What do you do when you have to face something you don’t want to do?
- Perhaps you don’t particularly enjoy exercise, yet you know it’s important to workout regularly.
- Perhaps someone just asked you to do something that goes against your values, and you’re not sure what to say.
- Or perhaps you have to get your taxes finished…but thinking about taxes makes you really, really, really want to turn on Netflix and lose yourself in the world of JRR Tolkein.
What do you usually tell yourself and others when you face these situations? Most people say “I can’t”:
“I can’t skip my workout.”
“I can’t do drugs.”
“I can’t watch Netflix before finishing my taxes.”
But then you find yourself staying home and eating potato chips instead of getting your butt to the gym. You end up giving in to that persuasive “friend,” against your better judment. You turn on the TV and zone out for the rest of the day, leaving those taxes unfinished.
What if you could change all of these scenarios with one word?
You can. Just do this:
Change “can’t” into “don’t.”
“I Can’t” Allows Room for Excuses
So when you say “I can’t” do something to yourself, your brain immediately starts looking for ways to get around it.
“I can’t skip the gym today…well, maybe I could just for today, one day doesn’t matter, right?…or maybe I can just stay home and do some jumping jacks instead” (except you don’t actually get to those jumping jacks)
And when you say “I can’t” to someone else, they will try to come up with some reason why you actually can:
“Come on, it won’t take that much time…Just a little bit won’t hurt you…!”
And eventually, you give in.
In fact, sometimes saying “I can’t” is worse than saying nothing at all.
“I Don’t” Changes Your Sense of Identity
According to a study by Vanessa Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt, people who were instructed to say “I don’t” do something rather than “I can’t” do something (in this case, eat something unhealthy) were more likely to resist the tempting offer of an unhealthy snack.
Saying “I don’t do X” rather than “I can’t do X” takes away your excuses. It makes you feel more confident, more convinced of your position, more self-assured. It changes your sense of identity.
And everything hinges on your sense of identity.
Be →Do →Have
Most people have a Do →Have →Be perspective toward life. In other words, they believe that they have to do something in order to have something in order to be a particular person.
The most common example: people think they have to DO hard work at a job so that they can HAVE money so that they can BE rich.
But actually, it works the other way around: Who you ARE determines what you choose to DO, which in turn influences what you HAVE.
If you ARE a good student, you will DO your homework and study for tests, and you will HAVE good grades.
This paradigm explains why saying “I don’t” is more effective than saying “I can’t.” When you see yourself as a particular type of person, it’s easy to do what that person would do and refuse what that person would refuse.
For instance, if you see yourself as an athlete, you don’t have any mental struggle over whether or not to go to the gym — you just go.
If you see yourself as a financially responsible person, no one has to get you to do your taxes on time — you just do it.
Even when you feel resistance, by saying “I don’t do X,” you remind yourself of who you are, and the power of that identity
It Makes You More Persuasive to Others
According to Jeff Haden, author of The Motivation Myth (affiliate link), perceived conviction is persuasive.
If you tell someone you “can’t do” something — for instance, “I can’t drink,” — they don’t take you seriously. They keep wheedling and begging and pleading and convincing until you give up and give in.
But when you say “I don’t drink,” that ends the discussion.
You have made a statement about your identity and people can’t easily argue with that.
When You “Don’t,” You Do
When you tell yourself and others that you “don’t” do some undesired behavior, you will automatically start looking for ways to DO the opposite.
If you “don’t” skip gym sessions — you will go to the gym.
If you “don’t” procrastinate on your taxes — you will get those taxes done.
So the next time you find yourself saying “I can’t…” stop, and replace that “can’t” with a “don’t.” Remind yourself of who you are and clearly delineate what you do and don’t do.
You will sound, and feel, far more confident and convicted, and with that courage, you will destroy the last bits of resistance keeping you from your goals.
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