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How Changing One Word Can Help You Accomplish Anything

By Robin Ola November 09, 2023 Mindset

Personality tests are very popular, and I do enjoy them. I also think they are somewhat limited in their value because people are so very complicated, and I am not a fan of labeling a person. But I have learned over the years that every person is motivated uniquely to accomplish things.

I evaluate personality tendencies when I am helping clients develop health programs so that their specific program will actually work for them. I like to think of each of the tendencies I examine existing on a continuum, from one extreme to the other, because we are always somewhere between the extremes.

Where Are You on the Compliant-Rebellious Continuum?

Let’s limit this tendency evaluation to where we are as it relates to taking healthy actions. How rebellious are you? Another way to ask this is, are you a “rule-follower” or “rule-fighter”?

I am definitely a rule-fighter, especially when it comes to food. Many years ago, when I still believed that dieting could help me lose weight, I realized that almost every time I tried a popular diet, I would end up gaining weight instead.

I learned in the process that I am very rebellious towards any kind of food rules. Just tell me that I can’t have something and for sure that is all that I will want. I become obsessed with food I would normally not even eat if it shows up on a “forbidden food list.” I just can’t put those restrictive rule thoughts in my head – they always backfire.

This is not true for everyone. Some people love structure and rules. They might say to me, “just tell me what to do and I will do it.” They do great with specific food plans and restrictions, at least for a while.

If this is you, keep reading, because the one-word change can really help the rebellious, as well as the compliant, with motivation. I also believe that everyone has a little rebel in them somewhere!

The One-Word Change!

We often think “I have to _____,” or “I should _____.” The whiney, rebel part of our brain will then say, “But I don’t want to!”

The truth is that we don’t have to do anything. We usually end up doing the thing because really, we want to.

Let’s take an example – the kitchen is a mess. We may think, “I have to clean it up” or “I should clean it up.” The truth is that we don’t have to clean it up. Really, we want a clean kitchen. Really, we want to clean it up.

Do You Disagree?

Some of you may be yelling at me through your screen in response, saying we don’t have to do anything. You may not agree, but it’s true.

You say, “I have to take care of my kids/parents/grandkids…” No, you don’t. Lots of people don’t. Deep down you want to, because you want them to be taken care of, and not by just anyone.

Or, “I have to pay my bills/taxes/mortgage…” No, you don’t have to. You may not like the results or the penalty for not paying, but the point is, you really don’t have to.

Are You a Fitness Rebel?

You may want to become more physically fit. Do you have thoughts like, “I really should go for a walk,” or, “I have to go to the gym”? If you are even a little on the rebellious side of the continuum, this thought might start a war in your head about how you “don’t want to.”

Many times, you might talk yourself right out of it. See if you can catch yourself and examine this thought. If your desire is to become more active and fit, you really do want to do the exercise.

My husband has argued with me about this. He says that is not the case, and he only exercises because he needs to. I try to explain that he wants the result, he wants to exercise and that the battle in his head about it is unnecessary and can cause him to stay on the couch.

Changing the sentence in your head from “should” or “have to” to “want to” can make a huge difference, especially when you are trying to establish new habits that you want.

Why Does the One-Word Change Work?

Wanting to do something feels entirely different that having to do it. In a previous article, Can Weight Loss be Fun, I quoted the habit researcher BJ Fogg, who said: “… pleasure can reinforce a behavior and make it more likely to happen in the future.”

How You Feel Matters in Behavior Change

For a food rule rebel like me, changing my thought from “I have to skip the dessert” to “I want to skip the dessert” feels so much better. It feels like I am in control. It feels like it is completely my idea so there is nothing to rebel against.

We are limited in the amount of change we can make using willpower. We use willpower when we do something because we feel obligated, because we have to.

Doing something because we want to can make us feel successful, self-confident, or determined. Knowing that we are doing something because we want to, creates the kind of emotions that drive us to accomplish anything!

If you would like to start applying this concept to your life, get the One-Word Change Worksheet.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Can you think of any activities that you would like to be doing that you rebel against in your mind? Do you think changing how you think about the desired activity could make it easier? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about things you HAVE to do? Could that be holding you back? Let’s have a conversation!

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This is interesting and I will try it out.


I think success usually comes from many small changes. I hope this can be a helpful piece of your journey.

Ciara Roots

If only it were as easy as this article says. I often use the word “want,” but it certainly hasn’t helped me change my behavior. I want to lose weight, but I want that serving of pasta more! I want to clean my kitchen, but I want to go out with friends more. So it’s a matter of the degree to which you want something and determining what you want more when two “wants” are in opposition to one another.


I agree, it is definitely NOT easy changing habits and ways of thinking! The action of stopping and being able to deny an immediate urge or “want”, to achieve something we actually want more, is a skill that can be developed but does take effort and awareness.


I have recently changed some of my thoughts to “I get to…” it is a privilege to… exercise, watch what I eat, etc.

Last edited 6 months ago by Carolyn

That is such a great way to think about it!!


I remember years ago reading something similiar, inserting “I get to” vs “I have to”. Such as “I get to go to work” vs “I have to go to work.” “I get to make dinner” “I get to exercise” “I get to pay bills.” I think the word “want” is much better.

Susan Kolb

Love this! I’ve tried changing should and need to “could”, but “want” makes so much more sense. Because, actually, doing these somewhat hard things is what I WANT to do – especially when looking at things with a long view. Thanks so much, Robin.


You are so welcome! It is that “delayed gratification” thing that is a skill we can develop!

Ciara Roots

Susan, it will be interesting to see the results you achieve from changing one word. I hope it works for you!

The Author

Robin Ola is a Certified Health, Life and Weight Loss Coach, and Personal Trainer. As a Behavior Change Specialist for almost two decades, she is passionate about creating innovative methods to help women make permanent health and life improvements through private coaching, workshops, wellness articles and retreats. Robin can be contacted at

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