Can’t or Won’t?

When you say “I can’t,” what are you really saying? Well, that depends on if you are saying cannot or can not.

In all honesty, there are things we cannot do. I cannot travel back in time. I cannot breathe water. I cannot survive without food. Maybe someday we’ll be able to do these things, but for this time and place they are impossible.

But usually when we say can’t, we are really saying that we can not. “Can not” implies the possibility of can. I can not eat a cheeseburger for dinner, but I also can eat a cheeseburger for dinner. I can not start my own business, but I also can if I choose to. When we say we can not, what we really mean is that we will not.

The reason people don’t like to use will not is that it puts them on the hook. If I can’t, well then it’s not my fault. It is subtly implying that you cannot do it, because the contraction works the same for cannot and can not. But would you really say that you cannot stop drinking? If you are being honest with yourself, there is no physical impossibility to stopping drinking. The only thing standing in the way is your own habit, which is why owning the decision with will not is much more accurate.

This subtle trick of language has a profound impact on a person’s psychology. If a person cannot do something, they by definition will not do that thing. It is impossible. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If, on the other hand, you say I won’t lose 20 pounds, then it is still possible to go back. I won’t fly to Paris tomorrow, but that does not mean that I cannot. This opens the door for can.

The realization that should begin to dawn is that by saying you won’t, you are recognizing that you can. The option is possible. You could say that you might do something. If you might, then you can do it, but you haven’t resolved whether you will or will not do it. Once you admit you can, only you can decide if you will.

In so many aspects of life, such as career, health and happiness, we subconsciously put restraints on ourselves by the language we use. We shackle ourselves to a reality that usually does not exist when we say can’t. So stop saying can’t, and don’t tell me you can’t.

Additional Resources

Psychology Today Can’t Versus Won’t: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-try-harder-try-different/201102/cant-versus-wont

The Uncommon Life I can’t or I won’t? http://www.theuncommonlife.com/blog/cant-or-wont-self-delusion/

After Psychotherapy Can’t Or Won’t: http://www.afterpsychotherapy.com/cant-or-wont/

The Alexfiles Cannot vs. Can Not: http://www.alexfiles.com/cannot-vs-can-not/

No Debt Plan Can Not, Will Not, and Why Not? http://www.nodebtplan.net/2009/02/11/can-not-will-not-and-why-not/

Inc. Can’t Vs. Won’t: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/attitude-cant-or-wont.html

Pick The Brain Stop Saying “I Can’t”: http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/stop-saying-i-cant/

Changing “I Can’t” to “I Can”: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-plan-b-life/201108/changing-i-cant-i-can

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