Here are some things that are true about me:
What do those things tell you about me? Of course, each person who hears that list will come to their own conclusion about who I am.
But, that’s not the point.
The point is, I’ve defined myself this way. I don’t snack between meals. I just don’t. I’m not a person who snacks.
It isn’t a value judgement. It doesn’t make me better or worse than someone who does snack. It just is a sentence that describes one aspect of who I am.
Now, what if, instead, I said “I can’t snack between meals?”
That is a completely different situation.
I can’t snack now becomes a rule I must follow. A rule that takes willpower. Something that I must keep myself from doing. Something that I struggle against. It is a whole different ballgame.
Create Your Identify
When you use “I don’t” you are defining yourself. Giving yourself an identity. It takes away the struggle. It requires no willpower because it isn’t contrary to who you are.
Let’s talk about the statement “I don’t check email after 6, on weekends, or on vacation.” Many of you are saying to yourself that this isn’t possible for you. That your boss expects immediate answers to their email. That your job requires it of you. That you must be constantly connected, or you will fail at your job.
I respectfully challenge that assumption. First of all, I work in a high pressure, fast paced industry in a position of leadership. Most of my coworkers answer emails at all hours and on weekends. Yet, I’ve been very successful in my career without doing these things.
How do I make it work and they don’t?
There are a lot of parts to that answer, but the one I’m focused on today is that I simply am not a person who answers emails after 6 or on weekends. I don’t. It is who I am and – believe it or not – other people accept it.
Do I struggle or get stressed out thinking about my unanswered emails? Absolutely not. I don’t think twice about it because it isn’t who I am.
Change Takes Time
If you are thinking “that’s great for you Rachel, but I could never define myself that way,” then let me tell you that I used to be that way too.
I used to work 80-100 hours a week, frantically trying to keep up with all the email, deadlines, crises, and expectations. It was pretty much the only thing I thought about from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed.
And, to be honest, I didn’t sleep well back then so I guess I was thinking about it even after I went to bed.
Eventually, it became unsustainable, and something had to give. That’s when I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be the kind of person who spent every waking hour working. I didn’t want to be defined as a workaholic because workaholics never have a happy ending.
Out of that situation came some of the rules I still live by today:
It didn’t happen overnight, but over time I got to the point where I stopped checking email and nobody said a word.
And, here is a dirty little secret – I don’t have email on my phone.
One of the things I listed was “I don’t shy away from conflict.”
That isn’t true.
At least not yet.
You see, one area I need to improve on is being able to stand my ground when someone either challenges me or disagrees with me. I give in way too easy because I’m worried about damaging the relationship.
I’m learning how to stand my ground and be comfortable that I won’t damage the relationship because we have a difference of opinion.
Remember how I said that I used to work all the time? Then I defined myself as someone who doesn’t and I worked my way to the point where how I live my life and how I define myself were in line.
That’s what I’m in the process of doing now with conflict. I’ve defined myself as someone who doesn’t shy away from conflict and I’m working my way toward living in alignment with that definition.
Define Who You Are
In 2012, the Journal of Consumer Research published a study called “I Don’t vs I Can’t: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior.”
They trained one group to set “I don’t” goals and another to set “I can’t” goals. Later, when given the choice between a candy bar and a granola bar, twice as many people in the “I don’t” group chose a granola bar over a candy bar.
Pure and simple – I can’t feels like a struggle while I don’t gives you a sense of self.
What “I can’t” can you turn into an “I don’t”?
This week, find something you have been struggling with and create a definition for yourself that you can start to work toward.
Make yourself a little note and put it by your monitor so you can remind yourself throughout the day that you are defining yourself in a new way.
Remember that it won’t happen overnight. It takes time for your brain to wire itself with this new information. But, if you stick with it long enough there will come a day in the future where you don’t even think about it anymore – it will just be who you are.
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