I Can or I Can’t – Which One Are You?

You_Can_Do_ItIf you think you can or you think you can't, you're probably right. ~ Henry Ford

The 'I Can't' mindset is something I come across often. Sometimes it's from my children when I asked them to get up for school or my husband when he doesn't find time to exercise. Sometimes it's from a discouraged client who can't get behind his or her own goals. And sometimes it's from my own mind focusing on all the problems, all the reasons why not, all the barriers to success.

When I was considering going back to grad school at age 38, there were plenty of reasons why that was a bad idea. I'm too old. The kids are too young. It will be too hard. I don't have the money. Fortunately I worked through those obstacles because had I let them guide me, I would not have gotten that degree. And I would not be doing the work I love today.

When I was in grad school I heard other people's I Can't talk. For some reason, living an I Can moment, compells others to compare and sometimes defend their own choices. "I could never do that.", "I wish I could go back to school.", "If only I could afford it.", "You're so lucky."

But I don't think luck had much to do with it. The turning point for my decision came when grappling with my concern that it would take me 3 years and I would be 41 by the time I got my degree. Someone posed the question, 'So how old will you be in 3 years if you don't get the degree?' I applied that week.

Now for the record let me state that NOT doing something can definitely be a wise choice especially when it involves something self-destructive like telling a particular teacher exactly what you think of him or her. But when not doing, when 'I Can't', is more of a default habit, a learned helplessness, than a thoughtful decision, it's a different kind of self-destructive and it may be stopping you from some truly awesome living.

I Can doesn't mean that it will be easy or that there aren't practical challenges to success. It means that the first challenge isn't yourself. In fact the best way to succeed, according to Harvard researcher Heidi Grand Halverston, is to shift between thinking about the obstacles and thinking about the ultimate goal. This shifting back and forth and an acknowledgement that achievement takes real effort apparently helps propel people forward.

Being an I Can person doesn't mean that you know all the answers, but that you've answered the important one. It means that you have faith in your intelligence, your creativity, your worth and your ability to, as Tim Gunn says, "make it happen." It means that you play to your strengths rather than your weaknesses. And if you start to falter, you remind yourself of that.

I can think of a hundred times in my life where I chose I Can over I Can't and was glad for it. Some of those choices were small. I can finish this paper. Some were bigger like going to college in Hawaii, writing the books I've written, starting the 30 Days of Gratitude Project. Maybe they required working out some solutions. Or seeing someone else do it. But when believing that you can takes a foothold in your thinking, you're well on your way.

I am always inspired by I Can thinking - whether it's my own or that of a friend who turned that 'I wish I could go back to school' statement into her own reality. As the saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way. The question is which way is your will leading you?

Here are some thoughts to ponder that may help you choose:

  • What are the challenges and how can I overcome them?
  • Will I regret it more if I don't do it or if I do?
  • Will I be happier, more satisfied, prouder, doing this?
  • Which choice will help me grow, learn, challenge myself more?
  • (My dark favorite!) Someday I will be dead and then I really can't do it!

I hope you choose the path that gets you to your goals. And that you have a good life. Aloha. ~ Annie

(Word to the Wise Parent: This is where we parents need to ask ourselves which attitude are we fostering? Because while too much parent-sponsored 'Can Do' may lead a child to prove us wrong, sending discouraging messages that we believe they Can't - change, learn, grow, accomplish their goals - may have them working to prove us right.)

Annie Zirkel is a Relationship Consultant, speaker and author. To send her your questions, contact annie@practicehow.com