I can’t and I don’t 

Every time you tell yourself “I can't”, you're creating a feedback loop that is a reminder of your limitations. This terminology indicates that you're forcing yourself to do something you don't want to do.

In comparison, when you tell yourself “I don't”, you're creating a feedback loop that reminds you of your control and power over the situation. It's a phrase that can propel you towards breaking your bad habits and following your good ones.

“I can't” and “I don't” are words that seem similar and we often interchange them for one another, but psychologically they can provide very different feedback and, ultimately, result in very different actions. They aren't just words and phrases. They are affirmations of what you believe, reasons for why you do what you do, and reminders of where you want to go.

The ability to overcome temptation and effectively say no is critical not only to your physical health, but also to maintaining a sense of well–being and control in your mental health.

To put it simply: you can either be the victim of your words or the architect of them. Which one would you prefer?

James Clear 


Proactive Language

There’s nothing I can do.. Let’s look at our alternatives.
That’s just the way I am.. I can choose a different approach.
He makes me so mad.. I control my own feelings.
They won’t allow that.. I can create an effective presentation.
I have to do that..I will choose an appropriate response.
I can’t..I choose.
I must.. I prefer.
If only.. I will.

A serious problem with reactive language is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People become reinforced in the paradigm that they are determined, and they produce evidence to support the belief. They feel out of control, not in charge of their life or their destiny. They blame outside forces - other people, circumstances, even the stars - for their own situation.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Routine and Ritual

While routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical. The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us. A full life calls for both — too much control, and we become mummified; too little excitement and pleasurable discombobulation, and we become numb. After all, to be overly bobulated is to be dead inside — to doom oneself to a life devoid of the glorious and ennobling messiness of the human experience.

Maria Popova writing in Brain Pickings

selling out

We "sell out" whenever we fail to take ownership over who we are. It's much easier to default to the expectations of friends/work/society/church rather than taking responsibility for our thinking and actions. It's a "sell out" in the sense of turning control over to someone/something else when we fail to take ownership over what God has entrusted us with.

Stephen Goforth

There’s a tiger over there!

“Everybody is fighting for your attention, so your only real defense is to make it so that those stimuli don’t come in the door,” says Boston University cognitive neuroscientist David Somers. The idea that your technology should alert you when it thinks you should pay attention is relatively new (push alerts only really became a thing in 2009), and, frankly, it’s a big step backward. To use the earlier metaphor, you’re letting the bushes rustle nonstop, and telling yourself there’s a tiger over there.

“It’s so important that we define where we want to go as opposed to letting technology drive us and we’re just hanging on for dear life,” says author Amy Blankson, who works in the filed of positive psychology, specifically on maximizing happiness.

Still, everyone gets a buzz from this high-octane news environment. Literally. Every notification, every tweet, every beep and buzz releases dopamine and other neurochemicals, providing a moment’s elation. As with any drug, your brain gets used to it. Perhaps even craves it. “Even when you’re really on your best behavior and you’re like ‘OK I’m going to close my web browser, I’m going to shut off my phone,’ you still have this internal need for that feedback,” says Somers.

Reclaim control of what you read.

Emily Dreyfuss, Wired

Loose, Messy and Chaotic

Centralised, hierarchical systems made sense in a world in which information and knowledge were relatively scarce commodities and could be tightly controlled, but the decentralisation of knowledge, brought about by the inexorable rise of the internet – combined with a collapse of trust in traditional sources of authority and expertise – legitimises the creation of flatter, decentralised operational models. Rapidly changing customer expectations powered by social media are forcing institutions to become more open, transparent and responsive and to operate in close to real time, as opposed to the painfully slow pace of institutional time.

Tight ways of thinking and working, while being superficially attractive and comforting, don't work. They have been built on the illusion of control. This illusion – propagated by legions of consultants, economists, market researchers and other purveyors of empirical snake oil – has actually made businesses less capable of embracing the complex realities of the modern world.

Agility, flexibility, a willingness to exercise judgement and an ability to improvise will become the defining characteristics of successful institutions in the next decades. This means fighting the instinct to solve every problem through rules and regulations and recognising the limitations of long-term planning and the painfully slow nature of most internal decision-making processes.

It means accepting the need to operate in real time and making the organisational and cultural changes necessary to achieve it. And most importantly, it means building a strong, self-sustaining, trusting organisational culture rather than in investing in yet more process and bureaucracy.

The future is loose, messy and chaotic: now is the time to embrace it.

Martin Thomas

Loose: the Future of Business is Letting Go

Get inside your box!

You probably know one of the "box people." Whenever they meet someone new, the box people try to identifying which box the person belongs inside. "What do you do?" That's the first question to determine a label. Once they know the "box" (based on class, politics, religious affiliation, etc) then they can related to the new person in the way appropriate to how they've learned to treat folks with that label.

Now, suppose they meet someone living outside the set of predetermined boxes? Well, then thefundamental box-people belief is challenged: Everyone belongs in one of the tidy little containers. This challenge will be met with greater and greater demands to "get inside a box! I don't approve of non-box-affiliated lifestyles."

Ever had that feeling? The feeling of being treated as a prepackaged echo of bias and unjust expectations.. rather than as a unique person?

Stephen Goforth

Taking the Abuse

When someone stays in an abusive situation, there must be a measure comfort in that identity for the victim. The abused, in effect, says to themselves, "I know what to do when playing this role." To become someone different means acknowledging there is a choice--and with that realization comes the uncomfortable recognition of responsibility.

A victim may tell themselves, “At least in the abusive situation I know the old pain and its ways."  Moving toward change means stepping into the unknown. Fear can freeze the victim into making no decision, defaulting to the status quo, keeping the situation the same as it has always been.

Perhaps the abuse fits some part of how they have chosen to define themselves. To choose not to be abused means redefining the identity. In the end, some people would prefer to keep the painful but familiar abuse rather than entering a new kind of pain--one that accompanies building a new identity.

Victims who choose to no longer be victims take an heroic step. It's an empowering choice--and only those who have made a similar decision can fully grasp its breath and courage.

Stephen Goforth

The Passion for Control

Researchers arranged for student volunteers to pay regular visits to nursing-home residents. Residents in the high-control group were allowed to control the timing and duration of the student’s visit, and residents in the low-control group were not. After two months, residents in the high-control group were happier, healthier, more active, and taking fewer medications than those in the low-control group.

At this point the researchers concluded their student and discontinued the student visits. Several months later they were chagrined to learn that a disproportionate number of residents who had been in the high-control group had died.

Only in retrospect did the cause of this tragedy seem clear. The residents who had been given control, and who had benefited measurably from that control while they had it were inadvertently robbed of control when the study ended.

Apparently, gaining control can have a positive impact on one’s health and well-being, but losing control can be worse than never having had any at all.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Here are the Rules

When someone gives you rules for your relationship whether explicitly or implied (“We can only talk about these subjects and not those subjects over there” or “We will only go to these places together” or “Only contact me in this particular way”) you have to decide whether this comes out of a legitimate concern to keep the relationship in a healthy place or whether it’s an attempt to control you-prompted by insecurity and fear. In other words, is this a request that you become co-conspirators in hiding from painful truths about the person making the request?

Stephen Goforth

Please Understand Me

We want desperately to be understood. But if we put that power in the hands of strangers who may or may not care about us, who may or may not have our best interest at heart, we will waste time trying to please people who are not playing a significant role in our lives.

We are giving people who don’t know us very well too much influence over our lives--control they haven’t earned or deserve. How much better to find solace in those who truly love us--people we can trust who want to bring good into our lives because they have spent time getting to know who we are... and who we are becoming.

Stephen Goforth

Paying Creative People

Most of the time, when you hire people you don’t want to specify exactly what they are to do and how much they would get paid—you don’t want to say if you do X you will get this much, and if you do Y you will get that much. That type of contract is what we call a complete contract. Creating one is basically impossible, especially with higher-level jobs. If you try to do it, you cause “crowding out.” People focus on everything you’ve included and exclude everything else. What’s left out of the contract tends to drop out of their motivation as well. You are taking away from their judgment and goodwill and teaching them to be like rats in a maze. It’s like the difference between asking someone to help you change a tire and offering them $5 to do it. The moment you introduce money, you change how the person views the exchange. They say, “Oh, this is work. I don’t work for $5. Give me $150 and we can talk.”

When I was at MIT, they told us we had to teach 112 points per year. They had a complex formula for how many students and how many hours and so on would translate into teaching points. Basically, MIT was conditioning me to put the least effort into getting the most points. This became the game. I was quite good at it. And I taught very little.

It happens with all kinds of compensation. A consulting company once told me they made a rule that if you stayed until 8 in the office, you could order food and use the car service to get home. So what happens? A ton of people are there at 8. Nobody’s there at 8:05. It’s the same with pay: If you are hiring the right people, you don’t want to include anything too specific in the contract. You want people to buy into the objectives of the company. Be specific about those, and then trust people to quickly understand how they can help maximize the objectives at each point in time. People actually know to a high degree which actions are good for the company and which are not—regardless of what you pay them for.

Dan Ariely

Other People are Responsible for the Way I Feel

A consistent characteristic of imperative people is the desire to persuade others to be just like them. When encouraged to look back to their childhoods, most imperative people can recall a history of strong persuasion. The parents have been so intent on keeping order that their behavior said, “If I can get you to behave in my world, there will be order.” Developmental years were full of relationships that featured arm-twisting, intimidation, or threats.

Jack told me that he had learned early on that it was not safe to be vulnerable. He told me, “I remember a scene when I was only five or six years old. I had just stepped onto the back porch of our home to set something outside when a very loud clap of thunder sounded. Scared to death, I ran indoors, where my father grabbed me and told me to quit acting so ridiculous. Then my mother scolded me for upsetting my father. I was immediately defensive and told them they were both mean. The next thing I knew, I was smarting from a spanking.”

“In a sense you were in school at times like that.” I said, “You witnessed how effectively they persuaded you to be what they wanted, so you eventually learned to do likewise with your family.”

While it is a good thing to express opinions (as opposed to repressing them), it is not healthy for us to become bossy or condescending or explosive in order to get our way.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Imperative Thinking

While imperative people may not have their list of regulations typed on a legal document to be signed, they have a mental agenda that they apply in a wide variety of circumstances. They know how others should behave, speak, and feel, and nothing else matters to them but meeting that standard. In the meantime, the relationship is lost.

(They are) in essence stating, “I’ll accept you only after you meet my conditions.” And since each of us responds negatively to this kind of emotional blackmail, we become angry or tense. There is a hidden message of conditional acceptance. It’s as if (they are) saying, ‘I don’t think you can be trusted to make good decisions; you’ll probably foul things up… If you’ll fit my mold and be what I think you should be, we’ll get along okay; but if you don’t, I’ll have to hound you until you shape up.”

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

I Try to Control As Much of My Life As Possible

A cornerstone trait of the imperative person is the need to be in control. We hold the false notion that the best way to find personal satisfaction is to control as much of our world as we can. We try to tell ourselves that this is leadership, but the tactics we use show that we will be content only when we maintain a superior hand over others.

Les Carter, Imperative People

Worry that Past Failures will Repeat

Worry about the repetition of past problems is not a sign of healthy thinking. True, it indicates a desire to be rid of the possible plenty of repeated pain, but inevitably it represents its own brand of pain. The individual has clearly specified what must - and what must not - be part of his life, but the mind is so obsessed with preventing old problems that satisfaction is not recognized in present situations. The imperative person is a prisoner of the past.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

What's behind anger?

According to Albert Ellis, the most common irrational ideas behind anger are the following.

1. I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances, or else I will rate as a rotten person.

2. Others must treat me considerately and kindly and in precisely the way I want them to treat me.

3. The world (and the people in it) must arrange conditions under which I live, so that I get everything that I want when I want it.

Mark Cosgrove, Counseling for Anger

The boy with the bread sandwich

Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota, met thousands of children in his four decades of research. But one boy in particular stuck with him. He was nine years old, with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. Each day, he would arrive at school with the exact same sandwich: two slices of bread with nothing in between. At home, there was no other food available, and no one to make any. Even so, Garmezy would later recall, the boy wanted to make sure that “no one would feel pity for him and no one would know the ineptitude of his mother.” Each day, without fail, he would walk in with a smile on his face and a “bread sandwich” tucked into his bag.

The boy with the bread sandwich was part of a special group of children. He belonged to a cohort of kids—the first of many—whom Garmezy would go on to identify as succeeding, even excelling, despite incredibly difficult circumstances. These were the children who exhibited a trait Garmezy would later identify as “resilience.”

If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?

Resilient children (have) what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.

One of the central elements of resilience is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?

Maria Konnikova writing in the New Yorker

controling emotions

Think about your childhood experiences. Did your parents spend a lot of time teaching you the outward behavior that would make you a responsible adult? I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with this if it’s not carried too far, but did you ever have an opportunity to talk about the way you felt? Were you able to admit you angry or irritable or afraid? Did anyone take time to help you understand why you felt these kinds of emotions? Children who don’t have this kind of encouragement gradually learn to suppress their negative feelings. It is easier to pretend that you don’t have them than to be criticized for expressing them.

When you felt angry, perhaps bitter, you assumed that you’d better keep it to yourself because you might get in trouble if you exposed a feeling that didn’t match your reputation as a nice, well-behaved girl.

Individuals assume very early in life that they can conquer their feelings of inadequacy only if they perform well enough. So when a stain spoils their performance record, they feel they have no choice but to put a demerit mark on their value rating.

I’m not implying that a parent should never set firm boundaries for children. That might lead to chaos. But time can be spent discussing the why’s of behavior and listening to each others' opinions.

I recall one woman who protested the idea of discussing options with her children. My kids would run absolutely wild if I gave them choices,” she said. “If I don’t stay right on top of them, they’ll never learn to live correctly.”

Respecting her desire for orderliness, but questioning her dictatorial manner, I responded, “I’m thinking more of your children’s future when Mom won’t be around to tell them what to do. They’ll have so little practice in making healthy decision that chaos will almost be guaranteed.”

Maintain control is an ever-present goal of the imperative person. Conversely, relinquishing control and encouraging another person to think and reason are the goals of healthy interpersonal relations.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

How it ought to be

Worry can literally paralyze us, sapping our energy and strength. People who worry are not merely concerned about their present and future circumstances; they have a mental agenda of the way things must occur.. The worrier’s mind is so captivated by what ought or ought not to be, that he can only respond with duress and despair when situations displease him.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control