I have to and I choose to

There’s a great exchange in the chapter on the first habit – “Be Proactive” – of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits between Covey and a student.


One time a student asked me, “Will you excuse me from class? I have to go on a tennis trip.”

‘You have to go, or you choose to go?” I asked.

“I really have to,” he exclaimed.

“What will happen if you don’t?”

“Why, they’ll kick me off the team.”

“How would you like that consequence?”

“I wouldn’t.”

“In other words, you choose to go because you want the consequence of staying on the team. What will happen if you miss my class?”

“I don’t know.”

‘Think hard. What do you think would be the natural consequence of not coming to class?”

‘You wouldn’t kick me out, would you?”

‘That would be a social consequence. That would be artificial. If you don’t participate on the tennis team, you don’t play. That’s natural. But if you don’t come to class, what would be the natural consequence?”

“I guess I ‘II miss the learning.”

‘That’s right. So you have to weigh that consequence against the other consequence and make a choice. I know if it were me, I’d choose to go on the tennis trip. But never say you have to do anything.”

“I choose to go on the tennis trip,” he meekly replied.

“And miss my class?” I replied in mock disbelief.


I think of this anecdote on days when I hear myself slipping into reactive language. Fortunately for many of us, we choose to more than we have to.

It is on us to make the most of it.