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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  • jackalopekid

    Such a true post!
    I get to be employed.
    I get to spend time with my family.
    I get to have friends who love me.
    I get to live in this great nation.

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  • Cathy Presland

    Lovely post and some great examples. I find myself trying to make that shift in my vocabulary on a regular basis – but then awareness is the first step to change! I’m a Brit and sometimes we have that tendency to self-depricating humour so gotta watch my step ;)

    Thanks for posting


  • Glinda

    Incredible post!  How much you enjoy life is determined by your attitude.  I am grateful for every moment I have to serve God in whatever capacity He allows, whether it is through the responsibilities I am paid to perform, or those I choose to volunteer for.  Each experience is a blessing to me.  Thanks for sharing this message! 

  • David E. White

    One of my three daughters, a subscriber to your blog, forwarded your piece to me regarding “have to” vs. “get to” with the notation that it sounded strangly familiar and a winking emoticon.  I’m not sure from where I recognized this years ago, but when we were raising the girls it was a fairly regular occurence for me to correct them in this very thing.  One of them might say something like, “I have to play an offertory this Sunday” or “I have to accompany Mrs. So-and-So when I go to church today.”  I would say, “No, you get to…”  The girls are all grown up now and their cheerful service to our Savior is a blessing to us.  Prov. 22:6.  

  • Familaranjr Bernardo

    Now Im beginning to learn , i get to learn more

  • Dustin

    This is fantastic. What a game-changer and a small, yet powerful, way to change our perspective.

  • Rob Wright

    I bumped into an HBR piece last week which agrees with your view that the words we use – unconsciously or even casually – are powerfully significant… (free registration/log-in required)

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’m checking it out now. Thanks.

  • Bob

    I GET to meet with a young man today who has asked for guidance

  • Curtis O Fletcher

    Hmmm… I would rather:
    Get to have a million dollars than have to get a million dollars.
    Get to have a job than have to get a job.
    Get to work this morning than have to work this morning.
    I would rather:
    Have a clue than need to get a clue.
    Have a clean bill of health than need get a clean bill of health.
    Have two cents of advice than need to get two cents of advice.
    I think you’re on to something with this vocabulary thing Man.

    • Lori Tracy Boruff

      This is great Curtis. You make me smile!

    • TNeal

      Funny and educational. Always nice to laugh and learn at the same time.

  • Lori Tracy Boruff

    I get to balance my checkbook means we finally got a paycheck! I get to tithe more than I think we can afford because God is our provider and I get to live in His blessings every day. I needed this reminder today when there is more month than money!

  • Costa

    I get to go to work today! I make great money for what I do, and it’s such a blessing!

  • TNeal

    I get to volunteer at the local library (which gives me time to catch up on my email backlog). By the way, I check people in and out of the computer room so I’m able to help others while enjoying some good reading.

    You mentioned the “try” vs. “do” post from last week. That came to mind immediately when I read your first few sentences. You’ve given two specific examples of the importance of our words (which directly influences our attitudes).

    I certainly think about this in terms of identity–what we call ourselves. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a pastor friend. We were discussing my filling in as an interim pastor at a nearby church. I said, “Ethan, I’m a writer who preaches, not a preacher who writes.”

    The difference between the two deals with my profession and my attitude in relation to writing. I’ve earned more preaching but I’ve invested more in writing.

  • Kris Kelso

    Several years ago, my pastor (Maury Davis) preached a sermon titled “I get to”.  A songwriter in our congregation (Wil Nance) was so impacted he wrote a song by the same name.  Look it up if you get a chance – it’s a great song.

  • Brett Clemmer

    I try and use the phrase “I want to…” I don’t have to work out in the morning, speak at the convention or eat more healthy, I WANT to!

    I use this with the kids I coach on a youth sports team as well. We don’t say we HAVE to do a drill or practice a new technique, we WANT to, because it helps us get better.

    I have to or even, in some cases, I get to, puts control in someone else’s hands. I want to says I am making a choice. No one’s forcing or allowing me to. I am being proactive and intentional.

    I find great power in the language of intention and desire.

  • Nikole Hahn

    Thank you. My husband and I were lamenting like your friend on things. I GET to help people. Not, I HAVE TO help people. Thank you for encouraging me in the right direction.

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  • Guest

    Very timely Michael – I get to go back to work after a vacation! When I came back it was – “groan, I have to go to work today……”, when so many are unemployed I should be more grateful. I get it….

  • Rusty

    I get to read “you’re” blog. (hint: see last sentence of your blog)

  • Driven

    Wow. I get to make my own business a success today…

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  • Dubmcm

    Great article. It sounds goofy. It it really does have a major impact on your attitude.

  • Larry Carter

    I have done this from time to time. Thanks for the reminder that I “get” to do it all of the time.

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  • Les Dossey


    I get to thank you for being such a great example of how to live life up above the noise the world has become so skilled at generating. The insights, hindsights, outta sights and over sights you share encourage and inspire me regularly. I also get to weigh in on this post and share a few pieces of truth from Our “Very Cool and Wise Creator”.He wants us to know that:1. Everything He created, was given life by his spoken word.2. He created us in his image, and gave us the authority to create things with words just like him.3. We cannot not create with our words.3. There is great opportunity for people to awaken and realize, that every time they use words they create something.4. There is even greater opportunity, for people to become masterful at using words on purpose to create heaven right now, right here on earth.

    Maybe this visual will help.

    God established the Law of Cause and Effect. The bible refers to it as seed time and harvest. It’s beauty is found in it’s precision and reliability. The law is always active and it never fails!

    Every cause produces and effect and every effect has a cause. You sow tomatoes, you reap tomatoes, sow life, reap life, sow death, reap death.

    What most people don’t realize is that the law of cause and effect is activated by spoken words. Every time I open my mouth and speak, I activate the cause that is going to produce an effect somewhere in our world.

    If my thoughts and beliefs are right and I am conscious and skillful with the use of my words I can purposefully create heaven in our world, right here, right now.

    P.S. That is why Our Very Wise Creator said to Renew our Mind and to Guard our Heart, because out of the Abundance of our Heart the Mouth Will Speak.

    BTW – Your world, my world, the world improves when you improve your mind.

    Only the Best,

    Les Dossey
    Mentor | Coach | Speaker

  • Otis Pierson

    It’s amazing how changing one word can make such a big difference. Thanks for the great post !

  • Chris R. Smith

    Michael, I’m a regular follower and I must say this is one of the best post I’ve read from you that has a direct affect on my life. I just didn’t realize it until today! I work full time on an ambulance and today I got to run an unusually high number of calls. The last call was to take an older 80 gentleman home from hospital. I was dreading it because I was so tired. I remembered this post and told my self, “wait, I don’t have to do this, I GET to do this transfer!” It worked! God used that shift it my attitude as a chance to reward me. As it turns out, I am related to his wife of 57 years! It was a blessing to get to experience the love they obviously shared. It had huge impact on my day! Then, I was so excited that I decided to apply it to my relationship with my future wife. I was amazed at yet another shift in my attitude! This is HUGE! Thank-you so much for sharing this information!

  • Joanberdahl

    I will be able to finish my book today;  it will have become a good friend.

    • Anyone

      Good for you! I hope it was one worth reading. Obviously it was. Maybe you’ll GET to start a new book tomorrow.

  • Rajdeep Paulus

    I get to share a question with my readers who will hopefully be inspired this holiday season!   Merry Christmas to you and yours! :)

  • Yarteyannan

    I am extremely grateful.Attitude decides everything.From today I shall get to do/act. I say bye-bye to procrastination and trying.

  • Jeremy Burroughs

    I have found that a shift in my vocabulary can change my trajectory. Such a powerful true. The power of life and death is in the tongue.

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  • Diane Yuhas

    I may not like cleaning up after my Alzheimama, but I’m so grateful I get to stay home and care for her in her old age.

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  • Noah Lomax

    What a great reminder! I know there are times my job becomes laborious. Whenever this happens and I find myself succumbing to the “have to” attitude, I am reminded of how thankful I should be that I even have a job. In a time when many long for gainful employment, I certainly should be all the more thankful I have a place to get up and go to.

    Great challenge!

  • Laura Johnson

    Love love love this post.
    God has been hitting me right and left with ‘attitude’. 
    I find myself in a situation that no one should have to deal with (as everyone does at sometime or another). It can be easy to say ‘I shouldn’t be treated this way’ or ‘I shouldn’t have to deal with this’, etc. But I think God wants me to realize, no matter what other people choose to do and how it might affect me or others, I still choose my attitude. And it should be Christ-like.
    Thank you!

  • Bp

    Love your blog. And this is the perfect post for today. I feel like I’ve been doing this pretty often lately. Not only does shifting your vocabulary like this encourage feelings of gratitude, but I actually have a pep in my step because I get to do these things – I should be excited about life – not barely getting through the day. 

  • Curtis Palin

    May want to contact this blogger. He seems to have copied this blog with zero credit to you.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have just written him. It is really shocking, especially given the fact that he is a college basketball coach.

  • Debbie Lynn Frye

    I get to inspire people by telling my story of growing up with an incarcerated parent.  No more shame and embarrasment.  Co-writing a book about my father’s life of crime has provided the  closure  that I did not know I needed.  I did not realize how therapeutic  it would be. 

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  • Andrea

    What a great article.  Perspective is always something we need to check and re-check.  This is such a simple yet powerful attitude changer.

  • Annietom D

    what a fabulous blog you have, and yes, you are so right about attitude!  My oh my, 177 comments for this post, yikes that’s a great fan club!!!  I’d better follow you for a while, looks like you are a popular fella!! 

    • Michael Hyatt

      Welcome, aboard!

  • Teddyrobi

    I think the whole thing is about our inner spiritual growth.I get
    to think that I only do what I am engaged in if I am fully
    healthy. And, if I am grateful to God about this, I would rather use
    “get to” which reflects a privilege.

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  • Astonger

    I get to serve my family.
    I get to drive my children to and from their sports’ practices (driving them crazy along the way)!
    I get to worship freely.
    I get to plan healthy meals for my family and shop for the ingredients at a grocery store full of choices.

    Thanks for sharing how our words shape our attitudes! 

    • Michele Cushatt

      Astonger, WELL SAID.

  • Aaron

    I get to go to work on a house I’m building. I am convinced that today at least 1000 people would be very happy to go build this house.

  • Ed Murray

    This is more important than just the “haves” and “gets”. It applies to much of our Christian vocabulary. People say it’s just semantic. Well, yes it is! Apply this to the gender question and you will see how inconsistent we can be with our words and language. No matter in which camp you might land on the question, our use of language betrays us in a world that is rightfully sensitive to an issue that the evangelical church is not addressing very well. EGM

  • Natemorman

    Nate Morman

    Dear Michael.
    One ot the greatest gifts in life is to share with others about our life experience.
    During our lifetime we are given a wealth of information from other people that we can past on to another person. It’s a joy to find we have something that can be of use to others, and the joy is multiplied when you share it. Today Michael [you get to do it] freely and gratefully.