This morning I was listening to an episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast with guest Matthew McConaughey, renowned actor and hunk, among other things. In talking about his childhood, McConaughey told of how traditional “bad” words in his household were mostly allowed, but the words they would get scolded for were “hate” and “can’t.”
Now hate is a topic for another day, and I can think of a million different words to express disappointment or distrust. But my mind began to wonder at the endless possibilities associated with removing a limiting word like “can’t.”
Why you can’t afford to use can’t
The simple act of stating that you can’t do something removes the pressure of expectation and the need to try again. Think about it. By saying that you can’t read a book a week or you can’t get up and move more each day, you’re completely alleviated from the pressure to try. Can’t is a conversation ender, and many of us use it without giving it a second thought.
When you use can’t as a crutch, it means one of a few things:
- You’re not trying hard enough
- You haven’t framed the problem correctly
- You haven’t asked for help
With a little more motivation and support, most people will come to find that they can indeed accomplish the things they thought they weren’t capable of. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift of your mindset to open the floodgates of possibility.
Fixed vs. growth mindset
Frequent use of the word can’t is a sign of someone who is exhibiting what’s called a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset exists when someone believes they are bound by circumstance, life happens to them, and they have no choice in the matter. Those with a fixed mindset often believe that inherent talents or intelligence cannot be changed and that if you weren’t blessed with them, you’re out of luck.
By closing the book on whatever you were trying to do by stating that you can’t, you’re showing the rest of the world that you are destined to remain where you are. You tell yourself and everyone around you that growth and change are not options.
On the other hand, a growth mindset means you see the world as a realm of possibilities. You recognize that you don’t know much of anything at all, and each day is an opportunity to learn, change, fail, grow, and eventually succeed, all by your own hand.
Those with a growth mindset are the doers, the achievers. They are a group of people who see the opportunity for change in the world and seek to make it happen. If it weren’t for these people, we’d lack innovation, creativity, and ability. I strive every day to view life with a growth mindset and know that the limitations I place on myself and the use of can’t are doing a disservice, not only to me but to all the people I have the potential to impact.
Alternatives to replace “can’t”
If you’ve bought in, are ready to drop can’t from your vocabulary, and are willing to work towards a growth mindset, here are a few things to remember.
Sometimes we use can’t in place of “don’t want to.” That happy hour with co-workers, you can’t make it, or you’d rather not spend two hours of your life making small talk with people you don’t enjoy? Dancing at your cousin’s wedding, you can’t, or you’re embarrassed that others will laugh at you, and you don’t want to be uncomfortable. Meal prep on Sunday afternoon, you can’t do it, or you have yet to find value in it and still aren’t sold on how it will better your life? The more honest you are with yourself, you’ll realize how frequently you’ve used can’t as a substitute for the truth.
Once you start telling the truth, it becomes easier to decipher where you actually want to focus your efforts.
View it as a challenge
The next time you use can’t in terms of something that you think you’re unable to achieve, ask yourself this question: “What would happen if I tried?” Often, the worst-case scenario isn’t really all that bad.
Using the meal prep scenario above, what if you tried meal prepping for one week to see how it went? The worst-case scenario is that you “wasted” a few hours of prep time and a week’s worth of groceries because you ate out every night instead. Is that the end of the world?
Compare that against the possibility that you loved it, saved money on dining out, felt healthier, slept better, had more energy to go to the gym, started losing weight, and it completely changed your life. Removing can’t opens you up to the possibility of success, and that’s how lives change.
Consider tacking on the word “yet” next time you use can’t. For example, “I can’t lose weight” becomes “I can’t lose weight yet,” which leaves much more room for expansion and finding out why. It lets you explore challenges and opportunities for growth instead of closing the door and locking it behind you.
It’s amazing what power a little three-letter word can hold but “yet” unleashes potential like very few words have the ability to do. It lets you begin to plan and see paths to a solution instead of only seeing roadblocks.
It’s not easy to shift your mindset or your behavior at the drop of a hat. But simply taking note of how frequently you use a limiting term like “can’t” may open your eyes enough to get you curious about changing.
Removing the word can’t and replacing it with things like “I haven’t done that yet” or “What would happen if I tried” can completely change how you see the world. And that teeny mindset shift can be the difference between remaining where you are and becoming the person you were meant to be.