Estimated reading time: 4mins
Can’t vs don’t
Group A was presented with many temptations and each time they had to tell themselves “I can’t eat ice cream” or whatever the temptation was.
When Group B was presented with the same temptations they had to tell themselves “I don’t eat ice cream” or whatever the temptation was.
After this, they were asked a series of questions unrelated to the study and handed in their answer sheets, believing that that was the end of the study. In reality, the real study was just beginning!
As they left the room, every student was offered a complimentary snack. They could choose between a chocolate candy bar or a granola bar, and researchers recorded their choices on each person’s answer sheet.
The students who had repeated the phrase “I can’t” when offered each temptation chose the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time, whereas the students who had repeated the phrase “I don’t” chose the chocolate candy bar only 36% of the time. The change in terminology greatly improved the odds that each person would make a healthier food choice.
Students who had repeated the phrase “I don’t” chose the chocolate candy bar only 36% of the time.
But what about fitness goals?
The same researchers conducted another study on 30 working women, who had a long-term health and wellness goal that was important to them.
They divided these 30 women into three groups of ten. Group A was told that whenever they felt like not doing what was required of them to achieve their goals they were to “just say no”. This group was the control group.
Group B was told that if they felt like not doing what was required they were to say “I can’t miss my workout” whilst Group C was told at those times they were to say “I don’t miss workouts”. They all followed this strategy for ten days.
Group A (the “Just say no” group) had three out of ten that persisted with their goals for the entire ten days. Group B (the “I can’t miss workouts” group) had only ONE out of ten that persisted with their goals. Group C (the “I don’t miss workouts” group) had an incredible eight out of ten that persisted with their goals!
Swapping out can’t for don’t may improve your ability to stay on track with your goals
Words have power
What this study tells us is that our words matter and that what we tell ourselves is important!
The words we use can either make us feel more empowered and in control, or that we are being forced to do something that we actually don’t want to do.
Also, saying “I don’t miss workouts” reminds us that we have already been strong previously and reminds us of the person that we are, reinforcing that we are athletes in our own minds.
Our brains are amazing things that can have huge effects on our lives so why not give it a try yourself.
Patrick, V. and Hagtvedt, H., 2012. “I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, [online] 39(2), pp.371-381. Available at:“I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior..