What Appeals to You? Ditch Day, Catch-Up Day, or Mandatory Vacation Day?

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When we’re tackling our habits, word matter.

Research shows that people who use language that emphasizes that they’re acting by their own choice and exercising control (“I don’t,” “I choose to,” “I’m going to,” or “I don’t want to”) stick to their habits better than people who use language that undermines their self-efficacy (“I can’t,” “I’m not allowed to,” or “I’m supposed to”). There’s a real difference between “I don’t” and “I can’t.”

For instance, I don’t eat sugar; I can eat sugar, but I don’t. In fact, I love not eating sugar!

Also, in my own mind, I try to replace “I have to” with “I get to” whenever possible. “I get to go the library today.” “I get to go to a parent coffee tomorrow.”

The very words we choose to characterize our habits can make them seem more or less appealing. “Engagement time” sounds more interesting than “email time.” “Playing the piano” sounds more fun than “practicing the piano.” And what sounds more attractive, a “personal retreat day” or a “catch-up day” or a “ditch day” or a “mandatory vacation day”? (People of different Tendencies might choose different terms.)

Would a person rather “take a dance class” or “exercise”? Some people like the word “quit,” as in “I’ve quit caffeine”; some are put off by its overtones of addiction. A woman told me, “I try not to use the words ‘forever’ and ‘never,’ but I like the word ‘permanent.’ ”

Do you make choices about the vocabulary you use, to help you master your habits?

To read more about this, check out Better Than Before, my book about when and why we change our habits

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