Empowerment and words – choose them wisely!

Empower quote on sunset photo

Why “I Don’t” Works Better Than “I Can’t”

Last month I wrote about the power of language and how to say no. This post builds on how your words can help to both empower you and frame your control.

The reason behind this empowering is that the words you choose to use help create a feedback loop in your brain, which can and will impact your future behaviours.

Picture this; every time you tell yourself “I can’t”, this creates a feedback loop in your mind that is a reminder of your limitations. Also, using this terminology indicates that you are forcing yourself to do something you actually do not want to do.

Compare this to when you tell yourself “I don’t”. In this instance, you are creating a feedback loop which reminds you of your control and power over the situation. This phrase is one that can propel you towards breaking your bad habits and following your good ones. Hurrah!

Heidi Grant Halvorson, the director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University, explains the difference between saying “I don’t” compared to “I can’t”:

“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, it’s being imposed upon you. So thinking “I can’t” undermines your sense of power and personal agency.

Simply put, the phrase “I can’t” is a psychologically draining way to say no, while the phrase “I don’t” is a psychologically empowering way to say no!

Ok – so this is all great and all, but what does this mean in real life?

We are all faced with situations throughout our days when we need to say no to something – being offered a dessert menu … walking past your favourite shop with a 50% off sale … the urge to skip a workout … or the distracting beckon of Facebook, tweets, texts, emails, and the web when really you should be focusing on something important.

Individually, each responses to these little choices seem insignificant. That’s why we don’t tend to make a big deal about telling ourselves that we “can’t” do something.

Imagine, however, the cumulative effect of choosing your words, choosing your words wisely to be empowering words. Now imagine if you will choosing these more empowering words on a regular basis and the impact it could have – it would be a pretty awesome effect I reckon!

It’s true that “I can’t” and “I don’t” are phrases that seem similar, and to be honest appear interchangeable, but do not be fooled!

Psychologically they can provide very different feedback loops, and ultimately, result in very different behaviours and actions. The reason is that they aren’t just words and phrases – they are affirmations of what you believe, reasons for why you do what you do, and reminders of where you want to go.

(source: the beautiful photo is from My Life Well Loved)


Katherine Bugden

The beautiful Katherine Bugden is a co-founder and contributor to A Conscious Beauty blog.

This English lass is an avid writer, tea drinker, reader and can chat the hind legs off a donkey. She loves to travel and has a serious case of wanderlust, which is providing ample fodder for day-dreams. Love, family, friends and laughter are constant themes in this beauty’s life. When not working, reading or writing, she’s on the beach lapping up the sunshine and letting the ocean wash any worries away.

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