When ‘Can’t’ is a Crutch

This morning at bootcamp, we did some basic introductions and ran a slow and easy (and hilly) four-mile course to check out some of the local parks and tracks we’d be using during the summer. It is going to be the change of routine I really have been needing, and I’m excited for it to kick into full-on bootcamp mode next week. I’ll write a full wrap-up later, but right now I want to focus on something I heard during the session. That something? “Can’t.”

As we lined up to do some pullups on the playground equipment (how fun is that?), one woman said she didn’t even want to try it because she knows she “can’t do it.” The coach immediately told her that “can’t” was a no-no during bootcamp. “There is no ‘can’t’ here,” he said. “There’s just ‘I need help’ or ‘I need to work on that.’” He then went on to talk about how bootcamp is about getting better and there will be some things that we won’t be able to do, just like there will be some things we could do in our sleep. But the focus is on improvement and on challenging ourselves.

I was so happy to hear him say that out loud because I have such a hard time with the word “can’t.” It slips into conversations on a daily (hourly?) basis, and I think it’s a scapegoat word for how we really feel.

To me, can’t really means:

  • I don’t want to do that
  • I’m too lazy
  • I’m embarrassed
  • I’ve never done that before
  • I’m scared
  • It’s hard

What it rarely means? Can’t.

Sure, there are times that people are limited by physical or mental abilities and actually can’t do things. Take my adorable nephew, for example. He was born without a right hand, so (obviously) he physically can’t write with his right hand. But that doesn’t stop him from writing and coloring and drawing with his left — even though it’s hard. Or my mom? She has rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, so she can’t run without causing herself excruciating pain. But that doesn’t stop her from walking and helping out on the farm and chasing kids all day long.

Most of the battles we wage with ourselves are mental ones and not physical ones. A “can’t” most typically comes from the inside and not from the outside. Sure, there are times you need to look at your actual physical limitations and things that might make certain activities unsafe or inappropriate for you. (That’s a good time to call in a doctor or other professional.) But, for the most part, a “can’t” is a self-created crutch that people rely on when it’s unnecessary.

To quote my second grade teacher, Mrs. Brady, who was most likely paraphrasing a Henry Ford quote:

“I think I can, I think I can’t — either way, I’m right.”

So, yeah, I hear “can’t” a lot. And it’s not just at the gym. “Can’t” has a way of sneaking into any number of situations. I hear it at work and at home. Heck, I’m even guilty of “can’ting up my life” in the past:

  • “I can’t lose weight.”
  • “I can’t run a mile.”
  • “I can’t stop eating when there’s food in front of me.”
  • “I can’t afford a trainer (or a gym membership or healthy food or new running shoes).”
  • “I can’t cook healthful dinners for one.”
  • “I can’t make time for exercise and training; I’m too busy.”

Pick any one of my “can’ts” and you’ll see that once I threw away my crutch, I accomplished every item on that list — and I keep going. And you know what, I’m no stronger than anyone else; I have no more willpower than anyone else. I’m not special in this way. Anyone who gets rid of the “can’t” mentality can accomplish things that amaze themselves.

So what about you? How have you used a “can’t crutch” to keep you from stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself farther — and further* — than you thought you could go?

*Word nerd alert: One of my biggest pet peeves is the misuse of farther and further. There is a difference, and I think it’s an important one.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “When ‘Can’t’ is a Crutch

  1. wendy warren

    Ya gotta love Mrs. Brady!I know you can do anything you set your mind to.

    Like

  2. I was always told to replace “can’t” with “won’t” and see if it changes the way I view a situation. That’s something I both can’t and won’t forget…

    Like

    • This is very good advice.

      Mark Twain once said “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be” … that’s kinda like the same thing, right?

      Like

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