The Want To vs Have To Ratio

Ever heard that if you want someone to do something you give it to the busy person? It’s a saying I’ve heard over and over in both business school and business dealings. And it’s true.

I used to live by that saying, both as a dooer and as a delegator because I knew it was effective, at least in the immediate.

Assigning yet more responsibility or work to a busy person is essentially piling on the work on one of five types of people. Those who:

  1. Don’t know how to say “NO”.
  2. Don’t know, or even want to believe, he/she has a choice.
  3. Worry about what saying “NO” will do to the relationship with who's asking.
  4. Think getting things done, big or small, earns them a good reputation.
  5. Believe a busy life is a happy life.

Want To vs Have To

No matter which type of person the request ultimately goes to, it's detrimental to both parties, either in the short term or in the long term because our level of happiness is based on our perception of want-to activities versus have-to activities. 

Feeling we’re living authentically and with autonomy over our actions is hugely motivating, whether it be in our personal or business lives.

At home and with friends, we feel we’re in a collaborative and open environment. We want to help each other, support each other, spend time together because it feels good, not because we feel obligated to. When this feeling erodes, we start avoiding, begrudglingly going through the motions, growing resentful, spreading negative gossip, looking for everything that’s wrong as opposed to what’s right, and eventually move on as we feel the relationship(s) are out of balance.

The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive—and autonomy can be the antidote.
— TOM KELLEY General Manager, IDEO

At work, we feel we get to work on what we’re passionate about as opposed to having to work on something that only matters to someone else. We feel aligned with what the organization is trying to accomplish; we need no prompting because we’re running on our own fuel.

Autonomy fuels effectiveness, creativity, passion, curiosity and problem solving. All of these are important characteristics of successful and productive people. Conversely, a sense of obligation and constraint leads to drone-like compliance, resistance, retaliation (small and large) and, eventually, lower productivity that often leads to greater reliance on punishment and rewards systems.

More On the Five Types of "YES"ers

Let’s take a closer look at each of the different types of individuals introduced above and see how this plays out in their potential for success in maximizing happiness, the ultimate life currency:

1. Don’t know how to say “NO”.

Compliance and defiance exist in an unstable partnership representing the complementary responses to control.
— p. 3, Why We Do What We Do by Edward L. Deci

This person doesn’t know how to say “NO”. She/he says “YES” but lives “NO” in her thoughts or subversive actions and yet still delivers, for now. She smiles on the outside while her stomach is in knots. She asks follow up questions as she thinks of the other things she’s be setting aside to do what’s requested. Hers is an existence of constant stress because the fear or what will be requested next is a constant distraction.

2. Don’t know, or even want to believe, he/she has a choice.

Resolute in the understanding that you do what you’re asked, this individual lives his life based on what others want him to do. Self-determination is replaced by requests, suggestions, demands and edicts.

The only redeeming value in this person’s position is the lack of inner conflict that person #1 experiences. From his perspective, it’s just the way life is: passionless, predetermined, and void of the responsibility for setting one’s own direction. He’s a member of the walking dead.

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
— p. 10, Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Such a person is likely to take on debt because that’s what’s normal/expected and debt conveniently results in other parties telling us how we spend our money every month, one bill at a time.

Society uses our formative years to teach us all the things we are supposed to say yes to. Now we need to learn which ones it might be better to say no to. Society may have our best intentions at heart, but ultimately we are the ones choosing which kind of life we want to live.
— p. 14, The Power of NO by James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher

Such a person is also likely to follow his family’s and society’s suggested life steps: study what his family says is a good career path, marry a “suitable” match, and raise the “right” type of family, maybe even live in the right type of community.

Structure is also important to this individual because his tolerance for uncertainty and personal responsibility is very low.

3. Worry about what saying “NO” will do to the relationship with who's asking.

If we have crappy people around, we have a crappy life. If we have supportive, encouraging people around, we have a creative and abundant life. The people who bring pain are the same people who drain. Don’t let them take your beautiful energy. We do not say this for poetic flair—it is a plea. Please don’t let the people who pull you down remain in your life.
— p. 44, The Power of NO by James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher

This person is always worried about rocking the boat, with everyone: friends, family, colleagues. Her fear of conflict builds a prison of obligation around her. She doesn’t blame others for asking but she blames herself for always thinking that saying “NO” will be detrimental to a relationship she values.  And, because of this fact, she prefers to say “YES” rather than risk finding out the cost of rejecting a request. What’s the harm in just doing what’s asked anyway, right?

As a result, those who care the most won’t ask because they know her too well and care too much, and those who don't know they can get away with it, no questions asked. That means that she has less opportunity to help out those who care most about her because those who don’t hog her time. Trying to be helpful to be liked and in someone’s good books ultimately costs her the potential for stronger ties (established with reciprocity and gratitude) to those who value her most as a person.

4. Think getting things done earns them a good reputation and, ultimately, success & status.

She’s a machine. Need something done? She’ll get it done and it will be perfect. She’ll do what’s needed to make it happen: burn the midnight oil, cancel plans with family and friends, cut back on sleep, eat on the run or not at all, pay to outsource any activity that’s not work-related because that keeps her focused on what "matters", and postpone vacation…indefinitely.

The payoff? Getting praised, getting ahead, feeling like the sh*t. The downside? Loss of friends, strained personal relationships, deteriorating health, overwork/burn out, loss of self because her self is defined by her job and nothing else.  

By failing to deal effectively with the stresses and pressures in their own lives, individuals add stresses and pressures to the lives of others.
— p. 1, Why We Do What We Do by Edward L. Deci

That’s the category I used to fit into. I could do it all. I was dependable, resourceful, accomplished, and broken in all aspects of life that didn’t involve getting the next raise or promotion.

My break-neck pace gave me tunnel vision. I took every other aspect of my life for granted, until it started to implode and I had to start paying attention. Though I was able to repair some of the damage in some areas, I was left to pick up the pieces in others. 

The MBA indoctrination was successful in creating a super-widget and it only took a few years of business school to get me there. Now, years later, I’m still relearning what matters. Like a junkie I’m likely to use again, which could lead me to reoffend. My drug? Status and my growing dependence on it.

5. Believe a busy life is a happy life.

Life is too short to be in a hurry. If we are always on the go, we are reacting to the exigencies of day-to-day life rather than allowing ourselves the space to create a happy life.
— Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier : Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment

Busyness is a kind of salve and that fact is even more evident today. Being busy in the every day, rushing here, rushing there, updating this or that, email, social media, keeping up with the latest news, all of these low-value activities keep us from stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. This individual says “YES” because he doesn’t value his time, since all of it is spent in futile busyness or low-value entertainment meant to “keep up with” our entertainment culture. If he doesn’t value his time, why should anyone else? And he likes it that way because it ensures he never has to stop and think about his life. That would require him get real and make some changes to lead a richer, deeper, more fulfilling on, lest he remain perpetually dissatisfied.

Socially Acceptable, Personally Destructive

Each one of the types listed above are socially acceptable, even highly rewarded. These people make it easy for others to get what they want because they reduce barriers, friction, conflict. But as facilitators, they pay a high price: personal fulfilment: happiness over the long term.

What’s the Solution?

Personal happiness is the ultimate currency and accumulating it over time means following a recipe of sorts that makes it easier to say “NO” to what doesn’t align with who we are or who we want to become:

Happy people live secure in the knowledge that the activities that bring them enjoyment in the present will also lead to a fulfilling future.
— Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier : Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment
The being who finds peace inside himself needs nobody to tell him what to do, nobody to project their own fantasies onto him.
— p. 85, The Power of NO by James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher
For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation—the drive do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing—is essential for high levels of creativity.
— Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Working hard is important. But more effort does not necessarily yield more results. “Less but better” does.
— p. 43, Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  • Purpose: Create meaning in your life that allows you to feel productive and joyful in the moment and over the longer term. When in doubt about what you want or what you care about, follow your gut.
  • Expression of self: Maintain the level of autonomy needed to lead an authentic life. (Stay out of debt, don’t define yourself by your work or by what others ask of you and don’t chase the latest status symbols.)
  • Life audit: Regularly compare what you say you value to how you spend your time. Adjust as needed to stay in balance or get real about what you really value.
  • Sources of motivation: The more your motivation is fuelled by internal drivers as opposed to external carrots and sticks, the happier you will be. That means increasing the ratio of want tos to have tos because have tos are based on external pressures and meeting these obligations seldom leads to long-term satisfaction.
  • Good enough: Maximize life overall by avoiding the drive to chase perfection in all aspects of life. Perfection in one area costs you dearly because it requires you to ignore or under develop other areas of life that make it worth living. Achieving “good enough” across all areas of life increases your potential for living the good life.

What's your want to vs have to ratio? Are you able to say NO in order to say YES?

Image credit/copyright: dan/

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