What you say MATTERS!
An article summary titled “I Don’t” Beats “I Can’t” for self-control was written several years ago. While the article is older, the content is still powerfully relevant today. The study examined the effect of different wording when using self-talk to resist temptation. When participants framed a refusal as “I don't” (for instance, “I don't eat sugar”) instead of “I can't,” they were more successful at resisting the desire to eat unhealthy foods or skip the gym.”
This drives home a message we've been preaching for years. Saying “I don’t” promotes empowerment while saying “I can’t” seems to carry an idea and feeling of “it’s not within my power to control”. Living healthy IS in YOUR power to CONTROL! It is all about choices, every day, several times a day; choices about what we eat, how we exercise, and how we take care of ourselves. There is always a choice. When we rely on willpower or blame someone else or something else (a diet program or "eating rules") we take away our power.
Think about and picture this lunch scenario (which probably is not far from an experience you've had while trying to lose weight): you are out to lunch with co-workers or friends. The menu arrives, and you immediately start thinking about and picturing all the things you “can’t” have. Before you know it, a rebellious, long thought suppressed adolescent spirit suddenly arises and you start arguing or rationalizing with yourself about how you “could” have those items you immediately told yourself were off limits. The word “can’t” can produce some anxiety about decisions; making us feel out of control. And you won't even realize that you've wasted energy on convincing yourself why and how I “can't". The result of this power-revoking thought train is a feeling of deprivation. And feeling deprived in any weight loss scenario is bad news!
So, now that we know the outcome of an "I can't" mindset, let's try this again. Same lunch scenario, but instead of "I can't" we're going to substitute with “I don’t eat these menu items so that I can reach my goals." Go ahead and practice saying it out loud. Notice and feel the difference. Look in a mirror and notice how your facial expression is even completely different for "I don't" is completely different from "I can't". "I don't" is empowering and makes us feel like we are 100% in control of and responsible for our decisions. We don't feel deprived because we are actively choosing to forgo certain food choices. That choice and power is ours!
Bottom line: what you say to yourself (and the words you use about and during a transition to living healthier) DOES matter. Choose your words wisely. Choose empowerment over willpower.
To read more about this subconscious phenomenon and the research behind it, click here.
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