Personal Growth

This Simple Word Swap Can Help You Keep Your Commitments in Check

Let's face it: Saying "no" is hard. Even when your schedule absolutely won't allow it, turning someone down for help on a project, attendance at their party, or a night on the town feels awful. As a result, many people end up saying "yes" anyway, overloading themselves and making everything mediocre as a result. There's an easy way to avoid being persuaded to bite off more than you can chew, however. Instead of saying you "can't" do what's asked of you, say you "don't" do things like that.

Just Say No

For example, imagine a friend texts you on Saturday night to say that another friend bailed on tomorrow's trip to rent a boat and go sailing all day. "You should come with us!" he says. It's $100 per person. Your mind races: You have laundry to do, errands to run, work to finish, and on top of all of that, you're short on cash. But you know this friend. He's persistent. If you say no, he'll ask a million questions until he's persuaded you to come along.

That is, he'll do that if you say "I can't." "I can't go, I have too much to do," or, "I can't go, that's too much money for me," could easily be countered with, "You can do laundry the next day!" or, "Just don't buy lattes next week."

Instead, say, "I don't." "I don't go out on Sundays until my chores are done." "I don't spend recreational money I didn't budget for." That turns a flimsy excuse and disappointing rejection into an affirmation. This is the way I live my life. Next time, let's plan ahead to accommodate that.

Turning Inward

"I don't" works when talking to yourself, as well. For a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers Vanessa M. Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt performed a series of experiments to see how using "I don't" compared to "I can't" in exercises of motivation. In one experiment, they found that when they coached dieters tempted by an unhealthy snack to say "I don't eat X," they were significantly more likely to choose a granola bar instead of a candy bar at the end of the experiment than dieters coached to say "I can't eat X." Likewise, participants in a 10-day health program who were instructed to use "I don't" when they were tempted to lapse in pursuit of their goals were much less likely to give up than those told to use "I can't" or "just say no."

Why does this work so well? For both turning down other people and motivating yourself, saying "I don't" gives you power. Whereas "I can't" is temporary, "I don't" is a statement of principle. When you say "I don't," you're reminding yourself and emphasizing to others exactly what kind of person you are. That's powerful. To quote Leonardo da Vinci, as Patrick and Hagtvedt did, "One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself."

For more in-depth advice to become a better communicator, listen to our Curiosity Podcast episode "Communicate Like A Mind Reader." Stream or download the episode using the player below, or find it everywhere podcasts are found, including iTunes, Stitcher, and Gretta.

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For more ways to simplify your life, check out "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" by Greg McKeown. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer September 16, 2017

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