“When dieting, many people will adopt restrictive language that leaves the mind wanting what we cannot have,” says New York City neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez. “By saying ‘I can’t have donuts, I am dieting,’ we wire our mentality to yearn for that which we cannot have.” Saying this instead of “I can’t” may make all the difference when you’re trying to give up an unhealthy habit, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Authors found that people who were instructed to say “I don’t” in the face of temptation (“I don’t eat ice cream for dessert”) had more autonomy, self-control, and positive behavior changes compared to people who said “I can’t” (as in “I can’t eat ice cream for dessert”). Dr. Hafeez elaborates, “If you say ‘I don’t eat donuts, I’m learning to eat healthier,’ there is a decision being made by you to be healthier. When you say you can’t, the language guides you to abstain not from a need to improve but from a need to avoid getting worse.”
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