The Coping Kete

No. 139: Replace “I Can’t” with “I Don’t”

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…
…I will practice using my word-choices to help me work towards my goals. Often, when we want to make changes, there is something we want to stop doing and other things we want to do more of. This week, I will practice choosing words that focus on my control and power to decide.

Research has shown that often when we  start telling ourselves ‘I can’t do xyz thing’ we tend to want to do that very thing even more. Only one out of ten people who tried to cut back on chocolate by telling themselves “I can’t eat chocolate” actually managed to stop eating chocolate. On the other hand, the same study showed that eight out of ten people who told themselves “I don’t eat chocolate” managed to reach their goal. Telling ourselves that we can’t do things tends to leave us feeling restricted and wanting to rebel against ourselves, telling ourselves that we don’t do things tends to leave us feeling like we control what we choose to do. 

So this week, I am going to practice noticing myself thinking “I can’t do that now” or “I am not allowed…” and I am going to mindfully replace the word ‘can’t’ with ‘don’t’… “I don’t do that now”. As I move through the week, I’ll try to notice how this affects me, when the strategy is useful and what I do with the strategy to make it work for me. There might be times when I really can’t do something, like fly down to the bus stop, but I might be surprised at just how often the things I think are limits are really choices and preferences that I have.

Once I am comfortable with replacing my can’ts with don’ts on a day-to-day kind of basis, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of engaging with my goals to stop things that are no longer helpful to me. I will be able to pick up on any unnecessarily limiting thoughts I am having about my goals as things “I can’t do” and use my self-talk to transform the can’ts into don’ts. If there is something I want to change, like to stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs, I will be able to take control of my language to help soothe the pressure from the situation and make myself feel more in charge of what I am doing. I might make a list of the things I feel like I can’t do anymore, and then re-write each item using the words I don’t, and keep the list with me for times when I’m feeling tempted.

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