You Never Know Until You Try: Redefine Can’t

redefine can't

For most of my life, the world was pretty black and white. Everything was easily divided into two categories: the things I did, and the things I didn’t.

There were several reasons to put things in the ‘things I don’t do’ column:

  • I told myself I shouldn’t do them,
  • I told myself I’m not the kind of person who could (or should) do them, or
  • I told myself I can’t do them.

My Don’t Dos

‘I’m not the kind of person who’d like massages’ I’d say, even though I’d never had one.

‘Pinterest is the dumbest idea ever’ I’d say having never logged on.

I thought ‘I can’t play tennis’ having not played since high school gym class.

For a long time, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to run. I don’t specifically remember saying ‘I’m not the sort of person who would run marathons’, but I’m pretty sure it crossed my mind.

Getting Over it

But then, my simple black and white world opened up when I had a few really crazy ideas.

How do I know I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t…?

What proof do I have that I can’t…?

Who says I shouldn’t…?

I’m Not The Kind Of Person Who…

I first tackled the ‘I’m not the kind of person who…’ category. This includes the ‘I shouldn’t,’ ‘I wouldn’t likes,’ and ‘That’s just silly.’

I made a new rule for myself: I couldn’t say ‘I’m not the type of person who …’ until I actually tried it.

The results were interesting.

In some cases, I confirmed that I really didn’t like things I thought I wouldn’t like.

I don’t like massages. That was confirmed. But now I can say that for certain based on my experience, not just based on a preconceived idea of something I may or may not like. I can see why others like them, but it’s not for me.

Pinterest, on the other hand, once I gave it a shot, I loved. As soon as I tried it, I found out I had fundamentally misunderstood what Pinterest was.

I don’t need to tell you what happened with the running. I tried it and loved it. 20 years later and I’m still going strong. Good thing I didn’t stick to my (untested) belief that ‘I’m not the sort of person who runs.’

Who knows where I would be now.

I Can’t

I got thinking about can’ts recently when I was talking to a friend about tennis. I said ‘I can’t play tennis’ and the conversation moved on.

Awhile later I thought back on that conversation and found it strange. Why did I say I can’t play?

This is what I eventually realized: the last time I played tennis was in high school gym class. What you need to know is that my high school was (and I think still is) known for its amazing high school girls tennis team. They regularly win both team and individuals state titles.

So my first (and really only) tennis experience was against girls who were state champions.

It was me versus state champions. Needless to say, I didn’t do very well in those games, but it wasn’t exactly a fair match-up.

But the only part of that experience that stuck in my head was that I didn’t do very well under those specific circumstances.

I, therefore, told myself I can’t play.

Now maybe I’m an amazing player. Maybe I’m terrible. I don’t know. I haven’t tried to play in years.

One thing I can say for certain: I have zero proof to support the statement that I can’t play.

Redefine Can’t

‘Can’ts’ can be a little trickier. They touch on all sorts of self-confidence and psychological issues I’m not remotely qualified to deal with.

That said, I have to make sure I’m not holding myself back with ‘can’ts,’ so I needed to make some sort of framework to think about it.

Now when I tell myself I can’t do something, I ask myself a few questions:

  • How do I know I can’t…?
  • Who says I can’t…?
  • What proof do I have that I can’t…?

My Challenge To You

Consider all of the ideas that pop into your head on a regular basis. The silly, the sincere, the crazy, the off-the-wall-why-did-I-even-think-of-that ideas.

Which ideas are you dismissing out of hand, without giving them a shot?

What do say (or assume) you wouldn’t like without ever having tried it?

What do you automatically say you can’t do or shouldn’t do without actually considering if you can or should?

Prove Yourself Wrong

Go out and try to prove yourself wrong.

Try some stuff that seems silly. Do a thing you assume you won’t like.

Maybe you won’t like it.

But maybe, just maybe, you’ll surprise yourself.

Small Steps

Reconsider your can’ts.

How do you know you can’t?

Are you just assuming you can’t?

What steps (however small) can you take to start to prove that you actually can?


Go out there and surprise yourself.


redefine can't

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