“If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable,
you disconnect yourself from what you truly want,
and all that is left is a compromise.”
I can’t think of anything more self-limiting than the words, “I can’t.” When we utter these words, it means we’ve surrendered to a limitation, and our world of experiences immediately becomes smaller. And to make matters worse, the limitation placed upon us is self-imposed.
The truth is that “can’t” usually means “won’t.” Why? Because regardless of the obstacles, people will pave a way for the things they truly want to do. So, when a person says, “I can’t,” what they are really saying is that they don’t wish to put forth the effort and, therefore, won’t.
Limiting ourselves in this way is detrimental to our psyches. We begin to internalize this response, and pretty soon our minds become habituated to it and will accept these limitations as an expected way to deal with future opportunities and problems. In other words, we set ourselves up for lives of compromise and underachievement.
Therefore, I am presenting a case against using the words, “I can’t,” and I would like to present the following concepts as “evidence” in support of my case:
EXHIBIT 1: Logic
When we use the word, “can’t,” we present ourselves with the challenge of proving that a 100% impossibility exists.
The word “can’t” only applies to complete impossibilities – such as a paralyzed person not being able to walk. But even in that case, alternatives may exist. However, if ANY possibility exists, then logically, we can’t use the word, “can’t.”
When we apply this logic, it will become apparent that many more things CAN be done than we think. In fact, most things can be done, given the right conditions.
EXHIBIT 2: Metaphysics
“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh~
In “The Key to Emotional Health”
, I discussed the concept of impermanence. Impermanence refers to the transient nature of the world – nothing is fixed or permanent. By the very nature of impermanence, our circumstances are always changing. This means that we live in a world of ever-unfolding potential, and therefore possibilities always exist.
Just because the right conditions don’t exist at the moment, it does not mean that the proper conditions will never exist. Additionally, within us is the ability to work and create the proper conditions. Therefore, we can acknowledge that potential always exists, and instead of “I can’t,” we can tell ourselves, “I can, but not at this moment.”
EXHIBIT 3: Neuroscience
refers to the brain’s ability to change structurally and functionally as a result of input from the environment. This means our brains are reactive to the ways we channel our attention. For example, If we regularly channel our attention to reading, math, or playing piano, the neural areas of the brain associated with those activities become more developed and accessible, and we are more able to develop an expertise.
The same holds true for the type of thinking we do. If we are positive thinkers, then our brains become “wired” for positive thoughts and solutions. However, if we focus on negativity and limitations, then we tend to always think in negative and limiting ways.
The human brain is designed for problem-solving, which is defined as the effort to overcome obstacles obstructing the path to a solution. And as you can probably guess, the more we solve problems, the more adept we become at solving future problems. Additionally, when we search for new ways around a problem, we often tap into our ability to think creatively.
The moment we say, “I can’t,” we close the door on our thinking. Essentially, we give ourselves permission to cop-out on a challenge. But the truth is that all possibilities exist within our thinking. In this context, “can’t” exists due to two common things: an unwillingness to search for a solution, and because we’ve trained the mind to limit itself.
EXHIBIT 4: Positive Psychology
A primary focus of Positive Psychology
is to find and nurture our strengths and talents, and discover ways to make normal life more fulfilling. According to positive psychologists, our ability to experience happiness is directly linked to our ability to be optimistic. Optimism is the tendency to take a hopeful view about the future, or to have confidence in the successful outcome of an endeavor.
, on the other hand, occurs when one believes that they have no control over what occurs, and that something external from themselves dictates their ability to succeed or accomplish a task.
Self-limiting thoughts are counterproductive to cultivating optimism. When we say, “I can’t,” we are accepting the idea that we don’t have control over our ability to accomplish something – which is not very optimistic. “I can’t” perpetuates an inner dialogue that short-circuits our goal-directed thinking because we start to believe that we don’t have the capacity (helplessness) to find a route to our desired goals.
A PROPOSED SOLUTION: Learn to overcome personal objections
“Refuse to accept the many reasons why it can’t be done and ask if there are any reasons it can be done.” ~Hanoch McCarty~
Whenever we have a feeling that we can’t do something, we should pause before we actually say it. We should think about the circumstances that would make the endeavor possible, and then be honest about whether we WANT to put forth the effort to do it. It’s really a matter of overcoming our own objections. Instead of filing our hesitation under the category of “I can’t,” we should uncover the true issue.
For instance, if we wish to travel the world, it’s not really rocket science. We simply must create the proper conditions. World travel requires money, travel documents, and time. Whether we are willing to create these conditions is really a matter of “will” or “won’t,” not “can’t.” We will accumulate the money, apply for the appropriate travel documents, and schedule a time to go – or we won’t.
To uncover the real reasons behind our objections, we can challenge our limiting thoughts through dialogue. An internal dialogue will sound something like this (simplified version):
“I wish I could travel around the world, but I can’t.”
“I don’t have a passport.”
“What does it take to get a passport?”
“I’m not sure – I guess I could google it.”
“Hmm . . . it seems relatively easy. But I don’t really have the money to travel.”
“Can I get the money?”
“Yes, I could save for a year. But, that means I’ll have to make some sacrifices.”
“Am I willing to sacrifice my current spending to save for a trip?”
Even if the answer ends up being “no” in the end, at least we will have explored the possibilities that exist. This allows us to see that we actually CAN accomplish this goal if we’re willing to put forth the effort to create the proper conditions.
This type of dialogue can reveal a lot about who we really are. Maybe we will learn something new about our authentic selves, and it is possible to uncover a few hidden fears.
CONCLUSION: Become empowered with “I CAN”
“Can’t” implies a limitation that has been imposed upon us – which is disempowering. Therefore, by eliminating the word “can’t,” we are actually embracing the power to DECIDE what we truly wish to do. Whether we “will” or “won’t” means that we’ve made an empowered choice, versus reacting to an imposed prohibition.
Henry Ford was right: Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right. When we tell ourselves “I can’t,” it ensures that we will not even attempt – which guarantees the utterance of “I can’t” to become a self-fulfilled prophecy.
Therefore, we should eliminate the limited thinking of “I can’t” so that we can get out of our own way. Once we remove our largest obstacle, we open ourselves to the freedom of unlimited experiences and infinite possibilities.
And now . . . I rest my case.
How often do you find yourself saying, “I can’t?” What do you think your life would be like if you eliminated self-limiting thinking?”