Our vocabulary shapes our behavior – Why you should avoid „try,” „need,” and „have to.”


How often do you say “I have to”? Do you say “I’ll try…”? I really believe that the language we use shapes our behavior. I wonder if you get the same impression. I hope that you’ll find my thoughts and tips on this topic useful.

I have to, I can’t, and I’ll try

There are a few phrases we use very often:

  • I can’t be in that meeting.
  • I have to do it before noon.
  • I’ll try to call you later.
  • I have to go.

You may ask what’s wrong with saying those things. We all use such phrases frequently. I used to use them very often myself. And from time to time I still do. But if you take a closer look at these sentences, you may find a hidden meaning in them. They all inform your interlocutor—and your subconscious—that the responsibility for the action is not yours. “I have to” because someone told me to, and it isn’t my decision anymore—someone else decided for me. “I can’t come to the meeting” because someone told me to do otherwise. It’s the same with the word “try.” When you say “I’ll try,” does it mean that you’ll actually do something? Will you give it your all, or just do it half-heartedly ?

Our vocabulary shapes our behavior

I’ve noticed that such phrases make me shift responsibility from myself to an external person. I tend to think that if I have to do something, then I can’t (!) do anything about it. I stop to consider what the options are and what I can do to make it happen . It’s similar with the word “try.” Saying “I’ll try” is not the same as saying “I will.” I may do it, but I’m not fully committed to it…

There is an alternative!

When I noticed this thought pattern, I started to ponder what I could change in how I think and speak to avoid those situations. I’d used that language for so long that it was already a habit. And as I’ve written many times, changing a habit is very hard. But it’s possible! I started consciously listening to what I say. Now, every time I notice that I’ve said one of those words, I make an effort to say it in a different way. A few examples:

  • Instead of saying “I can’t come to the meeting,” I say “I won’t be in the meeting because I decided to…”
  • I change “I have to do it by noon” to “I want to do it by noon, because otherwise…”
  • “I’ll try to call you” becomes “I will call you tomorrow between 12 and 1PM.”
  • Instead of saying “I have to go,” I might say “I’m going now because in 10 minutes I have…”

Can you see the pattern here? You can summarize it with the below “rules” :

  • “I have to” -> “I want to”
  • “I can’t” -> “I won’t do… because … “
  • “I’ll try” -> “I will…”

You can use these rules in most cases . The biggest difference is that you will start to be more conscious in what you say. And you will own responsibility for what you do. Your actions and decisions will be yours, not someone else’s.


Do I always catch myself when I say these things? No, of course not. But I do put a lot of effort into it. And it gets easier over time. It gets easier over time. The prize for that effort is the great pleasure of being more conscious of what I do and taking ownership of my actions.

Ideas for you

If you think tha t what I described above makes sense, choose one phrase I mentioned in the post. Start to observe what you say and spot that phrase in your vocabulary. Make an effort to say it differently. At first, you can do this just in your head. After some time, you will be able to spot it before you say it. Will you give it a try? Or maybe you can decide to do it. Remember what Yoda said—”Do. Or do not. There is not try.” Good luck!


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About me

My name is Dominik Juszczyk. I’m a productivity geek and a Gallup Strengths Coach. I try to focus on my strengths and embrace the chaos of everyday life, using my time to the fullest and enjoying my early morning runs.

My top 5 themes

Individualization | Arranger | Learner | Empathy | Intellection


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