Think about that question for a moment. How many times have you told yourself or someone else that you “can’t” do something? There are a few things in life that are absolute and we really can’t do them. But most of the time we use the words “I can’t” as a replacement for “I choose not to…” There are many things in life that we just don’t want to put the effort into or don’t want to pay the price necessary to take an action or accomplish a goal. For example saying “I can’t stick to an exercise routine”, “I can’t sit through a class”, or “I can’t get the job I want”, really means I choose not to put forth the effort it will take. You have a choice and you choose not to make the sacrifices it will take to achieve that goal. Which by the way, you shouldn’t feel bad about, it is your choice. You get to choose where you want to spend your time.
The challenge is that using the words “I can’t” limits your autonomy. Autonomy is the feeling that your life and activities are self-chosen. Research has shown that autonomy can have a greater impact on our happiness than money. Saying “I can’t” out loud or even in your self-talk insidiously limits your feelings of autonomy and as a result your happiness.
Using the words “I can’t” creates an unknown force that prevents you from doing something. So instead of feeling autonomy and the resulting happiness, you feel limited. The more times you use the words “I can’t” the more boxed in you feel.
There are many things in life that seem extremely difficult or even impossible and you would probably tell yourself “I can’t.” Fortunately for there are also thousands of examples of people who have overcome the odds and all the obstacles and replaced “I can’t” with “I can”. For example Kimani Maruge was 84 when he went back to finish elementary school; Izzy Arkin quit his job and became a ninja, Dumitru Dan walked around the world in 1923; Derrick Coleman is deaf and not only played in the NFL, but played in the Superbowl; Doris Self was 81 when she won the Master’s Video Game Tournament; Minoru Saito was 77 when he sailed around the world, and Gladys Burrill was 92 when she ran a marathon. These are all examples of the many times in life where you might think “I can’t” applies, but really you have a choice. There is nothing wrong with saying “I choose not to run a marathon.” You may not enjoy it or have any desire to do it. But don’t limit your autonomy by saying “I can’t.”
Take control of your life and your happiness. Try using the words “I choose not to…” instead of “I can’t.” Change a few words and you can change your happiness.