The harm of “I can’t”

He thought he couldn’t

Three years ago, I had a personal conversation with an older chain smoker whose health was in very rapid decline.  He had been warned for years that if he didn’t quit smoking, that it would do him in.   After a recent visit to the doctor and feeling the increasing weasiness of his lungs, he admitted to me that he didn’t think he could quit.  He didn’t and died just over a year later.

This story has always saddened me for many reasons other than his death.  He had in his mind that changing his habits needed to be like turning off a light switch.  It was either on or off.  It either happened or it didn’t.  His mindset in the face of such a large task prevented any action.

But changing your ways is more like gradually taking a step towards a distant goal.  With the “I can’t do it” mindset, you stay right where you are and that goal never gets any closer.  In fact, by accepting that you can’t do it, you most likely move yourself further away.

Dropping the absolute statements

You don’t need to change the “I can’t” into an instant “I will absolutely achieve this”.  But “I can’t” can be changed into a “Today I”m going to take a step and move in the direction”.  What if the older smoker could have simply taken a step towards quitting based on his ability that day.  That ability grows from each previous day and  moves him one step closer. Still smoking yes, but already benefiting from the efforts made and a reduced distance to his goal.

In your personal change, take out the “I can’t” because it is entirely untrue.  It’s a self imposed limit that deters any action at all.  Chance are that you won’t change quickly, but a small step each day quickly adds up and in the end, you’ll have achieved that goal.  But they key is moving towards the goal, sometimes resting, but believing that if you put in the work, you will achieve it.

What’s been your inaction?  How can you change your language to facilitate more small daily actions?

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4 thoughts on “The harm of “I can’t””

  1. You’re right Craig, language really does matter.

    When I want to acquire a new, helpful habit, I talk to myself in ‘day-tight compartments’. When I quit smoking 20 years ago, I told myself “I won’t smoke a cigarette today.”

    It seemed easy to not smoke for a day. Had I told myself on day one that I’d never smoke again, it would have seemed a much bigger challenge.

    Thanks for another inspiring post, Craig!

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