Maybe it’s a good idea you watch your mouth.
When we decide to acquire new habits and rid ourselves of old, harmful ones, we tend to focus the most on motivation and the logistics of implementation. Rarely do we consider thinking about all the possible things we subconsciously do that impede our progress.
Even if you have an ample amount of motivation, and are still somehow making steps to achieve your goals, the things you say to yourself can prevent you from being fully successful.
Luckily, there is one specific strategy you can use to make sure your success is optimal and almost guaranteed. And it entirely has to do with self-talk.
According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, one of the most powerful ways to secure achievement of your goals has to do with your use of the words “I can’t” versus “I don’t.”
Participants who wanted to have healthier eating habits were asked to say “I don’t eat X” (i.e. “I don’t eat cake”) or “I can”t eat X” when faced with an “unhealthy option such as a chocolate bar or opportunity to miss a workout.” Those who used the phrase “I don”t” before refusing temptation were found to choose healthier alternatives far more than those who used the phrase “I can’t.”
Another study by researchers showed that 20 women who were working toward fitness goals used “I don’t” or “I can’t” language when they were tempted to skip the gym or eat unhealthily. By the end of the study, 80 percent of the women using “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” were still pursuing their fitness goals without having strayed, while 90 percent of those who used “I can’t” failed to last the entirety of the study, having lapsed back into unhealthy habits.
Yes, this difference in language seems arbitrary and inconsequential. But in truth, when you use “I don’t” instead of “I can’t,” you will experience increased feelings of empowerment and strong levels of determination. These differences in language have incredible effects on what we think and how we act, as these two small phrases result in very different psychological effects.
Oliver Burkeman, journalist and author of the book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, perhaps says it best: “The ‘can’t’ framing implies an external restraint, which feels disempowering ... To say that you ‘don’t’ do something, by contrast, suggests autonomy, as well as long-term commitment.”