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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 6

“I Don't” Beats “I Can't” for Self-Control

Casting willpower as a choice makes sticking to resolutions easier
willpower, tempation, new year's resolutions



ÖZGÜR DONMAZ istockphoto

Meet your goals more easily by changing the way you think about your vices. In four related studies published in the August 2012 Journal of Consumer Research, researchers examined the effect of different wording when using self-talk to resist temptation. When participants framed a refusal as “I don't” (for instance, “I don't eat sugar”) instead of “I can't,” they were more successful at resisting the desire to eat unhealthy foods or skip the gym. Study author Vanessa Patrick, professor of marketing at the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business, says, “I believe that an effective route to self-regulation is by managing one's desire for the temptation, instead of relying solely on willpower.” She also believes that deprivation is an ineffective route to self-control. “Saying ‘I can't’ connotes deprivation, while saying ‘I don't’ makes us feel empowered and better able to resist temptation.

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