Stop Saying “I Can’t”

Do you ever find yourself saying “I can’t”? Sometimes, it’s perfectly reasonable: I can’t drive is simply a statement of fact, if you haven’t yet passed your test.

But often, I can’t is loaded down with self-judgment:

  • I can’t draw.
  • I can’t sing.
  • I just can’t stay organized.
  • I can’t ever get it right.
  • I can’t lose weight.

How often do you say “I can’t” when it’s, at best, a half-truth? Maybe you really think that you can’t draw – but is that just because you’ve never actually tried? And if you can’t get organized, or quit smoking, or lose weight … do you really mean that you won’t?

“Can’t” Saps Your Power

Whenever you say you can’t do something, you’re reinforcing that message in your mind. For years, I told myself that I couldn’t draw. I’d never really done any drawing – apart from a few compulsory lessons in school – but I knew I was no good. I couldn’t draw people. I couldn’t draw still-life arrangements. I couldn’t draw anything.

Then I picked up a copy of Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and realized that the only reason I couldn’t draw was because I’d never tried to learn. I had a go at some of the exercises in the book, and pretty quickly found that I just didn’t like drawing.

That’s okay! It’s fine to not want to do something. But it’s important to acknowledge that, if you wanted to, you could. If I really wanted to learn to draw, I could finish the book, or go to a class, or spend an hour or two every day with a pencil in my hand.

Changing that “Can’t”

If there’s something in your life which you’d like to do, but which you can’t do, what’s the “can’t” and what’s the real reason behind it?

Maybe it’s one of these, or something similar:

  • I can’t quit my job and start working for myself (because I’m scared that it’ll all go wrong)
  • I can’t lose weight (because I don’t really want to)
  • I can’t quit smoking (because I need some help)
  • I can’t get organized (because I don’t take the time to establish a good system)

I know that some of the things that you “can’t” do are big, emotional, tricky problems. You might want to talk to someone – a trusted friend or relative, or even a professional coach or counselor – to work through some of these areas.

Usually, though, it’s rare that there’s anything which you really truly can’t do – if you put your mind to it.

To change a “can’t” into a “can”, you might need to:

  • Get more information – from books, websites or people who you know
  • Build up your confidence – by taking small steps
  • Become more determined – perhaps by finding a group of like-minded friends (e.g. a slimming club)
  • Admit that the only thing holding you back is you

You’ve Overcome Lots of “Can’t”s Already

Once, you couldn’t do very much at all. You couldn’t walk, talk, or feed yourself.

Even when you were at school, there were loads of basic things which you couldn’t do. You couldn’t cook, or drive, or follow a map.

Throughout your whole life, you’ve been facing new challenges. Some of those might have been huge at the time – like when you first left home – but they seem pretty small in retrospect.

It’s the same with all those things that you can’t do today. They might seem big and challenging – almost impossible – right now, but they’re not. Plenty of other people have tackled and conquered the same things (and they started out from just where you are right now).

What would you love to do which you think you can’t manage right now – and how’re you going to change that?

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Words That Heal and Empower


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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