How To Overcome The Limiting Power of Can’t

Don't mistake can't for won't

Don’t confuse can’t with won’t

Humans are by nature self-limiting creatures.  We set boundaries for ourselves out of protection.  It isn’t so much that we love the way things are and want to maintain them.  In fact, usually the opposite is true.   There is almost always something that every one of us would like to change about ourselves at any given time.   No,  we set the boundaries because we are afraid of change itself and how that change could affect our lives.  One of the most basic forms of protection is to tell ourselves “I can’t”.

As a coach, I hear clients say this all the time.  It doesn’t matter what type of change is involved.  Most clients begin the coaching process by admitting they would like to do something but can’t.  “I would like to lose weight.  I’ve tried, but I just can’t.”  Or, “My job is sucking the life out of me.  I would love to change careers and follow my dream, but I just can’t”   It’s actually a very common form of self-defense.  If you truly believe you can’t do something, you needn’t put for the energy to change since you know it would be a waste of time.  Perhaps it is best to accept the situation and make the best of things.  After all, being overweight isn’t the end of the world (until you develop a life threatening illness).   And there are worse things than surviving a stifling job (until you reach retirement and find the majority of your life slipped by while you were miserable).

The Choice is Yours

The Choice is Yours

Saying “I can’t” is one of the most common forms of self-defense used to keep us stuck in a bad situation.   Very often it is a form of denial.  When we say to ourselves “I tried but I can’t do that,” what we are really saying is we won’t do that.  We don’t want to do it.  But why would we delude ourselves into believing we can’t do something when we really do want to change our lives for the better?  Isn’t that really just a self-defeating behavior?   No–it is a defensive behavior.  Our brain wants to maintain the status quo.  The situation we are in is a known entity.  If we change, we are entering uncharted territory, and that could be even more dangerous than where we find ourselves now.  Being unable to make a change also relieves us of the responsibility for that change.  We may want to lose weight, and feel guilty about not doing it.  If we think we can’t lose weight, then we don’t have to accept  the  guilt that goes along with it.

If you find yourself stuck in a situation you feel unable to change,  try changing your perspective.  Instead of saying “I can’t,” say “I won’t.”   When you change your viewpoint, you  allow yourself to take responsibility for your feelings.  You can also follow the trail to the reason you don’t want to make the change.  Once you say you won’t do something, take it one step further and ask yourself why?  The resistance to change is usually due to fear of some type.  Perhaps the fear is that you will lose the weight and still won’t have the relationships you are looking for.  Or perhaps you will realize you don’t want the relationship you have.   Keep asking yourself why each answer is important to you until you come to the core reason for your fear.  In this case, the fear stems from a need for acceptance by others.  Once you  recognize this, you can decide if that need for acceptance is worth keeping yourself stuck in an unhappy or unhealthy situation and finally move on.

Whatever the case may be, once you realize what fear is holding you back, you can see your ability to change with a new sense of clarity.  With this realization comes a sense of empowerment,  stronger self-esteem, and increased energy.  You admit you can actually change and lose that weight once you have acknowledged what fear is holding you back.   Of course, you can also choose not to change, and that is okay, too.  As long as you understand that your decision not change is to a choice and not an inability to change.

When you find yourself stuck in a situation where you feel helpless to change ask yourself if you can’t change or if you won’t change.   Once you change your perspective, your answer might just surprise you and get you moving in the right direction.


Do you find yourself saying you can’t make a change?   Contact me for a complimentary consultation.  I would love to help you finally get moving toward your dreams.

Recommended Reading:   Letting Go,  The Pathway of Surrender, David R. Hawkins, MD, PhD , Hay House, Inc, 2012


About Chris Griffin

Chris Griffin is a executive coach with a passion for wellness through mindfulness. He helps executives and senior management enhance their performance and their lives by pinpointing and changing self-defeating behaviors.
Comments are closed.