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Although it sounds obvious and trivial, the meanings of “I don’t” and “I can’t” are not the same. When you say no to some tempting treat, you do have a choice of phrasing it. Saying “I can’t do it” implies that you would not mind doing this but the circumstances simply don’t allow this. Saying “I don’t do it” sends clear and certain message of refusal. More importantly, the message is more obvious and acceptable for you in the latter case as well.
Our psychology should not be underestimated when it comes to choosing the refusal strategy. The brain is wired in certain way, and the strength of willpower is not the only factor in succeeding when it is necessary to say no.
Modern living provides us with plenty of temptations. Tasty food rich on calories and carbohydrates is a good example. Indulgence and overeating is a huge problem in the Western society. The United States are particularly affected – this is the fattest nation in the word now. Some states like Texas have particularly alarming rate of clinical obesity. By some estimates, around 50% of all people in Texas are clinically obese.
This is significantly higher even than 32% national average. The proportion of obese people is growing so fast that now we are talking about the “obesity epidemics”. There are even some theories suggesting the existence of “obesity bugs”. Many people believe that getting a bit fatter is just an unavoidable consequence of modern living, when food is easily available and most jobs are not physically engaging.
Now compare the US numbers with the obesity rate of just 8% in Norway. Norway is a very prosperous country with some of the best living standards in the world. Certainly, Norwegians have enough money to buy whatever food they like. Then why the obesity rates are so different? Does it have something to do with a different diet, better food quality control or a simple self-discipline and restrain?
Whatever the real reason, the availability of food has no role to play in the difference observed between two countries. Several studies suggested that the willpower can be positively enforced by the wording of refusal and that the framing of words influences our decision making. A very simple strategy suggests that utilizing “I don’t” phrases instead of “I can’t” is shown to be successful in fighting temptations such as food cravings.