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  • Stan D

Nice-to-haves VS. must-haves

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Can you draw a clear line between the things in your life that you must have and the ones that are simply nice to have?


Some time ago I used to work with a client who had quite the interesting situation going for himself. He was smart and successful and wanted to stay on the path of improvement and growth. He wanted to adopt certain habits and behaviors that would allow him to get to a higher level in life. This is where I came in. My client had a perfectly good idea of what he needed to do in order to move forward. He was very specific about the actions he needed to take and how they connect to the results he desired. Despite that, he was stuck in a vicious cycle. It went something like this:

Could -> Should -> Don’t

He could do a certain thing, he knew he should do it, but he never did it. When we debriefed week after week, looking into what was getting in the way, there were always 2 distinct themes:

  1. Some unexpected event – friends visiting, bad timing, car trouble, poor weather conditions, etc.

  2. He just did not feel like doing it.

You can label the first category as excuses and you'd probably be right. Now, I know there are legit reasons why sometimes we can’t execute things according to plan. That’s fair enough, but most of the time when you look closely, you see that it’s just an excuse hiding under the surface. We are all inclined to pull an excuse or two when something doesn’t happen the way we intended. It’s easy and rather natural. It’s also quite possible that the designated excuse has some effect on the situation, but it doesn’t render it impossible for you to pull through, or adjust and come up with an alternative. For example, rain would definitely make it more difficult or unpleasant for you to have your morning run, but it’s not a real reason to skip a workout. There’s plenty of exercise you can do indoors, if you don't feel like getting wet. I’m more concerned about the second category – the one where you’re just not feeling it. In this case, he was not even trying to point a finger at something/someone, but just went like “I didn’t feel like doing it”. To me that’s a red flag. What are we supposed to think about the objective we’re pursuing and the level of importance associated with it? There’s a form of a dissonance taking place when you don’t feel like doing something that you know you should be doing and that is good for you. It just doesn’t click together. This is what got me to contemplate a specific distinction of the objectives we set for our selves: nice-to-haves vs. must-haves. Nice-to-haves are the things that we’re fond of and we would be happy to achieve or receive. I don’t believe anyone would object to being in better shape, learning more, earning more or having more influence and better relationships. These are great and we all like the 💡 idea 💡 of them. The big question is: Are you willing to make the necessary sacrifice and put in the work that’s required to accomplish goals like the above? Are you going to persevere and push forward when there’s difficulty coming your way? Do you get creative and resourceful when faced with unexpected challenges and still find a way to advance? Since we’re talking about something that is “nice to have”, and not a must, then the answer is most likely “No”. On the other hand, must-haves represent things that we need to accomplish no matter what. Those are the kinds of things you will do regardless of obstacles, or difficulty, that may come up. Consider taking care of your sick child. Even if it’s the middle of the night and there’s a storm outside, you will go out and do what’s necessary to help your kid get better. Here’s another example: drinking water. It’s a must have! If you delay doing it for more than 36 hours, you’re in real trouble. You could die… Getting your liquids is a must have. I realize these examples are extreme and directly related to physical survival. You don’t sense the same level of necessity and urgency when it comes to exercising, or eating right, or personal development. Here’s the good news: you don’t need to be in a life-threatening situation to act on something, as if it’s a must-have. You are perfectly capable of making that commitment to any activity (or person). I’m not suggesting that you start treating everything on your agenda as a must-have. Chances are a lot of that is not really a must-have anyway. The trick is to identify the things that would really move the needle for you and declare them the must-haves. You can designate must-haves for the day, the week, the month, the year – you name it. It’s a liberating thing to realize that if you can muster the strength and resilience to achieve a particular must-have thing, then you most certainly can do the same for another. That’s what my client had to do eventually – identify the real must-haves and treat them as such. Your must-haves can and will change over time. As you go through life, you naturally reevaluate what is truly important and worthwhile. Don’t be delusional about what your nice-to-haves and must-haves are. If a given task or objective seems to be a nice-to-have thing, then perhaps your focus and attention should be invested elsewhere. Once that’s going, beautiful results start to come in. Here’s a nice meditative exercise: list your goals and objectives and ask yourself what are the nice-to-haves and what are the must-haves. What are the things in your work and life that you would commit to doing, as if your life depended on them?

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