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The Power of “I Don’t”

I am currently on a journey to eat more healthily. Before getting sober in 2009, I hardly ate sweets. Since getting sober, my sweet tooth has ebbed and flowed but as of late, it is running rampant… and like alcohol, I have a LOT of stories, rules and guidelines around it.

Just as I encourage my recovery clients to do, I have had to re-visit my “why”; the reason that I want to modify my eating habits. The REAL reason…not the shallow, knee jerk one.

Additionally, I have these thoughts: “what if we go out to dinner?”, “what if we go to someone’s home?”, “what if my friend’s want to meet?”. Oddly enough, these are the SAME questions I freaked out about when I made the decision to stop drinking.

As I was driving home and reflecting on my workout and the state of my refrigerator and pantry, I thought about the power of the words “I don’t” and conversely the visceral response I have to the words “I can’t”.

Full disclosure: I can be quite stubborn. This can be a great quality in some situations and not great in others. When I am told I can’t do something or I can’t have something, I want it even more; regardless of the “thing”. It may even be something that I don’t even want in the first place but if you tell me I can’t have it, I am now fixated on getting it. {I realize I am going to have to make a therapy appointment after writing this.}

When I say “I can’t”, I feel like I am back in high school, my bff just asked if I can go to “so and so’s AMAZING party” and my response is a flat “I can’t”. UGH. It makes me feel bad, embarrassed and oddly shameful. It doesn’t feel like a choice. And if you are like me, you want a freaking choice!

I don’t do something because I choose not to, not because I can’t. Can’t is NOT a choice.

So, let’s try this: Let’s just stand firmly in what we don’t do. I don’t eat pork rinds. (I did once and puked. Another story…) I don’t have sex with someone other than my husband. I don’t hit my child. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t run marathons, I don’t gossip, I don’t buy Manolo Blahnik’s. I don’t jump out of airplanes. I could do all of these things but I have pretty solid reasons (the WHY) as to why I don’t. I feel empowered, strong and convicted in my “I don’t” statements, I have made a choice.

Notice how my “I don’t” statements don’t say “never” (sorry, husband). Never is another word that trips people up when they are either making the decision to quit something or in the midst of quitting. I don’t eat bread… today. WHY? Because bread makes me puffy and tired. I have a six year old active child; puffy and tired doesn’t cut it ‘round these parts. I don’t snort cocaine. WHY? Because I am 48 with a mortgage, a business, a family and people that count on me at weird hours of the day… and I could die. Mortality is a pretty intense motivator AND it’s not who I am or desire to be.

James Clear has a supposition about identity based habits. It says: The interior of behavior change and building better habits is your identity. Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So if you change your identity (the type of person that you believe that you are), then it’s easier to change your actions.

I don’t care what you are trying to quit or moderate or investigate. If you want something, there are things you just don’t do. You want to get up tomorrow morning with a clear head to take a run? You don’t drink 2 bottles of wine; because athletes don’t do that, you don’t do that. You want to fit in to your wedding dress that is a size smaller than you are, at the moment? You don’t have ice cream…today; because ice cream isn’t going to get you in to that dress and you want to be in that dress. These are choices. Choices are empowering.

The lens in which we view things is pretty powerful. Saying “I don’t” does not come from a place of scarcity or lack of choice. It comes from a place of love, power and abundance. It is a gift to your future self.

So, let’s start focusing on who we want to be and standing firm in the things that allow us to be that thing. It’s not possible to straddle the fence. You either do or you don’t. It’s not about can’t. We already know that you can.