the curse of can’t.

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t —
you’re right.” ~Henry Ford

In my pursuits of personal development, I have learned clarity of communication is nearly EVERYTHING upon which life is built. Self-talk [the little voice in my head] is where it all begins. When I am unclear about what messages I’m telling MYSELF, how can I be clear about what message I’m sending the world?

There are tons of words I have been eliminating from my vocabulary and/or being cognizant of using correctly, and can’t is one of them [I’ll list some more at the end of this post]. I know I’m not the first person to ever talk about the downfalls of can’t — I’m just throwing in my two cents on the word…or contraction, if you will. 😉

It seems like we [as a society] have learned to say can’t as a way to remove our own accountability from the choice we’re making. Instead of taking responsibility for the choices we are making, we say we can’t do something, as if it was a circumstance that was TOTALLY out of our control. But here’s the thing…we are always at choice. ALWAYS. Even if we think we might not be…we are!

Here’s an example scenario:

  • Person A: “My girlfriend is moving away to New York, and I can’t go with her.”
  • Person B: “Why not?”
  • Person A: “I don’t know what I’d do there! I can’t just leave my business here! I can’t stand the cold!”
  • Person B: “1) Have you researched what you could do there? 2) You COULD just leave your business here, you just DON’T WANT to, and 3) they’re called layers…you’ll acclimate. Haha!”

Person A acted like leaving their business was IMPOSSIBLE, but in reality, it was just a choice they didn’t want to make. However, saying “I can’t leave my business” is VERY different than saying “I don’t want to leave my business” — regardless of what their reasons are. The former makes the decision seem out of their control, and the latter brings to light their own responsibility in the decision.

In society today, it has become easier to say “I can’t” than “I don’t want to” — the two are considered synonymous, and yet can’t has detrimental implications to whomever is saying it, because they’re choosing to not take responsibility for their choices. Very disempowering stuff. Here are some example phrases with translations…

  • “Ooooh I REALLY want to go to your party, but I can’t, I’m working.”
    • I really want to go to your party, but I don’t want to miss work for it…or…I have a prior commitment that evening. Boom: true & accountable!
  • “I’m really irritated with how so-and-so is acting, but I can’t tell her.”
    • I’m feeling irritated with so-and-so and I don’t want to tell her [because I’m afraid of … how they’ll react/what they’ll think of me/“hurting their feelings” — which is actually not possible, hence the quotes, but more on that in the future/etc.]
  • “I want to, but I can’t afford to.”
    • Usually I can afford to, I just don’t want to spend my money there – it’s not a financial priority for me and I’d rather spend that money elsewhere.

I have been guilty of saying all of these disempowering statements, and many more, in my lifetime.

At the end of the day, in contexts similar to the examples above, can’t is an incredibly disempowering thing to say. By saying it, I remove my own personal choice & accountability from a statement, and give my personal power away as if the circumstance was completely out of my hands – it’s like saying my choices aren’t my own.

I have suspicions that we defer to can’t instead of choosing don’t want to because we have learned to be scared of saying NO to others. This is a continuation of the very unfortunate teaching that we aren’t accountable for our own feelings [and therefore other people aren’t accountable for theirs, either] — we don’t say NO because we “don’t want to hurt their feelings.” Agh.

Also, we might choose can’t over don’t want to because it can be difficult to recognize the choice we’re making as BEING our choice. If we see ourselves as the victim of our circumstances, we might really believe that we can’t x-y-z. When we’ve built a life around can’t, it can be a challenge to mentally take the reigns of our life again [even though we’ve technically always been holding them!].

Our language is SO important to creating our image of ourselves, and in determining how we interact with the world. If you feel insecure about “not being good enough” and haven’t yet recognized why — I encourage you to take a close look at your language:

Are you using words that are giving away your personal power? Are you holding yourself as a victim of your circumstances, instead of owning your choices and knowing that you are the source of everything in your life?

When it comes to can’t, and the various words & phrases that I mention below, I invite you to deeply explore why you choose the words you choose, and think about what impact they have on your self-image and your life. If it turns out you aren’t choosing empowering words, perhaps it’s time to make a conscious change.

Alright, I’ll step down from my soapbox for now! 🙂

Click the picture below to watch a video of me in Zambia, doing a “Gorge Swing” in the summer of 2008. You best believe I had a lot of thoughts about can’t before I finally ended up doing it! The video’s 1:29 minutes long — and if you don’t watch it for me, at least watch it for the awesome techno music that their company added to the final video. Haha. By the way, TURN DOWN YOUR VOLUME before clicking it, it’s loud!

gorge swingSome other words & phrases that I’ve become hyper-aware of and am either eliminating from my vocabulary, or am only using in appropriate contexts [aka – not in a disempowering context] are:

  • have to
    • there’s no such thing as a “have to” when I recognize I’m always at choice
      • “I have to go to work because I have to support my family.”
        • Actually, I’m choosing to go to work because I’m choosing to support my family, because I choose to have that as one of my core values. Can you hear/read the difference in ownership between those two sentences? When I don’t own the choices I’m making, I’m not owning my life.
  • feel like
    • the word feel is supposed to indicate an emotion, but when it’s followed with “like” it’s actually conveying a THOUGHT…[if an emotion doesn’t immediately follow “feel” then the phrase is conveying a thought].
      • “I feel like she’s mad at me.”
        • No, I THINK she’s mad at me and I might feel sad/mad/unhappy/whatever about it as a result
  • should
    • represents an expectation that someone may not be aware of. Often, it’s an expectation the I haven’t shared with the other party, because I think the other person should “just know.”
      • “He should know to call me every day, I shouldn’t have to tell him.”
        • Well, if I haven’t made it clear to him, how is it fair for me to expect this? Different things are important to different people, so how about an open & honest conversation with him about what I like & dislike? 🙂
  • you/they/he/she make(s) me [insert feeling here]
    • by claiming that something/someone else is causing me to feel a certain way, I shirk my responsibility for my feelings. What’s actually happening when I’m feeling, for example, hurt/angry/sad while talking to someone else is: I have wounds from my past that I haven’t yet healed, and I’m feeling hurt/angry/sad because that person is touching said wounds — but that’s not THEIR fault…it’s MY responsibility to heal my own wounds so I don’t feel hurt/angry/sad anymore
      • “You make me so MAD!”
        • Really, I’m feeling mad and am responding with anger because of experiences from my past I haven’t gotten over — I’m being reminded of my past, and it’s my responsibility to heal myself of these triggers so they no longer affect me
  • like
    • when like used like this like and it doesn’t add anything to what I’m saying
    • I still use it to compare like things 😉
  • you know?
    • thrown superfluously into sentences when not actually checking for comprehension, but instead I’m just using it as a filler
  • I mean

    • of course I MEAN the thing I’m about to say, why would I say it otherwise? Do I NOT mean what I say if I don’t preface a sentence with that phrase?
  • to be honest

    • see “I mean” above! Am I NOT being honest if I don’t start a sentence with “to be honest”?
  • I guess & I think
    • when used before a phrase when I actually know what I’m saying, but I use “I think” or “I guess” to sound slightly less sure or to “lessen the blow” of what follows, because I’m not confident enough about what I’m saying to really own it or because I’m not holding the other person as responsible for their feelings, and I’m attempting to “sugar coat” what I’m about to say
    • on the other hand, when I’m actually pondering something, I still say “I think”
  • sort of
    • a phrase that removes certainty/clarity from my statement when used incorrectly
      • “I sort of figured it out.”
        • If I figured it out, I figured it out. There’s no “sort of” necessary.
  • I don’t know
    • do I really NOT know, or have I just not taken the time to figure it out yet? I don’t know is a dead end; I’m still figuring that out is a commitment to future exploration. If I tell myself/others that I don’t know, then I’m limiting my capacity to find out by putting up a mental block to the knowledge.
  • ummmmmmmmmm & uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Have any other suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

x Nicole


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