I Can’t: An Indulgent Lie We Tell Ourselves

Posted on: March 29, 2016


Saying I can’t is almost always not true. It’s an unintentional lie we tell ourselves or others. It’s a lie used as an excuse. A lie that results in inaction. A lie that gives us a pass. A lie that feels bad.

An example of an accurate use of I Can’t could be something like this:

If you have not gone to medical school, you’re not a doctor of any kind and you say:

“I can’t perform open heart surgery on anyone.”

This is an example of something you, literally are unable to do. So, when is I can’t the lie or Untruth?

Some common things we might think, say or hear:

“I can’t grow my business,” “I just can’t lose weight, I can’t get my husband/wife to listen to me, My boss wants me to make a presentation but, I just can’t do it.”

When someone says these things, they really mean it. They just cannot do it!  It is their truth at that time. In a way it’s in the family of a psychosomatic illness.

You have severe back pain, the pain is absolutely real. You have difficulty walking, you might tell yourself you slept funny, it’s your mattress, maybe it was that time 6 months ago when you fell while skiing (6 months ago, really?) The doctor tells you there is nothing structurally wrong with you. So, what’s the root cause here? If you believe in the Mind/Body connection, you might consider it’s your body telling you there’s something going on, emotionally. But, even if you do believe in the connection, maybe it’s so much easier to continue with the pain and blame your mattress. That pain is a distraction that gives you a pass from having to deal with the root of the problem – which is often fear.

Same thing goes on with I Can’t. When you say I can’t, a few things happen…

When you say I Can’t, you get to give up. You don’t have to figure out what the real, underlying problem is.  You give yourself a pass. But, this pass isn’t really for the task at hand, it’s a pass to not have to deal with the underlying fear causing I Can’t. So, you get to say, “It’s not like I don’t want to get more clients but, I just can’t do it.” That’s it. Done. You allow yourself to stop trying.

What comes with this pass? Indulgence. You indulge in the notion that something has happened to you and you are a victim of some circumstance. You get to lay in this pool of self pity (unconsciously, of course) for as long as you need. This is, most likely, a very familiar place. It’s a mixture of fear, helplessness, discomfort, self-judgement. It sucks but, it’s comfortable in it’s familiarity. Even when things are uncomfortable, we can stay for quite some time because it’s familiar because familiar feels safe, even when it’s excruciatingly, uncomfortable.

You’re trying to build your business, but you just can’t! You’re trying to get your point across to your partner, but can’t!  You go on diet after diet but, just can’t lose the weight! All you can see is how much you can’t do whatever it is you want to do.  Your focus is soly on The Can’t.

So, what’s a person to do? How can you get out of your own way and see the real truth, not YOUR truth? How can you stop indulging? How can you start to change your perception and move forward?

1 – Try saying I Won’t instead of I Can’t.

Will not, or won’t, implies you are making a choice. Making a choice helps take you out of the victim category because, if you are choosing to NOT DO something you also have the choice TO DO something. Having choices allows for what is true, which is that we are not completely powerless.

a. “My boss wants me to make a presentation but, I just Can’t do it.”

b. “My boss wants me to make a presentation but, I just Won’t do it.”

Do you feel differently when you read the first one versus the second?

2 – If changing I Can’t to I Won’t doesn’t work for you, maybe add “Right Now” after I Can’t.

“My boss wants me to make a presentation but, I just can’t do it, right now.”

When you add “Right Now” to the end of the statement, it helps alleviate the sense of being helpless because it takes away from a sense of permanence. There is a sense of inertia with I Can’t. The implication being “I Can’t and never will be able to do X.” So, including Right Now, implies you can’t do at this time but, may be able to do X in the future. There is some sense of hope or relief and gives you some breathing room

3 – This last suggestion is useful with so many challenges. When you have these I Can’t thoughts, try accepting them.

Acceptance helps everything. Usually, when we say I Can’t, we also judge ourselves in the same moment. There is a feeling behind the thought and we don’t like it so, we resist. Since Can’t seems like we won’t ever have an ability to fix the problem, accepting gives us an option to take an action. Accepting is an action. Accepting substitutes resistance with allowance.

You can’t solve problem X at this time but, you CAN choose to accept that you can’t.  Feeling like you have the choice to accept helps lessen the feeling that accompanies the I Can’t lie you are telling yourself.

None of this is easy. Especially at first. Growth is always challenging but, a worthwhile challenge. The term “Growing Pains” exists because there can be pain in growth. But, there is so much more reward than pain. So, remember that I Can’t is, almost always, not true. And, if moving forward is what you really want, it’s important figure out why you think you can’t do it and work on a way out of this limiting belief.