The Blog.

What happens when you say “I can’t”

30 Mar 2015 | Mind monkeys, Personal Productivity

When you say “I can’t” what are you really saying?

That you don’t know how? You don’t have the resources to? That you’re not sure you want to? That you’re already committed to something else?

Sometimes it’s easier to say “I can’t”.

“I can’t make it” rolls off the tongue easier than “actually I’d rather not” or “I’d prefer to do something else” or “I’ve already committed to something that I don’t want to cancel”

“I can’t possibly do that” is easier to swallow than “that scares me to death” or “I’m not sure that would work” or even “I don’t know how to do that.”

When there’s a risk involved, a cost, or a trade-off, “can’t” lets us off the hook. Rather than owning the decision, we default to “can’t”. It’s out of our hands.

The trouble is, after a while, we believe our “can’t”s and they become the walls we build that hem us in. “Can’t” puts us in a position where we feel helpless. It signals impossibility and incapacity – so why bother trying?

I had a couple of conversations recently with friends who have made some pretty radical decisions about their businesses. Decisions they had previously said “I can’t” to.

“I can’t take time off”

“I can’t raise my prices”

“I can’t do any more/less”

“I can’t do this in any other way (I’ve tried… it doesn’t work… not for me/my business)”

But something changed. They hit a crisis. A health crisis that meant they had to take time off. A personal crisis that meant that they had to make some tough choices. Instead of “I can’t” they found themselves saying “This needs to happen. How do I make it happen?”

All of a sudden, “I can’t” was no longer an acceptable answer. Impossibility was out of the question. Everything was possible and something had to give.

Before, “I can’t” had them utterly convinced that there were no other options. Now, all the rules were thrown out, and they found themselves facing down hard choices, determined to find a way through, making tough decisions with courage, setting boundaries with ruthlessness and letting go of the need to please everybody and get everything right – because “I can’t” wasn’t an option any more.

There’s something about a crisis that gives us clarity. Clarity over what really matters. What’s non-negotiable and what’s up for grabs. But I wonder if we could create that clarity for ourselves more often, with less crisis, by being more truthful about our “can’t”s.

Mindset trainer Caroline Ferguson shared this on Facebook last week:

When you hear yourself say “I can’t…”, try seeing if one of these works instead:

“I choose not to…”

“I haven’t yet…”

It sends a completely different message to your brain.

What are you saying “I can’t” to this week? Try saying what you really mean – even if just to yourself. And see what happens.


Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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