[Repost] A Scientific Guide to Saying “No”: How to Avoid Temptation and Distraction (by James Clear)

A Scientific Guide to Saying “No”: How to Avoid Temptation and Distraction

Posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Learning how to say no is one of the most useful skills you can develop I found, especially when it comes to living a more productive and healthy life.

Saying no to unnecessary commitments can give you the time you need to recover and rejuvenate. Saying no to daily distractions can give you the space you need to focus on what is important to you. And saying no to temptation can help you stay on track and achieve your health goals. In fact not being able to say no, is one of the most biggest downfalls that successful entrepreneurs claim as their own key mistakes.

But how do we actually get past the urgencies of everyday life and avoid distraction, so that we can focus the things that are really important to us?

It seems like a big task, I wholeheartedly agree. And yet, research is starting to show that even small changes can make a significant impact for a better way of saying no. In fact, here’s one change you can make right now that will make it easier for you to say no, resist temptation and improve your productivity and your health:

How to Say No: Research Reveals the Best Way

In a research study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, 120 students were split into two different groups.

The difference between these two groups was saying “I can’t” compared to “I don’t.”

One group was told that each time they were faced with a temptation, they would tell themselves “I can’t do X.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I can’t eat ice cream.”

When the second group was faced with a temptation, they were told to say “I don’t do X.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I don’t eat ice cream.”

After repeating these phrases, each student answered a set of questions unrelated to the study. Once they finished answering their questions, the students went to hand in their answer sheet, thinking that the study was over. In reality, it was just beginning.

As each student walked out of the room and handed in their answer sheet, they were offered a complimentary treat. The student could choose between a chocolate candy bar or a granola health bar. As the student walked away, the researcher would mark their snack choice on the answer sheet.

Here’s what happened:

The students who told themselves “I can’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time. Meanwhile, the students who told themselves “I don’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bars only 36% of the time. This simple change in terminology significantly improved the odds that each person would make a more healthy food choice.

Makes sense right? Now the findings didn’t stop there, here is what happened next:

How the “Right Words” Make It Easier to Say No

The same researchers were also interested in how the words “can’t” and “don’t” affect our willingness to say no when faced with repeated temptations and distractions. After all, most of us can turn down a candy bar once, but eventually we slip up. Similarly, you might be able to focus on your work when you’re pressed for time, but what about avoiding unproductive behaviors on a daily basis?

In other words, is there a way to say no that makes it more likely that we’ll stick to good habits and avoid bad ones? You bet!

The researchers designed a new study by asking 30 working women to sign up for a “health and wellness seminar.” All of the women were told to think of a long–term health and wellness goal that was important to them. Then, the researchers split the women into three groups of 10.

Group 1 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals they should “just say no.”This group was the control group because they were given no specific strategy.

Group 2 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the “can’t” strategy. For example, “I can’t miss my workout today.”

Group 3 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the “don’t” strategy. For example, “I don’t miss workouts.”

For the next 10 days, each woman received an email asking to report her progress. They were specifically told, “During the 10–day window you will receive emails to remind you to use the strategy and to report instances in which it worked or did not work. If the strategy is not working for you, just drop us a line and say so and you can stop responding to the emails.”

Here’s what the results looked like 10 days later…

  • Group 1 (the “just say no” group) had 3 out of 10 members who persisted with their goals for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 2 (the “can’t” group) had 1 out of 10 members who persisted with her goal for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 3 (the “don’t” group) had an incredible 8 out of 10 members who persisted with their goals for the entire 10 days.

The words that you use not only help you to make better choices on an individual basis, but also make it easier to stay on track with your long–term goals.

Why “I Don’t” Works Better Than “I Can’t”

Your words help to frame your sense of empowerment and control. Furthermore, the words that you use create a feedback loop in your brain that impacts your future behaviors.

For example, every time you tell yourself “I can’t”, you’re creating a feedback loop that is a reminder of your limitations. This terminology indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

In comparison, when you tell yourself “I don’t”, you’re creating a feedback loop that reminds you of your control and power over the situation. It’s a phrase that can propel you towards breaking your bad habits and following your good ones.

Heidi Grant Halvorson is the director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University. Here’s how she explains the difference between saying “I don’t” compared to “I can’t”:

“I don’t” is experienced as a choice, so it feels empowering. It’s an affirmation of your determination and willpower. “I can’t” isn’t a choice. It’s a restriction, it’s being imposed upon you. So thinking “I can’t” undermines your sense of power and personal agency.

In other words, the phrase “I don’t” is a psychologically empowering way to say no, while the phrase “I can’t” is a psychologically draining way to say no.

How You Can Apply This To Your Life

One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.
—Leonardo Da Vinci

There are situations everyday when you need to say no to something. For example, the waiter who offers you a dessert menu… or the urge to skip a workout and stay home… or the distracting call of texts, tweets, and updates when you should be focusing on something important.

Individually, our responses to these little choices seem insignificant, which is why we don’t make a big deal about telling ourselves that we “can’t” do something. But imagine the cumulative effect ofchoosing more empowering words on a consistent basis.

“I can’t” and “I don’t” are words that seem similar and we often interchange them for one another, but psychologically they can provide very different feedback and, ultimately, result in very different actions. They aren’t just words and phrases. They are affirmations of what you believe, reasons for why you do what you do, and reminders of where you want to go.

The ability to overcome temptation and effectively say no is critical not only to your physical health, but also for your daily productivity and mental health.

To put it simply: you can either be the victim of your words or the architect of them. Which one would you prefer?

About the Author: James Clear is an entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer in 18 countries. He writes at JamesClear.com, where he uses proven research and real-world experiences to share practical ideas for living a healthy life. You can get new strategies for sticking to healthy habits, losing weight, gaining muscle, and more by joining his free newsletter.

About the Author

James Clear

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he uses behavior science to help you master your habits and improve your health. For useful ideas on improving your mental and physical performance, join his free newsletter. Or, download his free guide: Transform Your Habits.

[Repost] If You’ve Never Used These English Idioms, You’re Probably Not a Native English Speaker (by Lana Winter Hébert)

If You’ve Never Used These English Idioms, You’re Probably Not a Native English Speaker

LEISURE LIFESTYLE OCTOBER 9 BY 

 Those of us who grew up with English as our first language have been exposed to idioms and idiomatic expressions for most of our lives. They may have confused us a little when we were children, but explanation and constant exposure not only increased our understanding of them, but likely drew them into our own vernacular. If you’re in the process of learning the English language, you may come across some of these and not be entirely sure what they mean. Here’s a list of 20 that you’re likely to come across fairly often:

1. A Chip on Your Shoulder

No, this doesn’t mean that you’ve dropped part of your snack. To have a chip on one’s shoulder implies that the person is carrying around some grudge or bad feelings about something that happened in the past… like having walked through the wreckage of a building, and ended up with a chip of that building stuck to them for years afterward.

2. Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

Like taking a HUGE bite of a sandwich that will fill your mouth up so much that you can’t move your jaw, this idiom implies that you’ve taken on more than you can handle successfully. An example would be agreeing to build ten websites in a week when normally you can only handle five.

3. You Can’t Take It With You

You can’t take anything with you when you die, so don’t bother hoarding your stuff or not using it except for “special occasions”. Live now, because all your stuff is going to be around long after you’re gone.

4. Everything But the Kitchen Sink

This implies that nearly everything has been packed/taken/removed. For instance, if someone said: “The thieves stole everything but the kitchen sink!” it meant that they took everything they could carry; it’s damned hard to remove a sink and carry it around.

5. “Over My Dead Body”

When the only way you’ll allow something to happen is if you’re no longer alive to stop it.

6. Tie the Knot

To get married. This is left over from the old tradition of handfasting, wherein the hands of the bride and groom would be tied together with a length of ribbon to symbolize that their lives were fastened together permanently.

7. Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Things aren’t always what they appear to be at first glance, so it’s a good idea to give something a chance, even if its outward appearance isn’t immediately attractive.

*The exception to this might be actual books that have hideous covers: those tend to be terrible all around, and in cases such as these, it’s best to contact the author or publisher and recommend a good graphic designer.

8. When Pigs Fly

This means “never”. Pigs aren’t about to sprout wings and take flight anytime soon, so if someone says to their kid that they can get a forehead tattoo when pigs fly, it’s not gonna happen.

9. A Leopard Can’t Change His Spots

Basically: you are who you are. Just like a leopard can’t concentrate really hard and change the pattern on its skin, people can’t change who they really are at heart.

10. Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

To freely show and express all of your emotions, as though your heart were on the outside of your body.

11. Bite Your Tongue!

Stick your tongue between your teeth (gently), and then try to speak. You can’t say a word, can you? To bite one’s tongue means to stay quiet: literally to hold the tongue still so it can’t make a sound. This goes along with:

12. Put a Sock In It

The idea behind this is that if you stuffed a sock in your mouth, you’d be quiet… so if you tell someone to “put a sock in it”, you’re telling them to shut up.

13. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

If a couple of dogs had been fighting and are now sleeping peacefully, it’s best to just leave them alone. The idea behind this one is to avoid bringing up old arguments so they’ll just be argued about again.

14. Foam at the Mouth

To hiss and snarl in anger like a rabid dog (whose mouth would be foamy as he jumps around like crazy and tries to bite people).

15. A Slap on the Wrist

A very, very mild punishment. To be slapped on the wrist doesn’t hurt much, and isn’t a deterrent from misbehaving again.

16. You Are What You Eat

This is the idea that everything you eat influences your health and well-being. If you eat nothing but junk food, you’ll end up unhealthy and malnourished, so be sure to eat a well-balanced diet.

17. “It’s a Piece of Cake!”

…meaning that it’s incredibly easy. No-one has a difficult time eating a piece of cake, do they?

18. It Takes Two to Tango

A person can’t dance the tango alone, nor can they fight by themselves either. If an argument has occurred, there were two people involved, so two were responsible.

19. Head Over Heels

To be incredibly excited and joyful, particularly with regard to being in love. Imagine someone so happy that they do cartwheels down the street: like that.

20. An Arm and a Leg

When something is so ridiculously expensive that you might have to sell your own body parts in order to afford it, it’s said to cost “an arm and a leg”.

Featured photo credit: Opened book with letters flying out of it on bright background via Shutterstock

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