You mean well. You want to stay on track towards your goals at work and in life. But there's so much noise. So many distractions and temptations --especially if you work remotely. I know from my own experience working remotely how easy it is to interrupt my writing to turn on Disney+ and watch the Mandalorian series instead.

Remote work is becoming more the norm and has reached a point where it's a skill set that must be built. And yet, again, so many opportunities to make the wrong choice to do something that takes you farther away from a goal you set, not closer to it.

In my corporate life and as a remote worker I've worked hard at setting a goal and not making dumb decisions along the way that undermine that goal. But it's not easy.

Maybe you've heard the advice to think and say "I don't" versus "I can't" in the face of goal-wrecking temptations. One thing's for certain, though, it has never been more important given the rise of remote work and the aforementioned inherent distractions that come with it.

Research clearly supports the power of "I don't" in general. I often share this classic study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2012. Researchers divided 120 participants into two groups of 60 each, then presented them with choices that could make them stray from an important goal. In this case, that goal was maintaining a diet. All were presented with a chocolate candy bar, but were encouraged to use self-talk to help them make good decisions supportive of their goal. One group was trained to use the words "I can't" in resisting the chocolate bars, the other group was trained to say "I don't."

Those telling themselves "I can't eat chocolate" still chose to eat it 61 percent of the time. Those saying "I don't eat chocolate" chose to eat it 39 percent of the time.

The power of words. Two letters even.

Why "I don't" is so much more powerful than "I can't."

It's about the level of definitiveness to it, your conviction when presented with a choice. Saying "I don't" when faced with a choice is unequivocal. There's no wiggle room. It's a fact, you just don't, and you draw more resolve from saying out loud that you don't. It's especially powerful for remote workers to say it out loud to themselves for a conviction boost.

You're not buying time with your response to determine if saying "yes" to the choice is worth it, because you're not debating it. You're assuming control and responsibility for what happens to you.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. Early on as a professional speaker I had an annual revenue goal of $100K. I kept getting asked (and occasionally still do) to do free talks, which minimize days available to say yes to a potential paying client. I learned to say, "I'm sorry, I don't give free talks."  Definitive. Nothing further to discuss. I stayed on-track with my goal.

In the beginning, though, I'd say "I'm sorry, I can't give free talks." It begs for the sentiment to be completed. In other words, why can't I give free talks? Now I was introducing wiggle room, opportunities to be counter-sold, and new reasons to do it arose and new temptations popped up.

I'd tell myself, "But if I do the free talk I'll get more exposure, it could mean a stream of new potential clients, it might build my brand." All temptations distracting me from my goal, temptations I fell for too often. By saying "I can't," I was moving responsibility for the refusal to something seemingly out of my control. "I can't give free talks because then if someone else finds out I gave a free talk it ruins my pricing integrity." Responsibility dodged. I assigned control elsewhere. But it was assailable, by me, or by a persuasive other.

"I don't" replaced "I can't" and it made all the difference for me staying on track with my goal.

So don't underestimate the power of changing two letters in your response to a tempting, distracting overture. It's the smallest things sometimes that make the biggest difference.

Published on: Nov 26, 2019
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