The difference between “I can’t” and “I don’t” is monumental.

Language is one of the biggest helps in preserving habit formation while it’s in the fragile developmental phase.

Consumer behavior researchers conducted an experiment involving women trying to set healthy habits like better diets and more frequent exercise. The researchers instructed women to use self-talk to overcome the temptations to abandon their workouts. The first group of women was instructed to respond to psychological roadblocks with “I can’t miss my workouts.” The second group of women was instructed to counter to mental blocks with “I don’t miss my workouts.” Researchers found that there was only a 10 percent success rate among women who used the word “can’t” in their self-talk. By contrast, 80 percent of women who used the word “don’t” successfully maintained their new habits. That’s a 70 percent difference!

This is truly remarkable. One small change in vocabulary made a world of difference. Consider the implications of the two words. To say, “I can’t” is a declaration of incapacity. It’s disempowering because the “sayer” is relinquishing autonomy. Choice is no longer in their hands. Saying “I don’t” affirms the capacity to make decisions. The latter is not a person who has been denied access to Instagram, but is the kind of person who does not use Instagram.

The difference between “I can’t” and “I don’t” is monumental.

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