I meet people all the time who say they wish they could travel as much as me. I used to want to help them reach that goal, offering tips and advice on how to get started, but would quickly run into the “I can’t” road block. After countless attempts at clearing it, pushing for a real answer, or helping them explore their excuses, it was clear. They really don’t want to travel. Or learn a second language. Or do anything that won’t come about as a result of their currently formed habits. They want to day-dream a little, and then go back to what they were doing yesterday, so that they can do it again tomorrow. And that’s fine. But don’t lie about it. And if you’re not lying, and you really do want to do something more, then the first step is to let go of “I can’t.”
The worst part about “I can’t,” isn’t that it’s an excuse, admission of defeat, or just plain negative. The true danger is that it’s habit forming. You start off slowly. Maybe just one or two a week, when you feel a little extra stressed from work. Then you start using it when you’re happy too, and can’t be bothered with anything that’s not relaxing to you. Before too long, you’re a full on addict. You can’t walk to the store. You can’t learn a new language. You can’t understand politics. You can’t. So you won’t. Ever.
So what do you do? Quit cold turkey? Try to emulate Jim Carrey from Yes Man? Well, not exactly. Bouncing from one extreme to the other isn’t going to do you any good. Instead, you should first learn to balance out the “can’t” with “cans”. Because your ability to find an alternative will show you just how important it really is to you. Each time you can’t find an alternative solution, you’re in fact saying “It’s not that I can’t, I don’t want to.”
But what if you physically cannot do something? It happens. A few weeks ago I went camping. On the hike back (3 miles or so) I got a pretty bad pain in both my feet. Since they were both hurting in the same place (outside edge, near my heel and ankle), I assumed they were just sore from being out of shape. As the pain increase and lasted over a week however, I realized it was something more. It was likely that I developed a form of tendonitis in both feet. When I attempted a jog a few days later, the pain became much worse, and I found myself limping for several days.
So no, I can’t run, which is quite a predicament for someone preparing for multiple 5k’s. But immediately after hearing the “can’t” on my breath, I decided I needed a “can” to balance it out. It didn’t come to my right away, but I kept searching for a few days. Then, I picked up spinning and bicycling. Neither required weight to be placed on my heel, and thus I found a way to train, without further injuring myself. And that’s a big indicator that what I have is a goal, and not a wish. A wish is very easily pushed to the side, tagged with labels such as “I can’t” and “Someday.” But a goal can’t be bothered with such puny roadblocks, there holes to be dug, ladders to be raised, or roundabouts to be found.
So if you catch a whiff of “I can’t” on your breath, realize that you have only a few moments to balance it out. Wait too long and you just be one step closer to never doing any of the things you truly want to do. And as you get used to not saying those dreaded words, you’ll suddenly realize just how often those around you do. Try not to breath in that second hand smoke!