Getting Past ‘I Can’t’

Perhaps the most frustrating words I hear when talking to people seems to be the words “I can’t.” The nature of the rest of their sentence will vary, but the idea is often the same.  Some common themes include: I would like to save more, but I can’t.  I would like to retire early, but I can’t.  I would like a new job, but I can’t get a new one right now.  Then following those sentences people usually have some reason for why they can’t do something.

Now the following isn’t to say everyone does this, but in my experience to date 95% of the reasons that go with the phrase “I can’t” are utter bullshit.  Yes, that is right.  I’m calling bullshit on just about every time you or I have ever used the phrase “I can’t”.

The more correct phrases that might work better than ‘I can’t’ are:

  • I don’t feel like it.
  • I’m lazy.
  • I really do enjoy complaining rather than making my life better.
  • I’m really just a self absorbed prick that can’t see past the end of my nose to realize that problem is really my fault.

By now, I’m sure you can come up with you own equally fun real reason why you can’t do something (feel free to suggest more reasons in the comments).  So with that out of the way, why do we keep saying that to each other?  I’ll take a guess at this one.  You don’t want to accept the fact that changing your life for the better means ‘work.’  Nothing worth doing in life is easy, sorry to break it to you, but saving more, retiring early or getting a new job/career isn’t going to be done with a 10 easy step list.  A list might help you get the ball rolling, but keeping it moving is going to take some effort and you will likely have a few patches where to keep going will be hard.

So regardless if you want to lose weight, save more, retire early…or just about anything else might I present the five steps of getting past “I can’t.”

  1. Stop Making Excuses.  This should be obvious by now…you can’t move ahead if you keep running yourself in a loop of excuses.  Stop making them and realize that most of them are bullshit.
  2. Know Your Motivation.  Change requires a strong motivation to keep going over the long haul.  Decide how badly you want something and how much more important this goal is than everything else.  What will you give up to reach your goal?  Is retiring early worth more to you than your cable package or perhaps moving to a smaller house?
  3. Know Your Limits. The other 5% of your reasons for not doing something is likely a limit for you.  Good limits should strike you as insane and that you would never do it even with a gun at your head.  For example, I will not stop contributing to my kid’s RESP’s so I can retire early.  It isn’t happening, so that is a limit on my plan I really can’t get around.
  4. Make a Plan.  Getting from now to then looks easy, until you realize the number of steps involved.  You need a plan to get to any longer term goal.  For example, to write my book I spend several months with the rule I needed to write one page a day.  Yes, that cut into watching movies, or other social events, but in the end I did finish my book.
  5. Change the Plan.  Your first plan will likely have flaws in it.  Accept that and change as you move along.  I rarely see anything go flawlessly in life, so make a plan and then make some reasonable adjustments as you go.  For example, while writing the book I realized some nights it was nearly impossible to get a page done as I was booked sold from 7:30 am until 10:o0 pm, so I decided to allow myself to double up on pages the day before to ensure the progress kept going.

Ok, now it is your turn…how do you get past “I can’t” to achieve a goal?


5 thoughts on “Getting Past ‘I Can’t’”

  1. Very good post. My take is that too many people are more into blaming than into solutions. One might include a whole lot of politicians in that thought.

    It used to be (?) that finding fault was a step toward finding an answer, but not anymore, I guess. Effectively resolving difficulties takes determination, insight, and honesty.

  2. This is a great post! I loved it… I had to read the the first 4 paragraphs to my wife sitting next to me because they your comments echo our thoughts and many conversations to (and about) some friends, family, co-workers, who just don’t seem to understand that it will take effort and work and sacrifice to get ahead. And the words “How bad do you want it” is a phrase that we use very often as well…

    Oh and I love the comment “Is retiring early worth more to you than your cable package?”

  3. Tim, sometimes the “I can do anything” mentality is a double edged sword. I’ve known a few people, myself included, that have pushed way past what sane people would do. It’s hard to know your limits when you don’t set them like normal people. Having said that, most people aren’t like that, so learning to push themselves a bit to see what they’re made of is probably a good thing.

    We could all do stuff like not see our kids for several years in order to retire even earlier – or to not even have them at all 🙂 – but that’s a choice we’re not making for obvious reasons.

    Sometimes I think it’s a difference in one’s method of obtaining “happiness” – whether you have hedonic or eudaimonic tendencies. That and neuroplasticity research shows that if your brain isn’t working optimally, you literally don’t see options that are open to you.

  4. I definitely get this. I teach high school and every single day I see more and more of this thinking. It actually scares me because I know there are teens in China and India that are not saying “I didn’t feel like it,” but rather, “that will only take a year of 16 hour-days? Count me in!”

  5. Your question is how do I get past “I can’t” to achieve a goal? I had the good, great fortune to have a mother who would not accept “I can’t” as an answer, God rest her soul. I now have a friend/mentor who loves me enough to be honest in the same way as my mother would have. Doing what I call “the next right thing” isn’t easy, as you’ve already said. But for the most part, I am happy with where in life and a “can do” attitude helped put me there. A big thank you to mom and to my friend Paula!

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