Growing up, my dad was constantly telling me, “Don’t say ‘can’t’,” or, “‘Can’t’ is not a word.” And I’d be like, “What are you even saying, Dad, with your poor Spanish-to-English translation? ‘Can’t’ is most definitely a word. And I certainly will say it. A lot.”
As it turns out, A LOT, a lot. Once, after expressing interest in going on a mission trip to Baja with my church youth group (another story for another time), the group leader told me it would be fine – only I had to promise not to be negative a single time during the trip.
Anyway, we’ve all heard that we shouldn’t say we “can’t” do things, that it makes your brain focus on the negative rather than the positive, and you’ll start to fulfill the prophecy, and your life will spiral as you succumb to bitter victimhood, blah, blah… But I’ve recently stumbled upon a little trick that I’m thinking has changed my life.
Own your excuses
Become aware of every time you utter the phrases,
“I have to…”
“I need to…”
and replace them with, “I want to…”
Then, become aware of all your “I can’ts” and replace them with “I don’t want to…”
What you’re left with is instant ownership of your bullshit. The real reason you are needing or having to do anything, in most instances in this society, is because in reality you want to.
You want to go to the store to get milk, because it sure as hell beats the reaming you’re going to get from your toddlers if you don’t.
You want to pay your taxes, because doing so prevents the shitstorm that is facing off with the IRS.
You want to go to the gyno, because you’d rather hoist your feet into stirrups than have your bits fall off (or, you know, lose your life) from some undetected pathology.
You don’t want to learn how to weld. At least not bad enough to allow everyone who keeps offering to help you with your babies give you a chance to take a hands-on class for it.
You don’t want to fix the giant hole left in your living room wall from when Mr. Dude removed the wall heater and replaced it with a central system. Because you’re afraid you’ll arse it up and it will look janky as hell, and it will be your janky work you get to stare at until you put the house on the market in 7 years and have to explain to potential buyers that the central heating and air isn’t exactly permitted or licensed. *clears throat and changes the subject*
You don’t want to get the backyard studio in organized, working order. Because you’d rather play that weekend game of chicken with Mr. Dude that involves sitting still enough through various child-rearing scenarios that you blend into the sofa, leaving him to change butts/break up fights/feed the dog and you get a goddamn break. In exchange for nothing else at all getting done.
Replace “I have/need to,” and “I can’t” with “Do or don’t want to“
What are we left with after removing my excuses and getting real with my inner BS? The “don’t want to” list reads like a really gross, self-hating disaster who’s having a super hard time getting her shit together. And, chronic self-deprecation aside, reading that summary of myself makes me deeply uncomfortable. It feels really wrong. So I have some tweaking to do with these statements:
I will take advantage of people’s offers to watch my kids so I can take a welding class.
I will fix the hole in the wall so I can enjoy my living room without the innards of my home staring me in the face – long before I ever put it on the market to sell it.
I will declutter the studio so that I don’t have to play child-chicken. I will be too busy organizing and cleaning to engage in a you-change-the-butt stand off at all.
It’s bizarre to start looking at life as an unending series of active decisions as opposed to things that fall into either the category of “possible” or “impossible”. It’s simultaneously empowering and terrifying – as I suppose most worthwhile revelations are. Breaking through the denial afforded me through the habitual use of the phrase “I can’t” makes me nervous, for sure. It forces me to take stock of my true priorities, as opposed to those things I tell myself are my priorities.
Actively assess what is truly important to you
My true priorities are the things that actively get pursued, those things that actually get checked off the to-do list everyday. Everything I “can’t” do doesn’t get done because, in reality, I simply don’t want it bad enough to rearrange life to make it a possibility. Some of those things would require an insane amount of life rearrangement to make them happen. Consider this guy. I’ll wait…
What in the holy hell is he doing?? Who the shit goes to effing Patagonia, digs a ditch in the wilderness, cuts down trees, and deals with a toddler while starting a fire in said pit, all to roast vegetables with a harem of strapping young hipster gauchos? A man who has arranged his life to pursue his priorities. Priorities that, I can only assume, don’t involve scrubbing the grout in his shower, or getting a sweet deal on two-way stretch board shorts at Costco, or an intimate relationship with his Netflix queue.
That man is not roasting vegetables. He is living his priorities. His priority is to push every limit. To live the raw beauty of nature. And, if you watch the entire episode, to live mostly apart from his babymama. I don’t judge – I’m only pointing out that we are all always living out a very real hierarchy of priorities, and those priorities get blurred when we rely on the myths of “I can’t,” and “I have to.”
What are the “I can’ts” and “Have/need tos” in your life? And what do they sound like to you when you turn them into “I do/don’t want to”? It might be challenging to turn things around like this, maybe even a bit painful. But honoring your true priorities is much easier once you remove the crutch of excuses (writing that sentence without saying “can’t” or “impossible” was painful).
Share with me in the comments below, what are some of your “I can’t/have to” befores and re-prioritized afters?