A study recently published in Journal of Consumer Research describes experiments in which test subjects who wanted to improve their personal health habits were asked to use one of two phrases when presented with an unhealthy option such as a chocolate bar or an opportunity to miss a workout. Those who used the phrase “I don’t” before refusing the temptation (“I don’t eat that chocolate bar”) chose the healthier alternative far more often than those who used the phrase “I can’t” (“I can’t eat that chocolate bar”).
What’s the Big Idea?
It’s common knowledge that how we talk to ourselves can impact our lives in many ways, and the differences in that impact can be measured literally to the word. Writer Oliver Burkeman says, “The ‘can’t’ framing implies an external restraint, which feels disempowering (even if you imposed the restraint on yourself)….To say that you ‘don’t’ do something, by contrast, suggests autonomy, as well as long-term commitment.” He adds, “According to cliché, learning to say ‘no’ is the key to seizing control of life. But how you say no matters, too.”