Have you ever tried to change your behaviour?
Of course you have.
Every day, millions of people worldwide try to eat less junk food, try to stick to an exercise regime, try to check Facebook less often, and so on.
But changing behaviour can be hard. It’s why most of us continue to make unhealthy food choices, go to bed too late, and opt for a sleep in over a morning run. But there is a magic word that you can use that will make you 50 per cent more likely to stick to any kind of change you want to make in your life.
That word is “don’t”.
The power of ‘don’t’.
When we learn new ways of working, or new “rules” and have to leave behind old behaviour, we tend to default to the word “can’t”. For example, when trying a new diet, we tell ourselves (and other people) that we can’t eat chocolate, or we can’t eat white food, or we can’t eat food beginning with the letter B.
Thankfully, Marketing Professor Vanessa Patrick investigated the impact of the word “can’t” versus swapping the first two letters for “d” and “o”.
She suspected that the way we talk to ourselves and others actually impacts our ability to say no to temptation. And let’s face it, temptations are a big reason behind why changing behaviour is so hard. It’s just so tempting to do things as we have always done them.
In one of Patrick’s experiments, 120 university students were recruited and asked about how relevant setting goals around healthy eating was to them. Participants were then taught about a strategy for managing unhealthy food temptations. One group was taught to say “I can’t eat X” whenever presented with an unhealthy snack. The other group was taught to say “I don’t eat X”.
Participants were then asked to turn their attention to a completely different (and irrelevant) task, but then when they got up to leave the room, the crux of the experiment happened: they were offered a choice of two snacks – one was a chocolate bar, and the other was a healthy granola bar. The experimenters quietly noted which participants picked which bar.