Transforming I Can’t to I Don’t

By Anthony Gold

There is perhaps no greater affirmation of personal restriction than the phrase “I can’t.”

I can’t do this … I’m not allowed to.

I can’t do that … I’m not physically or mentally capable of it.

Everytime we use those words we are reinforcing limitation and restriction. And in many cases, it’s a reminder that we’re not doing something that we’d like to do.

The challenge is that we often think I can’t can help us achieve our goals.

I can’t miss my exercise routine today – I really need to do it.

I can’t be late for this meeting, otherwise my boss will be really upset with me.

I can’t eat that chocolate cake for dessert – it will kill my diet.

In those instances, we think we are looking out for our best interests. But in fact, we are doing the exact opposite. We are actually inducing guilt and fear.

While guilt and fear can be powerful motivators, they come at a very steep price. Besides leading to increased stress, they result in lower levels of confidence and decreased happiness.

But there is a way to achieve the desired outcome without all the baggage associated with I can’t.

It’s by transforming I can’t into I don’t.

Those two phrases might seem similar, but in truth they are worlds apart.

I don’t is experienced as a choice. It’s not only empowering but it’s a declaration of my stance.

I can’t eat that cake is extremely limiting, but I don’t eat cake is validating and affirms my willpower. I can’t eat that cake isn’t a choice, it’s a restriction.

How powerful can such a subtle shift be?

Consider this research: Students who participated in a study of temptation were split into two groups. One group was told to respond to temptation using the I can’t terminology, and the other group using I don’t.

On their way out of the lab, the students were offered a complimentary treat for taking part in the study. The treat was either a granola bar or chocolate candy.

A whopping 64% of the students who deployed the I don’t strategy selected the healthier granola bar option on their way out.

How did the I can’t students fare? 61% of them chose … the candy!

Think about that. Just changing that simple phrase had an enormous impact on the students’ actions.

This research has been conducted numerous times across thousands of people demonstrating the same results in all areas of personal development.

Want to exercise more regularly? Anytime you are tempted to skip a workout, don’t chide yourself with “I can’t miss my workout.” Instead, affirm your conscious choice of “I don’t miss workouts.”

The results are staggeringly effective.

How about when it comes to inner growth for increasing peace – does this strategy work there?


Each time we use I can’t (I can’t find time to meditate or practice gratitude), we’ve aligned ourselves with our ego mind and bought in to lack and limitation. It feels awful.

But I don’t can switch us from ego to presence. I don’t practice ingratitude. Said another way, “I’m someone who expresses gratitude.” I don’t enables us to affirm our true identity, build our confidence, and empower us to grow.

The more we practice replacing I can’t with I don’t – especially in areas where we’d really like to grow – the better we feel and the more able we are to touch others and spread happiness.

Join me in Monday’s class where we’ll explore the limitations of I can’t and how we can transform them into the much more empowering I don’t. I look forward to seeing you then.

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