Words matter, whether they're said out loud or thought to ourselves in our head. Unfortunately, many people aren't necessarily kind to themselves with the words they choose, and that can play a large role in a person's self-esteem and prospects later in life. To avoid this, experts say this is the one word you should never say to yourself: can't.
"When you say that you 'can't' do something, you accept that you're intrinsically incapable," says Jeanine Duval, an alternative health expert with expertise in negative self-talk and co-founder of Edelwyn. "You admit defeat without trying or continue to try by giving in. By saying that you can't, you limit yourself to what you're comfortable with."
And there's scientific research behind the idea that how we perceive ourselves or our limitations plays a part in who we are and who we become. A 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that average-weight young adults who thought they were overweight were actually more likely to become overweight later in life.
"Our minds are fascinating survival machines and the words we repeatedly say to ourselves, positive or negative, become part of our internal belief system," says Peg Sadie, psychotherapist and self-care coach.
According to Sadie, "Most people's negative self-talk stems from experiences during childhood and adolescence when your psyche is especially vulnerable."
For instance, if someone often told you that you "can't" or "couldn't" do something, it's likely to create an emotional impact so strong that it stays with you throughout your life. And "it only gets stronger as you reinforce it through proof-seeking and searching-out experiences that validate your belief," Sadie says. So instead of having healthy, optimistic responses to negative experiences, you're stuck telling yourself it happened because you "can't" do something.
But these patterns can be changed by actively recognizing and getting rid of negative self-talk. Sadie says that when you make a definitive statement with the phrase "I can't…," you should "search for proof that goes against this belief." She says you should actively think of the times you have been able to do that thing or something similar, and that it "doesn't matter how small, it only matters that it helps to disprove your negative thought."
"You can change your negative self-talk at any time if you recognize that it's harmful and make the conscious effort to re-direct it … Over time, your perception will begin to shift," she says. "In return, you'll open up doors to your true potential that you may not have realized was there." And for more words you should avoid, This Is the One Word You Should Never Say When Apologizing.