5 Reasons “I Can’t” Should Be Eliminated from Your Vocabulary

About to squat 660 pounds...and he's 50 years old

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Words can empower us or weaken us. Choosing the right words for your inner voice is very important if you want to unleash the best you that’s waiting inside.

If you want to live your life to its highest potential and achieve all of your goals, then eliminate these belittling words, “I can’t”, from your vocabulary.

Here are 5 reasons why you should never say “I can’t”.

Just thinking that you can’t do something instantly weakens you. 

Best-selling author, Jack Canfield, did an experiment at his seminars. A volunteer from the crowd would stand up, extend their arms and Jack instructed him/her to either think “I can” or “I can’t” over and over again.

When he tried to push down the arms of the people who were thinking I can, their arms did not budge. Those who were thinking, I can’t, he was able to push down almost instantly.

That’s just pushing down someone’s arm. How about using this theory to lift a car?

In 1977, a grandmother named Laura Schultz heard screaming from the driveway. Her grandson had been playing with the car and accidentally released the emergency brake. The car rolled onto his arm. She was a petite woman and said she had never lifted a thing over 50 pounds in her life. Yet she lifted the 2,000 pound car off to release her grandson’s arm.

After the incident, she was reluctant to speak about it with anyone. Finally persistence paid off for a doctor, who studied peak performers.

Laura said she didn’t like talking about the event because it challenged her beliefs about what she could and could not do. She said, “If I was able to do this when I didn’t think I could, what does that say about the rest of my life? Have I wasted it?”

The story has a happy ending. He convinced her that her life wasn’t over yet. She had a passion for geology, yet never pursued it. At sixty-three she went back to get her college degree. She later went on to teach geology at a local community college.

It can stop you from changing the world.

Henry Ford wanted to build the first V8 engine. He didn’t know how to do it, so he asked his highly qualified engineers to build it. According to them, a V8 engine was impossible, but Henry Ford wanted it. Ford would continually ask the men if they had it and they would continue to give reasons why they weren’t able to build it. This went on for many months until those same engineers, who said it couldn’t be done, built the V8 engine he wanted.

Henry Ford refused to believe it wasn’t possible even though his engineers were convinced it was impossible. He pushed them to think beyond their limits.

It can stop you from trying new experiences. 

When we were younger, it wasn’t easy to learn to ride a bicycle. We may have thought, “I can’t do this”, but our parents kept encouraging us to try again. After mastering the bike, we wondered “What was so difficult about this? I can ride with no hands!”

Have you ever thought of running a half marathon? You may want to, but you thought of so many excuses why you couldn’t.

Have you ever wanted to learn a new skill, but thought you can’t because you’re too old or not smart enough?

Just saying, “I can’t”, stops you from even trying these new wonderful things. If you try, you just might realize a skill that can make your more money. You might finish that half marathon and have to buy brand new clothes because of all of the weight you lost. You might find the thing that excites you every day.

If you don’t try, you will never know what you are capable of.

You already have lost the mental battle.

If you think “I can’t”, then you are setting yourself up for failure even if you try.

Believing that you can do anything is powerful and can give you the motivation you need to take action. Once you get started, your success depends on that you’re saying to yourself.

Thinking “I can’t” is like a car driving with the emergency brakes. In order to get the car to go, you will have to release the parking brake; release your negative thoughts of “I can’t”.

Too often people try to achieve a goal and then wonder why their efforts aren’t paying off when what they should have done is just release their doubt.

You need to remove the words “I can’t”. Otherwise, it will slow you down.

You will live a life full of regret.

The things you wish you could do, but make excuses for, are the things you really want to do.

Do you want to be on your deathbed and wish you lived more? Will you die with a life full of regrets?

Don’t forget Laura Schultz learned at the age of 63 the power of what she can and cannot do. Thankfully, she didn’t let age stop her from doing what she wanted to do.

Saying “I can’t” doesn’t make the desire go away forever. It may temporarily subside while you continue your life. Then one day it will come back and consume your thoughts until you decide to take action or push it out of your mind for another few weeks, months or even years.

What Should You Do Instead?

You are capable whatever you put your mind to. It sounds so simple, but it’s so true.

No matter what age you are right now, you’ve accomplished so much. You’ve done things you didn’t think you could do. Celebrate the small wins you have had in your life so far. Write those down. Nothing is too small. If you want to write something as simple as learning to walk, do it. Being aware of those small wins will give you the confidence you need to know that you have accomplished so much already.

Write down your small and big wins in a journal or in a note on your phone. Do it every time you’ve accomplished something. Then when faced with a huge daunting task, take a look at what you’ve accomplished in the past, to give you confidence. You will surprise yourself.

You may be successful in some part of your life, that you think is not a big deal, but to someone else it really is. Are you a great cook? Some people burn anything they cook. That’s something to be proud of.

Search for inspirational stories of people overcoming seemingly impossible situations. Read about people in their 30’s and 40’s finding their big success.

If there is a challenge you are facing, surely there is someone who has been in the same situation and succeeded. Realize that the path you want to take in life has been likely done by many others. Search for their website, blog, or find them at a local meet-up.

The power of your mind is more powerful than you think. Everything you do or don’t do in life begins with a thought from your mind.

 

Photo credit A. Blight

Like what you read?
If so, please join to get exclusive weekly inspirational emails, and get a FREE COPY of my eBook, Get a Life That Doesn't Suck. Just enter your name and email below:


Powered by WPSubscribers
  • Love this important point Benny! When I was an athlete we dedicated time each week for a mental practice. Being mentally prepared to race is just as important as being physically prepared and it made a huge difference in my results!

    Your point at the end about recognizing what you’re already accomplishing is a great one. My advice to people is to start small with things they know they can do. Write it down, achieve it, and CELEBRATE! You’ll build momentum for bigger and scarier pursuits.

    • Hey Deacon!

      What sport did you play? I’ve read athlete who visualize the game beforehand. Or they’ll have visualized taking that last shot so many times and when it’s time, they’re ready for it. If I were a coach, I would teach that to my athletes.

      When I took time and thought about some of the simple wins I had, I was amazed. It definitely gives a boost of confidence for those scarier pursuits like you said.

      Thanks Deacon!

      • In high school I was a swimmer and water-polo player (lots of racing and training visualization), and in college I played water polo for Pepperdine. I got LOTS of great experience in team and individual goal setting stuff which has been awesome long term!

        • Awesome! When I think of water polo, the first thing that comes to my mind is treading water!! That takes serious endurance. 🙂

  • I love this post, is so true!

    I banished “I can’t” from vocabulary a while ago and I feel more powerful, the things are going way better and I find myself unstoppable! However it’s always good to have post like yours as a reminder to keep up with the attitude.

    • Thanks Maria!

      I sometimes do fall back on thinking “I can’t” and I have to remember it’s not helping me by thinking that way. Glad you’ve banished that word! It makes it feel like anything is possible when it’s gone.

      Thanks for the RT as well Maria!

  • Your posts are always so inspirational Benny. I feel pumped up now to take on the world! I can!

    How about – I can’t give up. Will you let that one slip by?

    • Glad my posts help! Actually I wouldn’t say “I can’t give up”. It’s recommended to say affirmations to yourself in the positive. Your mind doesn’t register negative words. So if you say, “I don’t want to be fat”, your mind will hear it as “I want to be fat.” We don’t want that! So instead say “I am feeling fit and healthy at my average weight of 180 pounds.” It’s clear and it’s positive.

      So if you say “I can’t give up”, your mind will hear “I give up”. It’s something I’ve learned when making affirmations. Always state them in the positive! So try “I can do it” or “I know I can” or even better say “I am _____.”

      Stay away from those negative words when you’re trying to pump yourself up. 🙂

  • Benny,
    This is too funny! I have been working on a post all weekend and it’s on this exact same subject…..now I’ve got to rewrite it and find a new title 🙂

    Love the message and it’s so true. It’s all a conversation we have in our heads as to whether we can or cannot do something.

    I am so guilty of being a “can’t” person and it’s held me back for years…
    Time for another change..

    • Steve, that is hilarious!! I can’t believe that! Sorry to make you have to change it. After I published it, I thought about a better subject. So I know you’ll come up with something better! I’m guilty of being a “can’t” guy too. It held me back for so long. It still creeps into my mind and have to work hard on blocking it out.

  • Loved this Benny.

    On Sept. 10, 2008 I made a headstone out of foam board and put the words “R.I.P Here Lies the Words I Can’t”. Yep, I buried them and have never looked back. It was something we were taught to do in a community I was part of back then. You just have to take those words out of your vocabulary altogether. That was the best way to go about doing that.

    Thanks for sharing these stories. I love hearing how the unimaginable can happen if you only believe.

    Enjoy your week.

    ~Adrienne

    • That’s so awesome Adrienne! For some reason, when you said headstone, I was thinking of Halloween. I think I ate too much candy tonight.

      I just cringe when I hear people say “I can’t” for the simplest tasks. If they believe they can’t do simple things, I can’t imagine them accomplishing much bigger goals.

      So we should expect you to be picking up a car then one day right? 🙂

      • I can see where Halloween might come into mind there.

        Not sure if I’ll be picking up a car anytime soon but I will say, I’ve fought off an attacker before. Not sure where the strength came from but all I can tell you is that five minutes of fighting with me, he gave up and just ran off. You have NO idea what you are capable of until that time comes. That I do know for sure.

        • Good for you Adrienne! I bet adrenaline just takes over and you get all that strength. Glad you fought him off and showed him to not mess with you!

  • Benny,

    This post really pumped me up man. I love the story about Laura Schultz. Her story is POWERFUL especially when she speaks about the rest of her life being wasted thinking that she could not do things that she most likely could.

    I need to need to erase I can’t out of my dictionary. This is not the way to live, I definitely don’t want to be on my deathbed with any regrets. There is so much to do in this world and a lot of times I hold myself back in fear of disappointment. Great post man!

    • Isn’t it Aaron? I was amazed by her story as well! What I forgot to add was that after she lifted the car, a bunch of guys from the neighborhood came over to help after they heard the scream. When they tried to lift the car, they couldn’t! The power of the mind.

      I really believe if we thought anything was possible, we would do whatever we could do make sure we see our dreams come true. It’s just that people doubt themselves and therefore don’t even try! I hope you do live w/o regret and try things! Try things that you thought you could never do. You’d surprise yourself when you put your mind to it.

      Thanks for your comment Aaron!

  • Great post. Too often the creative answer to our next step is just around the corner. I can’t stops us before we get there. Keep “I canning” life Benny!

    • Hey Aaron! I agree. Sometimes that tipping point is right around the corner. It would be a shame if we stopped right before what we wanted came to us! Hope you’re doing well!

  • I can’t another way for people to say ‘I won’t’ or ‘I don’t want to try’. Unless you have tried you don’t know if you can’t. The amazing thing about the human race is that people can do anything. Really.

    Great reminder. Positivity is a wonder drug that everyone should take.

  • Benny – it’s all about the mental battle – you hit the nail right on the head. It’s funny much easier life can get if you remove the words “i can’t” – when I am coaching every now and then I will challenge my players to take the word “try” and “tried” our of their vocabulary. “I tried to make that tackle” – you either make the tackle or you don’t. Same can be said with “can’t” – another great post Benny – keep it up!

    • You sound like a great coach Dan! Kids need more people telling teach them this valuable lesson. Just watching college football this weekend proved that anything is possible when the game is played! Thanks for coming over Dan.

  • I think this whole “positive mental attitude” is personal and works differently for everyone. Personally, when I think “I can!”, then I can’t. It’s my self doubt that drives me.

    I’m that guy that always says “I think I’ve failed that” after every exam and truly believes it, yet every time I do well. Saying “I can’t” and giving up is differently not something I think anyone should do, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying “I can’t yet”.

    Anyway I thought I would contribute. Great post though Benny. I’m always checking back on the site to see what you come up with next. Always great content. Keep em coming!

    Ramy Khuffash

    • Hey Ramy!

      That is so weird but true. After I’ve finished exams, when I felt confident in my answer, I’ve scored poorly. The ones I thought I did horrible in, I did well. Wonder why that is?

      But yes everyone operates in a little different way. If someone yells in their face their are worthless, that drives them to prove them wrong. Others might cry and quit.

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts on the post. Really appreciate that.

  • The battlefield of the mind here Benny. I have learned not to battle with my mind anymore, I just politely ask it to get out of my way.

    I never say I can’t anymore but I still say “I don’t want to” these days. 😉

    • The mind is a battlefield for sure. Just read we thinking around 50,000 thoughts a day. A lot of it is negative, but we can control what we give attention to. “I don’t want to” sounds like a more positive alternative. 🙂

  • I can! Great and very motivating post! It makes me cringe whenever I hear people say they cannot do something. When I hear that I know the battle is already lost. We need more people thinking I CAN!

    • It makes me cringe too especially when it’s so easy! I wish I could tell my younger self to go back and get rid of the words “I can’t”. My youth would have been much more exciting. Thanks for your comment Adam! Glad you’re on the “I can” train!

  • I love the pic you have of that guy lifting weights. That is awesome he is able to do that at 50! Believing we can do things and not being afraid to try new things opens up so many doors. Mind over matter! -Sydney

    • Hey Sydney!

      Lifting that much weight at any age is amazing. Doing it at 50 is phenomenal. I’m sure when you start lifting that much weight, a lot of it is mind over matter. The same goes when guys break boards or bricks with their fist and feel no pain afterwards.

  • Inspiring post. Loved the story about the 63 year old lady and Henry Ford. Interesting how the old lady didn’t want to speak about her miracle because she would feel that she wasted her life. Sadly for many people, when a success happens, they actually are afraid of it for possibly the same reason? This needs to stop. Also Ford pushing his team past their limits, we need to do this for ourselves!

    • Thanks Buck! I’m reading the bio of Steve Jobs right now and he pushed his team to their limits. He was really a jerk to many of them. But often he did push them to make things faster and smaller. Even though he had an abrasive way to convey it, he got his team to push beyond their limits. Computers booted up faster and iPods made much smaller even though they believed it wasn’t possible.

      We do need to have that voice inside us telling us it can be better! Unless we want to hire a drill sergeant to yell at us while we do things. I don’t think we do. So we better do it ourselves.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Great topic, Benny!

    As a child I was a perfectionist, and as young as six years old I remember being unreasonably hard on myself. After years of being told I was good for nothing, I believed down to my core this was true.

    My insecurity was so great, I often told myself “I can’t”. I didn’t believe in me. When I was in the second grade I had a teacher that suggested I eliminate “I can’t” from my vocabulary. I didn’t realize how often I said “I can’t” until this caring teacher pointed it out to me and I started to replace “I can’t” with “I’ll try”, and then “I can!”

    The results of this seemingly small change speak for themselves. Today I believe in myself, enjoy healthy self confidence and have had more success and joy than I ever thought possible when I was a child.

    The way we talk to ourselves and about ourselves to others is inherently powerful. I want to live a great life and in order to do so it’s essential I do away with “I can’t”.

    (Incidentally I also avoid using “should” and replace it instead with “will”.)

    Thanks for the insightful article!

    Chrysta

    • Hi Chrysta! Thanks for sharing that story. Your teacher is cool. There needs to be more people that teach kids at a young age to not limit what we are capable of. I certainly wish I had someone teach me how important how we talk to ourselves is. That’s something I definitely will be passing along to my kids.

      Thanks for sharing and have a happy Thanksgiving!

  • Pingback: Link Love 11/18/11 | Cordelia Calls It Quits()

  • Recently I was invited, no make that summoned, to a “think tank” meeting with my employer as I’m supposedly one of the guys that’ll challenge stupid stuff, procedures, rules etc that are part and parcel of a big company.

    On the third day, when the workshop wound up, we were asked to give feedback. Mine was don’t bother inviting me again unless all participants agree at the outset that the word “No” & the phrase “Can’t be done” were to be eliminated.

    It was a major frustration to hear every spark of a good idea killed with those words.

    However, after voicing my opinion, I don’t think I’ll be invited back, as I PO’d a lot of Head Office dudes!

    ~Bruce

    • Hey Bruce! You definitely shook things up. That’s okay though cause you think differently than them. That’s a shame because there were probably some really great ideas. It definitely must have been frustrating to be in a meeting like that. At least you won’t have to go back and waste your time!

  • You’re right Benny! I think this is definitely one of the most powerful aspects of being successful, not just as an entrepreneur but at anything in life.

    So often I see so many people concentrate on trying to achieve the result without really working on themselves first. I believe that your mindset it the most important part of becoming an entrepreneur because with a strong mindset, you’ve already decided that you’re going to succeed. Without it however, you’ve set yourself up for failure before you even begin.

    • Hey Hector! You’re right. It’s important to build a strong foundation for success. Building a house on a weak foundation will only create problems with we get bad weather. A strong mindset will go a long way for success.

      Hope you’re enjoying the shirt! Thanks again!

  • Hi! Benny,

    “I can’t” is a very negative word. I dig your first point best. Once I say it, I instantly feel weak and unable to perform but if I repeatedly tell myself I can, then you see teen-wonders. 😀

    I love this article.

    Regards,
    Chukwuka.

    • Hey Chukwuka. I know what you mean. Just saying those two words immediately makes us weak! It’s important to be aware when we do say it, and change our thinking when we do. Good to hear from you.

  • my husband says to me, whenever i says “i can’t”, “thats a limiting believe” and tells me to get rid of it!!!
    noch

    • Your husband is very wise. That’s great you have a partner who helps you. Often we aren’t aware we say it to ourselves.

  • So true! I love that quote, it’s so right. It always comes to mind when I hear people speaking negatively of their abilities.

  • Your first and last points really resonated with me.
    Actually this is a reality of life.

    • Thanks so much Mikayla! You absolutely correct.

  • Very good post, Benny. Throughout most of my life, I have always been somewhat of a pessimist at times when I perhaps could’ve been more confident instead. I tend to assess things too quickly and consider certain things as ‘impossible’ too easily sometimes. Lately, I have tried more and more to subject myself to do exactly that which I feel I cannot do, sometimes I go out of the way and pick the harder route too, just to change myself and be more confident and sure of myself in the future.

    -Jean

  • Hi, Benny. It’s great to read inspirational and optimistic posts. However, in this case, I’d like to share my views about too much “I can.” It’s a lie. And, it should not be redacted from our private, personal dictionaries either. Why? Because “I can” and “I can’t” are realities of life. They are inseparable, conjoined twins. They are facts of life. To ignore one entirely is to live only half-heartedly as a human being. There are some instances in life when “I can’t” is an absolute. For instance, I can’t change you. Only you can do that. I can’t change the world either. Neither can you, nor anyone else. Nor do I have such dreams. But, I can change myself, and if, by doing so, I inspire others to be better–then so be it. If that happens, I’ve only changed me, but not the world, and I won’t take credit for world change, too.

    Another example. I can’t tolerate injustice. On second thought, I actually can–but should I? And would I?

    Yet another example. I can’t live forever (in the physical sense); I can’t be young forever (again, in the physical sense). If anyone here has done that, please let me know. *wink*

    A fourth example. Speaking of a dead husband/wife/child/friend: “I can’t bring you back.”

    Acknowledging the “I can’t” moments is actually something that I find very humbling. It makes me realize that even if my mind and imagination are boundless, there are some things in the universe that are simply not within my human power to accomplish. I am human, and I am powerful. But, there are things that I can do, and things that I can’t do.

    • Thanks for the great comment. You’ve said enough and I don’t have anything else to add. Thanks for taking the time to share your point of view!

  • Another inspiring post Benny! Two thumbs up! You just lifted my hopes through this post. People limits their own capabilities through their thoughts. Setting your mind to do something beyond you think you can should always prevail especially during tough times.

    • You’re welcome Spatch. Our thoughts are what drive everything. Everything that turns into action begins with our thoughts. So to reject yourself before you have even tried is a horrible way to approach things. Thanks for the thumbs up!

  • David

    I love this post, it is the plain truth. I am so happy to hear this from you Benny. I always have the confidence and i have never include “I can’t” in my dictionary because i know what it means.

    David