How often do you say, “I can’t”? This statement runs rampant on my Food and Feelings Message Board and I hear it regularly in my therapy and eating coaching sessions. What if the only thing keeping you from progress is saying, “I can’t”?
In “The Four Types of Depression and How to Help Clients Overcome Them—Microtherapy for Shifting Depressed Behavior Patterns and Attitudes,” (Psychotherapy Networker online, 8/4/15) Margaret Wehrenberg takes on the challenge posed by the words “I can’t do that.” When you say it, what you’re really expressing are two thoughts. The first is that to date, you have been unable to do something, say, stop mindless eating when you’re upset or stand up to your bully of a boss. The second thought you’re expressing is that because you haven’t been able to do something, you believe you’ll never be able to do it.
Do you often tell yourself and others that you can’t do something? If you’re not sure, start listening to yourself very carefully and notice these words. Ask an intimate—partner or spouse, best friend, trusted co-worker—to tell you if he or she hears “I can’t” tumbling forth from your lips. I suspect that if you say these words often, you do it unconsciously. Why is that? Are you merely stuck in a habit or might there be a deeper reason that you repeat them whenever a challenge arises?
My guess is that it’s a bit of both. I seriously doubt that you have any idea how often you tell yourself “I can’t.” And I’m sure you mistakenly believe this is true. But, if not, aren’t you doing yourself a terrible disservice by saying you’re unable to do something just because you’re habituated to avoiding certain challenges. Think of all the things you might do—even do well—if you gave yourself half a chance. Think of how simply eliminating the word “can’t” from your vocabulary might open doors to you in every direction—being a better parent, becoming a “normal” eater, changing jobs, getting a promotion, improving your tennis game, writing a book, etc.
Wehrenberg suggests substituting the word “won’t” for “can’t.” It doesn’t fit every situation (if you have a broken leg, it truly might be impossible for you to stand up), but my guess is that there are oodles of things that you can do but tell yourself you “can’t” and, therefore, don’t. You can’t or won’t stop bingeing, can’t or won’t confront your boss, can’t or won’t set better boundaries with your children? Saying “won’t” reminds you that you’re making a choice not to do something (that you probably can do).