Here’s two easy steps to get you from I can’t to I can. If you sometimes struggle with this too, then read on! My most recent attack of the “I can’t“s came in the middle of the night. I started thinking of this and that (as you do at that hour) and I was besieged by all my “I can’t” stories. “I can’t – it’s all too hard”. “I can’t – I don’t have the right skills”. “I can’t – I don’t know how”. “I can’t – it’s not the right time, I don’t have the money”. And so on (and on and on!). Lying in bed in the darkness, I was a bit defenceless against this onslaught. I could feel my body tensing up and my stomach clenching with fear, anger, frustration and who knows what else.
I know I’m definitely not alone in my experience of these “I can’t” voices. Many people (including those we would consider very successful) acknowledge the power and persistence of the “I can’t‘s”. Sometimes known as “the inner critic”, these voices are just trying to keep us safe – to protect us from risk, failure and the resulting humiliation we imagine must accompany it. But like many of our body’s defences, we have allowed them to become far too strong.
How to deal with them? While there can be a lot of value in getting to know the inner critic and exploring its intentions and fears, what I want to offer you now is a simple two-step process for getting past the “I can’t“‘s. It works well in the middle of the night, too!
Step 1. Get those voices out of the body! Do something physical to release those emotions, especially if they are very intense. Once out, they can begin to dissipate and dissolve.
I grabbed my crayons and a biggish sheet of paper (from my KMart $3 sketch book), and just scribbled and scribbled and scribbled as hard as I could until all the emotion was out there on the page. Then I wrote and wrote till I’d filled the back of the page. Done! You might prefer to do something more active – go for a walk, hit a pillow, do some furious dancing – anything that involves some serious releasing of energy.
No need to psychoanalyze here – get it out, then lay it aside and move on to step two.
Step 2. Find an “I can” in the situation – no matter how small.
The trick here is not to focus at all on the “I can’t’s”. Forget about them. Instead, focus on finding an “I can”. There is always something you can do as a next step. It doesn’t matter how small it is – in fact, probably the smaller it is, the more do-able it is. Find something you can do right now, or at least in the near future. Keep drilling down until you find it. Ask yourself ” okay – if I really can’t do that, what am I able to do in this situation?” Looking at the big picture can be totally daunting, but big pictures are made up of many tiny strokes. And we can always find at least one tiny stroke we can make.
“Give me examples”, you may be saying. Maybe you think you are too tired to exercise today, even though you know you need to. But could you take the step of just putting on your running shoes? Could you just stand outside in them? Walk to the letterbox and back? And then you may decide you could go for a fast walk around the block. Maybe even just run a small section…It doesn’t matter how much you do, so long as you’ve taken at least one small step.
Maybe you have had a relationship go bad and you feel you can’t possible forgive and move on. And that’s a huge ask, so start with something really small. Can you focus for a moment on a feeling of compassion for somebody else entirely – perhaps someone on the news, or the checkout operator who has to put up with a rude customer, or a puppy left alone all day – or maybe even for yourself, for being stuck with all this anger that you are struggling to move past. See if you can sit with that feeling of compassion for just a short while…
Maybe you are overwhelmed with all you have to do, and feel you just can’t manage… can you take the step of stopping and taking 5 deep breaths… then what next? Calling a friend for help? Doing up a ‘to don’t list?…
Maybe you have a big dream that doesn’t seem achievable. What one small step could you take towards it right now?
The thing, of course, is not to stop at that one small step. After that, find another one. And another. Choose to lay aside the “I cant’s” and instead find an “I can”, no matter how small. And before you know it, you really can!