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How to Resist Temptation and Stick to Your Health Goals

How to Resist Temptation and Stick to Your Health Goals

Learning how to say no is one of the most useful skills you can develop, especially when it comes to living a healthy life. Saying no to unnecessary commitments can give you the time you need to recover and rejuvenate. Saying no to daily distractions can give you the space you need to focus on what is important to you. And saying no to frequent temptations can help you stay on track and achieve your health goals.

This, of course, begs the question: how do we avoid distraction and get past the urges of everyday life, so that we can actually live healthily and do the things that are really important to us?

It seems like a big task, but research is starting to show that small changes can make a significant impact. In fact, here’s one change you can make right now that will make it easier for you to say no, resist temptation and stick to your health and fitness goals for the long term.

How to Say No: Research Reveals the Best Way

In a research study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, 120 students were split into two different groups.

The difference between these two groups was saying “I can’t” compared to “I don’t.”

One group was told that each time they were faced with a temptation, they would tell themselves “I can’t do X.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I can’t eat ice cream.” When the second group was faced with a temptation, they were told to say “I don’t do X.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I don’t eat ice cream.”

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After repeating these phrases, each student answered a set of questions unrelated to the study. Once they finished answering their questions, the students went to hand in their answer sheet, thinking that the study was over. In reality, it was just beginning.

As each student walked out of the room and handed in their answer sheet, they were offered a complimentary treat. The student could choose between a chocolate candy bar or a granola health bar. As the student walked away, the researcher would mark their snack choice on the answer sheet.

The students who told themselves “I can’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time. Meanwhile, the students who told themselves “I don’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bars only 36% of the time. This simple change in terminology significantly improved the odds that each person would make a more healthy food choice.

How the “Right Words” Make It Easier to Say No

The same researchers were also interested in how the words “can’t” and “don’t” affect our willingness to say no over the long–term and stick to goals when faced with repeated temptation. After all, most of us can turn down a candy bar once, but eventually we slip up.

In other words, is there a way to say no that makes it more likely that we’ll stick to healthy habits and avoid unhealthy ones?

The researchers designed a new study by getting 30 working women to sign up for a “health and wellness seminar.” All of the women were told to think of a long–term health and wellness goal that was important to them. Then, the researchers split the women into three groups of 10.

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Group 1 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals they should “just say no.” This group was the control group because they were given no specific strategy.

Group 2 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the “can’t” strategy. For example, “I can’t miss my workout today.”

Group 3 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the “don’t” strategy. For example, “I don’t miss workouts.”

For the next 10 days, each woman received an email asking to report her progress. They were specifically told, “During the 10–day window you will receive emails to remind you to use the strategy and to report instances in which it worked or did not work. If the strategy is not working for you, just drop us a line and say so and you can stop responding to the emails.”

Here’s what the results looked like 10 days later…

  • Group 1 (the “just say no” group) had 3 out of 10 members who persisted with their goals for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 2 (the “can’t” group) had 1 out of 10 members who persisted with her goal for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 3 (the “don’t” group) had an incredible 8 out of 10 members who persisted with their goals for the entire 10 days.

The words that you use not only help you to make better choices on an individual basis, but also make it easier to stay on track with your long-term goals.

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Why “I Don’t” Works Better Than “I Can’t”

Your words help to frame your sense of empowerment and control. Furthermore, the words that you use create a feedback loop in your brain that impacts your future behaviors.

For example, 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.

Heidi Grant Halvorson is the director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University. Here’s how she explains the difference between saying “I don’t” compared to “I can’t”:

“I don’t” is experienced as a choice, so it feels empowering. It’s an affirmation of your determination and willpower. “I can’t” isn’t a choice. It’s a restriction, it’s being imposed upon you. So thinking “I can’t” undermines your sense of power and personal agency.

In other words, the phrase “I don’t” is a psychologically empowering way to say no, while the phrase “I can’t” is a psychologically draining way to say no.

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How You Can Apply This To Your Life

One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.
—Leonardo Da Vinci

There are situations everyday when you need to say no to something. For example, learning to say no the waiter who offers you a dessert menu, to the urge to skip a workout and stay home, or to the distracting call of texts, tweets, and updates when you should be focusing on something important. Individually, our responses to these little choices seem insignificant, which is why we don’t make a big deal about telling ourselves that we “can’t” do something. But imagine the cumulative effect of choosing more empowering words on a consistent basis.

“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?

Get the original article on How to Say No at JamesClear.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

When it comes to living long, genes aren’t everything. Research has revealed a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make that could help to extend your life, and some of them may surprise you.

So, how to live longer? Here are 21 ways to help you live a long life

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers your blood pressure, both of which contribute to heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease–the top worldwide cause of death.

2. Drink in Moderation

I know you’re probably picturing a glass of red wine right now, but recent research suggests that indulging in one to three glasses of any type of alcohol every day may help to increase longevity.[1] Studies have found that heavy drinkers as well as abstainers seem to have a higher risk of early mortality than moderate drinkers.

3. Reduce Stress in Your Life

Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. At high levels, this hormone can increase blood pressure and cause storage of abdominal fat, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

4. Watch Less Television

A 2008 study found that people who watch six hours of television per day will likely die an average of 4.8 years earlier than those who don’t.[2] It also found that, after the age of 25, every hour of television watched decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes.

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Television promotes inactivity and disengagement from the world, both of which can shorten your lifespan.

5. Eat Less Red Meat

Red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.[3] Swapping out your steaks for healthy proteins, like fish, may help to increase longevity.

If you can’t stand the idea of a steak-free life, reducing your consumption to less than two to three servings a week can still incur health benefits.

6. Don’t Smoke

This isn’t exactly a revelation. As you probably well know, smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer.

7. Socialize

Studies suggest that having social relationships promotes longevity.[4] Although scientists are unsure of the reasons behind this, they speculate that socializing leads to increased self esteem as well as peer pressure to maintain health.

8. Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease[5] and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.[6] Salmon and walnuts are two of the best sources of Omega-3s.

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9. Be Optimistic

Studies suggest that optimists are at a lower risk for heart disease and, generally, live longer than pessimists.[7] Researchers speculate that optimists have a healthier approach to life in general–exercising more, socializing, and actively seeking out medical advice. Thus, their risk of early mortality is lower.

10. Own a Pet

Having a furry-friend leads to decreased stress, increased immunity, and a lessened risk of heart disease.[8] Depending on the type of pet, they can also motivate you to be more active.

11. Drink Coffee

Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and longer life.[9] Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, coffee’s high levels of antioxidants may play a role. Remember, though, drowning your cup of joe in sugar and whipped cream could counter whatever health benefits it may hold.

12. Eat Less

Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, and the longest lived of the Japanese–the natives of the Ryukyu Islands–stop eating when they’re 80% full. Limiting your calorie intake means lower overall stress on the body.

13. Meditate

Meditation leads to stress reduction and lowered blood pressure.[10] Research suggests that it could also increase the activity of an enzyme associated with longevity.[11]

Taking as little as 15 minutes a day to find your zen can have significant health benefits, and may even extend your life.

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How to meditate? Here’re 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

14. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight puts stress on your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart disease.[12] It may also increase the risk of cancer.[13] Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and living a long and healthy life.

15. Laugh Often

Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. High levels of these hormones can weaken your immune system.

16. Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun

Too much time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sun exposure is an excellent way to increase levels of vitamin D, so soaking up a few rays–perhaps for around 15 minutes a day–can be healthy. The key is moderation.

17. Cook Your Own Food

When you eat at restaurants, you surrender control over your diet. Even salads tend to have a large number of additives, from sugar to saturated fats. Eating at home will enable you to monitor your food intake and ensure a healthy diet.

Take a look at these 14 Healthy Easy Recipes for People on the Go and start to cook your own food.

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18. Eat Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a central ingredient in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s GOMBS disease fighting diet. They boost the immune system and may even reduce the risk of cancer.[14]

19. Floss

Flossing helps to stave off gum disease, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer.[15]

20. Eat Foods Rich in Antioxidants

Antioxidants fight against the harmful effects of free-radicals, toxins which can cause cell damage and an increased risk of disease when they accumulate in the body. Berries, green tea and broccoli are three excellent sources of antioxidants.

Find out more antiosidants-rich foods here: 13 Delicious Antioxidant Foods That Are Great for Your Health

21. Have Sex

Getting down and dirty two to three times a week can have significant health benefits. Sex burns calories, decreases stress, improves sleep, and may even protect against heart disease.[16] It’s an easy and effective way to get exercise–so love long and prosper!

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Featured photo credit: Sweethearts/Patrick via flickr.com

Reference

[1] Wiley Online Library: Late‐Life Alcohol Consumption and 20‐Year Mortality
[2] BMJ Journals: Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis
[3] Arch Intern Med.: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
[4] PLOS Medicine: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review
[5] JAMA: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
[6] NCBI: Effects of Omega‐3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases: Summary
[7] Mayo Clinic Proc: Prediction of all-cause mortality by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Optimism-Pessimism Scale scores: study of a college sample during a 40-year follow-up period.
[8] Med Hypotheses.: Pet ownership protects against the risks and consequences of coronary heart disease.
[9] The New England Journal of Medicine: Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
[10] American Journal of Hypertension: Blood Pressure Response to Transcendental Meditation: A Meta-analysis
[11] Science Direct: Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators
[12] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[13] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[14] African Journal of Biotechnology: Anti-cancer effect of polysaccharides isolated from higher basidiomycetes mushrooms
[15] Science Direct: Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study
[16] AHA Journals: Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease

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