What Happens When You Start Saying “I Don’t”

…instead of “I can’t”.

Adelina Vasile
4 min readNov 24, 2021


Photo by Lopez Robin on Unsplash

“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself” — Leonardo da Vinci

Words have a lot more power than we credit them with.

And because we often speak without giving our words too much thought, we let them influence our minds on a subconscious level.

Not reaching your goals isn’t always about not doing the right things or choosing to do the wrong things repeatedly. It’s also about using the wrong words.

Take the difference between “I can’t” and “I don’t”.

Say someone offers you a cake when you’re on a diet. Or a cigarette when you’re trying to quit smoking. Or a drink when you’ve been sober for months.

Whether you choose to say “I can’t” or “I don’t” actually indicates what you think of it and determines how you’ll act about it in the long run.

There’s scientific evidence behind this choice of words

It’s all about your head.

In your head, if you say “I can’t”, you’re looking at it as a restriction. Something that someone forces you to accept. It robs you of your ability to choose for yourself. And it’s typically followed by a reason. Nobody enjoys being forced to act in a certain way. And actions we take while we’re forced will no longer be sustained the moment we no longer feel forced. “I can’t” is not a choice. It is not your choice.

If you say “I don’t”, you’re looking at it as a choice. Something you have personally decided to do. It empowers you. It doesn’t require a reason. And it is much easier to sustain in the long run since it has an internal motivation attached to it, rather than external pressure. “I don’t” is a choice. It is your choice.

In the Journal of Consumer Research, a study published in 2012 showed how “empowered refusal motivates goal-directed behavior”.

A 10-day experiment on 20 adult women on a mission to lose weight proved it.

They were divided into two groups. 10 of them told themselves “I can’t” whenever tempted to eat junk food, skip a workout session, or whatever. And the other 10 told themselves, “I…



Adelina Vasile

Mother, educator, journalist, copywriter. I write about the things I need to learn myself. Check my Substack here >> https://undressingcopy.substack.com/