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Can’t vs. Don’t by Jim Stovall

Words have a great impact on our lives. While they are imperfect, they are the only tools we have to communicate our thoughts, hopes, and dreams. I have long believed that whoever controls the language controls the debate. The words we use matter to everyone in our lives, and most significantly, our own words matter to each of us. I’m a big believer that we should remove or greatly minimize our use of the word can’t. When we think or say the word can’t, we are reinforcing our lack of resources or the inability to achieve a certain task or goal.

Let’s say you have decided to follow a more healthy nutrition plan, and while enjoying dinner at a friend’s home, they offer you a dessert that is not a part of your new plan. Your first reaction might be to say, “I can’t have dessert.” This signals weakness and inability in your own mind and to anyone with whom you are communicating. On the other hand, if you respond, “I don’t eat desserts,” this communicates power and control in that you have made a decision, and you are choosing to honor the decision you have made. While this may seem like an insignificant difference in semantics, the words we choose can make all the difference.

My late, great friend and mentor, Zig Ziglar often contrasted two different ways to say the same thing, which he discovered when he was dating his future wife. While the phrase, “You look like the first breath of spring” and the phrase, “You look like the end of a long, hard winter” might denote the same point in time, they do not communicate the same message. Just as the phrase, “When I’m with you, time stands still” is quite different from, “Your presence can stop a clock.”

While Zig’s examples are humorous, they point out the fact that words matter because they represent, communicate, and reinforce our thoughts and ideas.

Listen carefully to the words you use to share your ideas and emotions with those around you. More importantly, be aware of the words you use with yourself as you think about who you are, what you want to do, and where you want to go. Can’t describes your weakness and inability to do something, while don’t describes a decision you have made to control your actions and your future. As you go through your day today, put the power of words to work in your life.

Today’s the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift. He is also a columnist and motivational speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK74145-9082; by email at; on Twitter at; or on Facebook at

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2 comentários

So simple but so powerful, thank you!


Tammy Robinson
Tammy Robinson
08 de jan.

Thank you for sharing Jim! What a major difference between words of lack and words of power and commitment! I will implement this in my life today!

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