Justin, a friend of mine, started talking about something that happened in his forensics class: "We had to look at this gross picture of a guy who committed suicide by...."
I interrupted him: "What would've happened if you didn't look?"
"What do you mean?"
"You said you had to look, so what would have happened if you didn't?"
"Haha. Well I just meant that the professor showed it to us."
"So what you meant to say was that you chose to look?"
This was meant mostly as a joke but it quickly evolved into a conversation about how often we say things like this in our day-to-day lives without even thinking about it. We talked about language and the way it changes our perception of reality, what we think of ourselves, and how others perceive us. I had/have to is most often a lie of perception that disconnects us from reality and our actions; I chose/choose to most often states reality and makes us take responsibility for our actions. How often do we really have to do something? How often do we have no choice? Perhaps we sometimes arrive at a point where we feel as though we have to do X or Y, but we end up at that point because of the choices we made previously that lock us into a particular way of living or thinking. Everyone involved in the discussion very quickly agreed that saying "I chose to" is vastly superior to saying "I had to", so we decided to start using it from now on wherever applicable.
Justin noted that the one who is empowered in the sentence is also important. "She showed me the picture..." vs "I looked at the picture..." where in the former the other person is the one with the power/performing the action and in the latter Justin is the one in control.
I think this simple concept is important and we should apply it to our conversations and outlook in order to better perceive the life we're living and to take complete responsibility for it. We can learn a lot about ourselves from the choices we make, but not if we refuse to view them as choices.
"I can't hang out with you at 8 because I have to go to work."
"I can't hang out with you at 8 because I choose to go to work instead."