Can’t Versus Don’t



“When someone tells you can’t do something, perhaps you should consider that they are only telling you what they can’t do.”  Sheldon Cahoon

This is certainly something helpful to remember before getting upset with someone who appears to be trying to limit you. We see this a lot with parents and grandparents limiting young children who are wanting to do something. “Watch out, careful, that’s for big kids,” etc. It may be that you have opened yourself up and been vulnerable with some friends about what you want to do.  Only to find that they have nothing positive to say, and they remind you of your failures in the past.

I have just read a post in a face book group that I’m part of. The author was talking about the different energy between the 2 words can’t and don’t. For example, “I can’t miss my workout today.” Or “I don’t miss workouts.” The words that we use not only help us make better choices on an individual basis, but also make it easier to stay on track with long-term goals. So why does “I don’t,” work better than, “I can’t.” Our words help to frame our sense of empowerment. And the words that you use create a feedback loop in our brains that impacts our future behaviours. Every time you tell yourself, “I can’t,” you’re creating a feedback loop that is a reminder of your limitations. This terminology indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. In comparison, when you tell yourself, “I don’t,” you’re creating a feedback loop that reminds you of your control and power over the situation. It’s a phrase that can propel you towards breaking your bad habits and following your good ones.

Heidi Grant Halvorsen, director of the Motivation Science Centre at Columbia University explained the difference in response this way. “I don’t,” is experienced as a choice, so it feels empowering. It’s an affirmation of your determination and willpower. “I can’t,” isn’t a choice. It’s a restriction, that’s being imposed upon you. “I don’t,” is a psychologically empowering way to say “no,” while the phrase, “I can’t,” is a psychologically draining way to say, “no.”  Does this sound like something you can try? Notice how you feel inside with the 2 different responses.

The original article was written by James Clear.

Enjoy choosing the empowering way to say, “no.”

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