Can changing a word change your life?

November 16th, 2017

I wanted to talk to you today about how I'm trying to change the way I approach life by swapping the word ‘can’t’ with ‘don’t’.

It’s a really powerful idea and it’s something that I picked up while reading a number of productivity books and articles, but to start with, let me share with you where I was in my life and what prompted this need for change.

Over the past few months, I was getting more and more disillusioned. There was not one great problem that I could point to that was creating this general malaise, but I could feel it creeping. I wasn’t achieving what I wanted to creatively and the countless stop-starts on my workout routine was frustrating. I felt caught in a loop of inaction; getting annoyed and anxious at my lack of motivation to be better, but also feeling the same frustration at my inability to do something about it.

Then, about a month ago, I'de had enough. I realised that all the things I wanted to happen and all the things I wanted was within my reach. My goals were all entirely obtainable, but something needed to change. One of the ways in which I would change things for the better was to swap the word ‘can’t’ with ‘don’t’ when talking about myself and the positive habits I wanted to build.

For example, have a look at these two sentences, perhaps read them out loud.

I can't have a lie-in ...
I don't have a lie-in ...

How did those two statements make you feel? They are the same, but for one difference. However, I would wager that they elicited difference response. They are both connected with trying to get out of bed in time. It might be something you say to yourself when you want to get going and start your day. The first sentence has a negative connotation, it feels like an external agency is telling you that you can’t do something. That you are forbidden from doing something you would really like to do. You would relish a lie-in, if only it wasn’t for someone telling you that you can’t.

The second sentence sounds powerful, it sounds like an affirmation of something positive. You don’t need to think about having a lie-in because it’s simply not something you do. It’s not someone else (or your conscience) blocking you from doing it, you are stating that you’ve made the choice not to do something.

Now perhaps the example I gave doesn’t fit for you, that’s ok, just think of a sentence you would say to yourself to chastise and replace the ‘can’t’ with a ‘don’t’. Have a look at some of the examples below and see what you think.

I don't eat alot of doughnuts.


I can't do my workout today because ....


I don't skip my workouts.

See how a simple of change in your vocabulary can start to change to way you relate to things you want to do and achieve? Obviously, I don’t think it’s a simple as just changing a word, but as part of a foundation to make positive changes in your life I can’t be a powerful step.

People who want to be better than they are generally know what they need to do. It’s not a lack of education. People who are unhappy with being overweight, on the whole, know that the solution is to eat a bit less and do a bit more and to build healthy and sustainable habits. It’s the creating of the habits that are that hard bit but if we can ‘trick’ ourselves into believing that we are actively choosing to do the right thing by adapting our language then the positive results will be reward enough.

This article and the accompanying video is part of a new commitment to make more free content on a regular basis; because after all, I don’t make excuses …