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How Word Choices Affect Our Habits: Get To vs. Have To

Words are powerful.  They hold value and strength.  Words make us move, shift, change our thinking, our logic, our way of life.  Choosing which words to use is critical.  They can carve a road to happiness or a path to discontentment. 

Take for example the words “can’t” and “won’t”.  A research study was conducted on students, split into two groups, who were told to face temptation with either “I can’t” or “I won’t” statements (as in “I don’t eat ice cream” and “I won’t eat ice cream”).  The groups were then given questions to answer as part of the study.  After the questions, the students were offered a treat: sugary candy bars or healthy granola bars as a reward for filling out the test.  Those who were told to think of temptation in terms of “I can’t” chose the candy bar 61% of the time, while the “I won’t” group only choose the candy bar 36% of the time. 

The power behind those two words show through in their choices.  The word “can’t” expresses less control over a situation.  It is something that is not allowed; the proverbial forbidden fruit.  “Won’t” holds more independence.  It is a choice being made; and perhaps even part of one’s identity.  As the study pointed out, those who used a word that conjured up a sense of control chose to rebel (i.e. pick the candy bar) when given the opportunity to do so.

The same can be said about “have” and “get”.  When you get to do something, the opportunities are limitless.  It’s a privilege.  When you have to do something it is mandatory, usually by outside forces.  You are being pushed to do it.  Your autonomy is restricted.

Reframing the context opens the door to more possibilities.  Instead of having to go for a run because you are doing what others have deemed as a “good” thing to do for your health, you get to go for a run because you take pride in moving your body.  Instead of having to wake up early because you have a full day of errands to run, you get to wake up early and experience the things you want to do.  The situation hasn’t changed – only the outlook.  Perception is everything and seeing things through a different lens can have different results.  Similarly, to those students in the study, the words we use can have impact on our decisions.  When we feel we are confined to certain parameters, we may begin to rebel, however when we have the power to choose for ourselves, we may find that we really do not want a third slice of pizza. 

Why not ensure the words being used can set us up for success?

– Progress, Not Perfection –

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