Have you ever said (or heard) a statement like:
I can’t do that. I’m just not ______. That’s just the way I am.
I know I have, and if you have too, it’s okay – there’s no judgment. We become products of our environment, and I bet if you set out with a notebook or a tracker app to record every time you heard a similar statement, you’d have half a dozen entries by the end of the day. (Depending on where you spend your time, that is to say.)
The other day, on Facebook, a friend of mine posted the following:
I would love to be one of those people who “can’t” work a desk job.
The sarcasm is clear in this statement, yet she elaborated in a comment for anyone on whom the point may have been lost:
I think what they mean is I “refuse to.”
This may seem like a small difference in wording, and of course when we say I can’t work a desk job, we expect that others understand we’re being hyperbolic, and of course it’s not that we can’t, we’re just attempting to express the extreme depth of our dislike of sitting at a desk, and what that does to us, right? Everybody knows what we really mean.
Yet words matter.
Saying I can’t is often a cover for saying I won’t. And when we say I won’t, or I choose not to, we assert power in choosing. We take responsibility for the choices we make and the life that we will live.
Saying I can’t, if we say it enough, convinces our brain that we actually do not have power, and that we are effectively a prisoner to the current level of our physical, mental or emotional abilities.
So why do so many people persist in saying I can’t rather than I won’t?
According to Seth Godin, to whom I listened being interviewed this morning, all people have the capacity to change, and therefore to DO and to BE as we choose. Yet we resist this because to admit that we CAN is to acknowledge that we are responsible. We are responsible for who we are and where we are, today.
We are the product of our own choices.
If we don’t like where we are in our lives, we might try to eke out some consolation in telling ourselves the story that it’s just who we are, it’s the hand of cards we’ve been dealt, and it’s not our fault.
Yet before we can grow and change and achieve all that we desire, we must be honest with ourselves. We must be honest about the choices we are making (I CHOOSE not to work a desk job.)
We must also be honest about our capacity to grow.
(I may not be fit enough to run a marathon YET, but if I decide it’s worthwhile to me, I can make a plan, train for it, and I WILL be able to do it.)
What kind of language do you use to describe who you are and what your capabilities are?
Do you choose words that acknowledge your ability to choose and to grow? Or do you limit yourself by saying that you can’t do X and that’s just who you are?
I encourage you to think about how your language affects not only your own mindset and attitude, but those closest to you as well, such as your family and immediate coworkers.
A small change in wording (and thinking) can have ripple effects extending well beyond your own self.