Fitness Diet: Moving From Can’t to Don’t

People usually start their fitness diet out saying the word “can’t” when they begin a new diet or habit change, with phrasing like, “I can’t eat _____ anymore because I’m on the _____ diet.”

That’s OK too, to get started, but the word “can’t” is restrictive in nature, so if it’s used for too long, the inner three-year-old inside us all begins to rebel and it becomes more difficult to stay on track.

The sooner you can change this word to “won’t,” the better because “won’t” is a power word instead of a helpless word. “Can’t” carries a connotation of an outside source (i.e. the diet) having power over us, while “won’t” is a decision and choice, based on our own power from within.

Using “won’t” for a while causes the new habit to transform into an identity because it’s a choice you are making over and over, which causes new neural pathways to be formed at the expense of the old pathways as they atrophy from disuse. Once the new behavior or choice becomes neurologically based in those new pathways, “won’t” magically turns into “don’t” before too long and this is when the new habit becomes easy and effortlessness because it’s the new you.

I used to love those candy orange slices. You know, the ones made from sugar and then coated with sugar? Seriously, here are the ingredients: Sugar, Corn Syrup (another form of sugar that’s actually worse than sugar), Corn Starch (also a sugar), Modified Corn Starch (a sugar that’s even more refined than refined corn starch), Natural Flavors (maybe a teeny bit of orange extract), Orange 6 (an artificial ingredient).

Yep, that was my go-to staple food in college. I could eat a whole family-sized Costco tub in 2-3 days.

When I learned how toxic sugar was, I stopped eating them. I started saying, “I can’t eat those anymore because of how toxic they are.”

That wasn’t much fun though and it made me crave them even more as my inner toddler screamed for his fav snack (and dopamine hit). Instinctively, I changed my fitness diet phrasing to, “I won’t eat those anymore because they are so toxic to my body.” This was before I dove into brain science, so back then, I knew it sounded better and more powerful, but I didn’t yet realize why. Now I know (and so do researchers).

Now I say, “I don’t eat things like that because of how toxic and devoid of nutrients they are, and how horrible it makes me feel.” I don’t remember when this transitioned from “won’t” to “don’t,” but it’s the best word now because I’m someone who doesn’t eat those anymore. They actually repulse me now, due to my new brain wiring and fitness diet word consciousness.

Notice the things you say “don’t” about. You will find they are outside of your personal boundaries defined by your identity.

Skilled negotiators use this word if they are referring to something non-negotiable because the other side recognizes that topic as something they will just waste time arguing about. If these negotiators want the other side to discuss something that is open for negotiation, they purposely use the word “can’t” instead.

If you catch yourself using the word “can’t,” see how fast you can change that to “won’t’ and then, pretty soon, you will find it easy to use the word “don’t,’ which will put you on the fast track to permanent habit change and your new identity, making that new habit easy and effortless.

At the X Gym, we actually put it in our initial paperwork that the client agrees to not use the word “can’t” during their workout. They do of course because it’s natural to say it, but it gives us the opportunity to teach them about it in a lighthearted way, to help them grow awareness and learn how to replace it. Plus, it gives us another excuse to brain train with that person a little bit, which is a big part of the X Gym methodology.

There truly is power in the words we use and little tweaks can make a huge difference – even to the point of changing our whole experience. Click here to see a brain training video I made on that, back in 2011.