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How to Resist Distractions and Temptation

September 17, 2013

Your phone buzzes as you pull onto the highway. Are you more likely to think,

450px-NotextinganddrivingWestUTX“I can’t read texts while I’m driving.”

or

“I don’t read texts while I’m driving.”

Several interesting studies coming out of Boston College and the University of Houston revealed the impact of using “I can’t” versus “I don’t.” In one study of 30 adults with health and fitness goals:

  • 10 participants were not given a strategy.
  • 10 were told to use “I can’t” statements when they were tempted to slip (for example, “I can’t skip work-outs.”)
  • 10 were told to use “I don’t” statements when they were tempted to slip (for example, “I don’t skip work-outs.”)

The study participants then received daily emails asking how well they were doing with their goals.  After 10 days

  • In the group that wasn’t given a strategy, three of the 10 were still working on their goals.
  • In the “I can’t” group, only one of the 10 was still working on her goal.
  • In the “I don’t” group, eight of the 10 participants were still working on their goals.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University explains: “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.”

Want to resist distractions and temptation? Working on an important goal? Whenever you catch yourself veering off course, try reminding yourself that “I don’t….” It’s a small strategy that can make a big difference.

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