I was just having an online discussion with one of my triathlon friends about what people mean when they say “I can’t” do something.

I think that when I say “I can’t” do something what I almost always mean is “I don’t want” to do something.  It’s not a priority, it’s not as important as other things, or I don’t want to make the changes necessary to do the “I can’t” something. And it’s okay not to want to do something!  But I need to do myself a favor, and don’t try to pass it off as a “can’t” because all that does is get in the way.

Sure, there are times when “I can’t” fits — say, asking me to play softball when I had a broken arm** — but more often I’m using it as an excuse to avoid doing something difficult. I really try to monitor my speech and thoughts for “I can’ts” because it usually signals resistance to a situation and and exploring the why of it might be very beneficial.

For example, at the beginning of the eat slowly habit, I found myself saying, “But I can’t eat lunch slowly — I don’t have enough time”.  Truth is, it’s tough to eat slowly and so I was trying to create a plausible excuse to squirm out of doing the right thing for one meal a day.  Of course, that’s bull:  I have 30 minutes for lunch.  More than enough time.  And – by eating slowly, I don’t eat as much and so don’t need as much time.  Wow.  See how that works?

“I can’t run”.  Of course I can, I just need to run slower.

“I can’t fit in reading the assignments”.  Of course I can, I just need to turn off the TV at night for awhile.

“I can’t stop eating cookies!”.  Um, yea. The jury is out on this one still.

“Can’t” is the enemy of getting things done and sometimes it’s a clue to what it is that I think I need or want to do, but hold back because it’s going to take work to get there. “Can’t” signifies some sort of push back to change. It all goes back to getting outside my comfort zone and venturing into new territory.

So, take an inventory of your “can’ts”.  If it’s important to you, is it really a “can’t”?  Or a “don’t want to”?  Or “this is too hard”?  The difference between these might be quite telling.

** True story:  I was 2 months out from breaking both the bones in my forearm, surgery to put the pieces back together, practically no range of motion, unable to bend my fingers or feel my hand and I played in a softball tournament because my team would have otherwise had to forfeit.  I never said I was the sharpest knife in the drawer.  And no, we didn’t win.

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