heart (Prov 23:7) which is manifested in a changed attitude.

    If nothing else your post bot me thinking.


  • Glori Surban

    I get to write today!!! :)
    Thank you. I needed this…

    • Jim Martin

      Glori, I was just thinking the same thing.  I needed this today.

  • Denise

    I know the power of our words and how they change our attitudes and lives so strongly, (this very one inparticular) so much so, that I’ve founded a nonprofit to ‘recondition perspective.’ My teenage daughter, had through her 3 year bout with leukemia said, “I GET To have chemo.” When it came time to plan her funeral and in my head there was a resounding, “I have to bury my baby,” I prayed for God to show me the GET to. I heard, “You get to release her back into my hands! And you GET to because of ALL the women in the world, you were the one who GOT to be her mother.” Sorrow and weakness left my body and the want to give thanks and celebrate her life, and my part in it, took over.  The video that begins playing when you land on our homepage, “What Kids are Saying about ‘We GET To’ will make you smile. Thanks for sharing!

    • Rachel Lance

      Thanks for sharing your story, Denise. What a great example of the power of words.

  • Brown

    Thank you for this positive frame of thought.  I get to go to work today.   What a privilege to have a job in a country with such a high unemployment rate.

  • Tony Gulledge

    Thank you.  I needed that word.  I get to finish the final edits of a book that will be published any day now!   I’m excited again!

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  • Gottatellgail

    Hey, I tried to share this post with 2 friends today and they got a “Confirm Your Subscrition” message.  Not cool, esply b/c these were to my 2 bosses.  Just letting you know.

  • Gottatellgail

    Never mind–apparently my boss wanted to re-subscribe and was happy about it.  No more reading emails backwards for me!  Sorry.

  • Charles Plant

    Well for one thing, I got to read your blog. Recently I got to read your book. Thanks for the effort. I enjoy your perspective.

  • Travis Hinkle

    Thanks for the post, Michael! Great info as usual. It’s true, our words have a huge influence on others just as much as ourselves. We can speak life by encouraging those around us or we can be lazy or disgenuine with our words and bring people down.

  • Christopher Battles

    Thank you Michael. This is something I have been more aware of lately in my own words.  I get to versus I have to…

    K, bye

  • Stephen Melancon

    This is a great post, Michael. I have recently been working on changing from the use of “but” to “and”. That also has a great impact on you and your reader or person you are speaking with. I completely overlooked the concept you express here! Now, I “get” to add another positive change to my vocabulary.


  • Sandy

    Very inspirational.  Thank you for reminding me that whatever we do is a privilege and an opportunity to serve.  

  • Dam Mallya


    This is another reminder of that we either can look at live as obligation or opportunity. If we live in opportunity, we will realize we GET to do the things we do in our lives. Thanks for reminding us once again.


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  • Alan Hoffler

    I will correct a total stranger who tells me they “have to go pick up their kid.”  No, you GET to go pick up your kid — what a blessing!

    Good reminder — not as easy to pick up in my own language

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  • Wayne

    Ha! Today I’m privileged to be able to mow the lawn. It’s one of those things that pops up on a weekly basis. But after thinking about the importance of attitude and general thought patterns, I am totally blessed with a beautiful house and the health I have that allows me to mow.
    Thanks for some excellent insight.

  • Kaylus Horton-Adams

    I get to live. I get to enjoy living my ideal life. I get to do what other consider as work – to help people find the clarity, focus and direction they need to live their ideal life.  I get to pray. I get to learn, love and give.  I get to be me. 

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  • Rosseti

    Today I get to study for my English exam -after all nobody has forced me to do so. It’s me who has chosen to study English -by the way, it’s not a piece of cake whatsoever!

    Thank you for this useful piece of advice!

    Kind regards,

    Enrique -Madrid, Spain-

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  • Leanne Shirtliffe

    As an English teacher and an author, I love this. Another common vocab “error” is the phrase “I need to…”. Try replacing it with “I want to.” It’s another minor (but major) change in perspective.

  • dixie

    I believe, as the scripture says, the power of  life and death  are in the tongue..thanks for the reminder!!!

  • Megacat95

    Great article! Today, I get to bake cookies, wrap presents, and prepare dinner for our family Christmas diiner. I am blessed to have family to share in this special time of year and I get to show them how much I appreciate and love them.

  • Ricardo Butler

    I’ve had to learn this recently, especially after I read How to Win Friends and Influence People.

  • Glenn Felty

    I got to work out.  I got to make dinner for my wife.  I got to share my passion for the Body by Vi 90 Day Challenge with a few people.  I got to do a lot of great things that could have been “had tos” but they were “get tos”.  Thanks Michael

  • Chris Frederiksen

    Awesome post. I’m going to try to enact this in my life too.
    I get to share my writing from my blog today!

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  • Enin

    This is so cool.

  • John Partridge

    As a pastor of a church I often say that the people here “allow me to say that I am in charge.” It comes off as a joke, but it reminds me that even as the “leader” I am a part of a greater whole.

  • Gail Jurczyk

    I get to put Christmas decorations away efficiently today so the home front is in readiness for me to accept a new work assignment and go on-site!

  • Paul Chaney

    Amazing how one little word can shift an attitude from one of duty to one of privilege. Immediate lift!

  • Pamela Lipscomb

    So cool. It is amazing how we pick up language, that is not conducive
    to positive thought or feelings, as the norm. You can use the term, “get
    to” for so many things. The term is rooted in gratitude! Nice post!
    ie. I get to good food shopping. Thank God you have money for food. I
    get to clean my house. Thank God you have a roof over your head, etc.
    Love it!

  • reviewer12

    A friend shared a link to your article. It was quite disappointing to discover they were fooled by someone who can use so many words and yet say so little.

  • Stacey Bellows Anderson

    Thank you for this. I am dealing with a somewhat debilitating illness right now, which makes ordinary things difficult and tiring. My husband just started a new job this week (which he really likes, and for which I am grateful). But this means our whole schedule was changed drastically. And now, I am the sole caregiver to our little flock of sheep, which we keep a few miles from home. I was just saying…I have to go feed the lambs. Whether I feel up to it or not. But after reading your post I thought, how many folks would love to live in the Highlands of Scotland, in the country, and have their own little flock of sheep. So, now I am off…I GET to feed the lambs (which phrase always makes me think of the words of Jesus, so it’s a double blessing)! Thank you again!

  • Mark Morris

    Michael, I realize that this comment is coming in late in the game, but I hope it’s better late than never. I love this post! I lead a customer service seminar, and as part of that seminar, I teach people that words mean things and have great power. Negative words can create a negative environment, and positive words will create a positive environment. Further, I teach that people respond in kind – if I’m positive with a customer, they are more likely to be positive back. So I teach the participants to try to remove words with negative connotations – can’t, won’t, etc. – from the customer service lexicon. And this can be done without lying to the customer. I’ve found that when I do this, and add positive words, I feel better as well.

    Thank you for the great info on your blog and podcast!