The Power of “Don’t”

In this post, I’d like to share one of the simplest, most effective practices I learned last year:

Making the switch from using the word “can’t” to “don’t.”

It almost seems too basic and insignificant, right? That’s what I thought at first, too! However, after a few months of this slight change in vocabulary, I’m hooked.

“Can’t” puts the power elsewhere.

“I can’t take the elevator.”

“I can’t cook.”

“I can’t eat sweets.”

In all of the above statements, the power is outside of you. Who says you can’t? Some blog you read? Some external pressure? Some lofty New Year’s Resolution you made? When we frequently use “can’t” as a word in our vocabulary, we set ourselves up for feelings of guilt or shame when we don’t live up to an arbitrary lifestyle ideal. “Can’t” makes us feel weak in the face of an external force. Also, telling yourself you “can’t” do something only makes you want to do it more. Imagine telling a two year old she can’t have a cookie. Prepare for a tantrum! Finally, “can’t” encourages a defeatist attitude. If you tell yourself you can’t cook, you’ll likely never try to learn.

“Don’t” is empowering.

“I don’t take the elevator at work.”

“I don’t regularly order takeout.”

“I don’t keep tempting foods in my house.”

Even if you do sometimes order takeout, reshaping your thinking to know that you don’t make it a habit is incredibly empowering. “Don’t” requires ownership of a certain lifestyle change, and it puts the onus on you–not some unseen outside force. No one–including you–is saying you “can’t” do something; rather, you are just saying you “don’t” make unhealthy habits a regular part of your lifestyle–end of story! Again, it sounds like such a simple change. The road to optimal health needs to be difficult, right? In reality, many behavior changes are tough. But, if a simple shift in vocabulary can help you achieve your goals, why not give it a try?

“Don’t” + “because” is the golden standard.

“I don’t take the elevator at work because it’s good for me to move and get my blood flowing throughout the work day.”

“I don’t regularly order takeout because I know it’s filled with toxic, addictive additives–like highly processed oils and sugar–and I can prepare healthier meals for myself.”

“I don’t keep tempting foods–like sweets–at home because I know that ironclad willpower is not a thing.”

Adding the “because” reasoning to any basic “don’t” statement is extra empowering! When you’re able to remind yourself of the reasoning behind any behavior change, switching to better habits is that much more achievable.

Instead of making sweeping New Year’s Resolutions, try making one “don’t” + “because” statement in January, add another in February, another in March, and so on. Ideally, in December, you’ll have realized a much healthier and more empowered lifestyle!

Once you unlock the power of “don’t” in your own life, please share your thoughts in the comments!

In each blog post, I aim to bring you food for thought (pun intended. Note: my day job is teaching English), but don’t take my word for it! Click on and read all of the links above to become your own expert on this topic; knowledge is power. The more you know and understand the “why” behind each biohack, the easier it will be to stick to it and realize you can’t live without it!




2 thoughts on “The Power of “Don’t”

  1. kpolimis says:

    Another great post, Brooke! Always appreciate you sharing practices/ideas you encounter

    Have you read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg? The “don’t” + “because” phrasing reminds me of the the first two steps in Duhigg’s habit loop:

    “This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future”

    The “don’t/because” framework is a more tangible construction of the emotional and/or physical reasons to begin (trigger) a habit in the first place.


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