Seven years ago, mysterious health issues I had were finally identified as celiac disease. Believe me when I tell you I lay on the floor and cried as I thought, “I can’t eat warm, chewy sourdough; I can’t eat golden, flaky croissants; I can’t eat my mom’s Christmas cookies; and the list went on.
And, yet, my desire to feel better out-weighed my despair over losing out on a hugely satisfying food group. Within a few short months, I was seeing the direct result of a gluten-free diet; I felt better and stronger than I ever had as my health issues radically diminished.*
*(Note: Not to worry, this is not a manifesto against gluten or carbs. Whew! You can keep reading.)
A trip to Paris, a few years ago, highlighted my shift in perspective. While I made a point to browse the gorgeous pastry shop windows and even stepped inside shops to simply breathe in the luscious scent of freshly baked baguettes, there was no real, significant craving.
I had made the huge shift from a victimized stance of “I can’t eat croissants” to a much more powerful stance of “I don’t eat croissants”. Choosing to not eat gluten for the sake of my health had become a bright line I did not and still do not cross.
“I Can’t” versus “I Don’t”
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research affirms this truth.
During an experiment, one group was instructed to use the phrase “I don’t” to refuse offers of unhealthy food – as in, “I don’t eat ice cream” – while others used the phrase “I can’t.” When participants finished the study, they were allowed to choose either a chocolate bar or a granola bar. Of the “I don’t” group, 64 percent chose the healthier option, versus 39 percent of the “I can’t” group.
The authors of the study suggest the words “I don’t” are EMPOWERING because they help us frame our decisions from a clear sense of self, as in “this is who I am” versus “I can’t” which suggests there is a barrier that prevents a particular action.
“I can’t” are powerful words for their mighty DISEMPOWERING effect. This short phrase kept 61 percent of the participants from making a healthy choice. “I can’t” keeps us stuck in old behaviors and feeling helpless and at the effect of a decision we’ve made.
The power of the words “I don’t” ALIGNS us with our values. “I don’t” empowers us to own the decision we’ve made by providing a clear BRIGHT LINE we won’t cross, for example, “I don’t gossip; I don’t skip my morning workout; I don’t watch TV during the week.”
“I Do” and “I Don’t”
When we choose a particular goal, whether it is to make better, healthier food choices; to exercise 3 days a week; to write a novel; to get organized, or carve out quality “me time”, or anything else on our life lists, we are essentially saying “I do”.
Hand-in-hand, along with “I do” is the invariable temptation or resistance. Will you be at the effect of your decision or will you powerfully own it by knowing what you will and won’t do?
Just now, while writing this article, I found myself staring at the chocolate chips in the pantry. I gently reminded myself I don’t snack between meals. It was much easier then to turn my focus to what it is was I needed: a short break from the computer. A few stretches worked just as well as a not-needed snack.
I’m excited and curious to try the power of “I don’t” out on my next big writing project, as in “I don’t listen to the little voice in my head who likes to tell me there is nothing new to say and I do keep writing.”
What will be on your “I don’t” list which will help you support your commitment? It doesn’t have to be a long, lengthy list for it to be effective.
I’d love to hear about your “I Don’t” Strategy, the one which will help you remain committed to the “I do” of your new habit or life style goal.