Improve your productivity and health, by saying ‘no’ the right way

If you want to lead a productive and healthy life, one important thing you need to learn is how say “no.”

Amongst other things, here are 2 benefits of being able to say no.

  1. By being able to reject unnecessary activities/commitments as well as distractions, you will have more time to do what’s most important and also more time to recover from other obligations. You can be more productive.
  2. Saying clear of temptations can make you more likely to achieve your health/fitness goals.

The question remains, however: how does one avoid such distracting, wasteful, frustrating and tempting things?

While this is certainly a big obstacle, research is starting to show that tackling it can be done with small changes. More specifically, it can be achieved by making small changes in the words that you use.


One recent study by the Journal of Consumer Research found that in a group of 120 students, saying “I can’t” vs. “I don’t,” actually made a huge difference.

The participants were split into two groups and were assigned one of the two phrases. Each time a member of either group was faced with a temptation (e.g. eating cake), they were to say their assigned phrase (i.e. I can’t eat cake vs. I don’t eat cake).

After this activity was finished, each participant was asked to answer an unrelated set of questions. They then had to turn in their answer sheet, and were offered an unhealthy candy bar, or a granola health bar.

Those that used the phrase “I can’t” choose to eat the candy bar 61% of the time, while the “I don’t” participants only fell to the temptation of the candy bar 35% of the time.

Participants who told themselves that they “don’t” do something were able to resist temptation and say “no” more often.

Simply put: using certain words make you more likely to stick to good habits, and avoid bad ones!


To further this hypothesis, the researchers came up with a second study.

30 working women were asked to participate in a “health and wellness seminar,” where they had to discuss wellness/health goals they found important, and wanted to dedicate themselves to more thoroughly.

After this was done, the women were split into the following three types of groups:

  • #1 – Were told to simply “just say no” when tempted to fail their goals.
  • #2 – Were told that anytime they were tempted they should say they “can’t” perform the conflicting task.
  • #3 – Were told to use the more definitive, “I don’t” in response to activities that tempted them to fail in their goals.

For a 10-day period after the groups were sorted, the women were 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.”

Similar to the other study, those who said that they “don’t” do something tended to be much more successful in keeping disciplined. In fact, 8 out of the 10 members of group #3 were able to persist with their goals for the entire 10-day period!

Compare this with the 3/10 score for the “just say no” group, and the 1/10 score of the “can’t” group, and you begin to see how powerful word choice can be!


You’re probably asking yourself: why does “I don’t” work so much better than “I can’t?”

Words are tools for empowering yourself to stay in control during various situations.

Saying “I can’t” puts you into a negative feedback loop that reminds you of your potential limitations, while saying “I don’t” creative a positive feedback loop that reminds you of your ability to take control of the situation at hand.

For a more intellectual take on this phenomena, let’s look at what Heidi Grant Halvorson, the director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University has to say on the topic: “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.”


There will never be a time in your life where the ability to say “no” effectively will not come in handy.  Doing so is important for your productivity (at work or otherwise) and also your physical/mental health.

Hopefully these tips will be helpful!

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