I can’t or I won’t? – A common case of self-delusion

Common: Inaction due to self-hypnosis through seemingly innocent excuses.

Uncommon:“I can’t exercise today.”  “I can’t ask her on a date.”  “I can’t start a business.”  “I can’t make more money.”

You’ve probably heard these claims quite frequently (perhaps even escaping from your own mouth). Personally, I’ve been guilty many times.  The word “can’t” has subtly squirmed its way into countless, well-meaning, personal declarations.
But the simple awareness of our tendency to conveniently mask our hypocrisy can be liberating.

It seems that “can’t” has become a one-step-solution many people use to put their nagging inner-thoughts to rest. After all, once we declare that something cannot be done, there is no need to think about it or worry about it, right?  It’s “outta-mind, outta-sight.”  We can then justify our abdication and retreat with logic: “It’s out of my control.”  “It’s simply not possible.”  What a simple and safe solution… or is it?


The words we use have a far greater effect on our mentality than their obvious grammatical application.  The word can’t literally alters our perspective and beliefs in an instant.  It presupposes that we don’t have the ability or the resources to get the result, which in most cases, is not true at all.  If the outcome (and journey) means enough, humans can be unbelievably resourceful.  But since can’t is such a convenient ruse to lessen feelings of guilt and help us avoid confronting a reality that involves discomfort and sacrifice, we simply opt for this path of least resistance.

The problem is, eventually we believe what we repeatedly tell ourselves — whether it’s factual or not.  Before long, our creativity gradually disappears and we adjust (i.e.: lower) our expectations — only to set the stage for further disappointment in the future.

Yes, there are certainly appropriate occasions to use the word “can’t,” but many times, we use it to hide a deeper concern or fear.  Rarely is it used to indicate that something is actually impossible.  It’s often just a crutch we use to suppress the real reasons we choose not to take further action.

“I can’t dance.”  “I can’t give a speech.”  “I can’t start a business.”  Sound familiar?   Perhaps, if we were completely honest with ourselves, a more fitting description would begin with “I won’t.” For instance:  “I won’t start a business because I’m too afraid of failing.”  “I won’t ask her on a date because I’m not willing to experience possible rejection.”

In other words:

We choose to use the word “can’t” when the process involves fear, inconvenience, or sacrifices that we are unwilling to endure.

This is precisely why “can’t” is typically a choice rather than an accurate suggestion of impossibility.


A new declaration:

If we take a moment to reflect, we’ll realize that it’s often the very things we’re putting off that will take us closer to where we really want to be. This becomes a very important concept once we understand that we will not pursue things that we believe cannot be done.

If we believe that we cannot swim, then we will avoid the water.  If we believe we cannot start a business, we will subconsciously search for reasons why it cannot be done.   But in reality, it’s very rarely a matter of “can’t.”

Recently I discovered that I am not as honest with myself as I could and should be.  I have been unpleasantly surprised at the number of times I have immediately and conveniently selected the word “can’t” without honest examination.  But, after catching myself in the act in several times, using the word, “won’t” has helped me reassess the challenges I had habitually labeled as definitive barriers.

I offer the same experiment to you.  Try exchanging “can’t” with “won’t.”  “I can’t apply for the job” becomes “I won’t apply for the job because [fill in the blank].”  You may find that the only thing holding you back is a false assumption.

Your thoughts?

What is your experience with the word “can’t” and what techniques do you use to defeat it?  Please share your thoughts below.

Stay uncommon,

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