I Can't Do That


I can’t do that.

Four words I’ve never said. At least not together.

I know people in my life that say things like:

  • I can’t do math.
  • I can’t sing.
  • I can’t dance (this one is likely true for most of us).
  • I can’t speak in front of a large group of people.
  • I can’t train my dog.

These are dangerous statements that become mantras and truths when repeated enough. The opposite is also true. Positive, affirming statements also become mantras and truths.

  • I can read and understand a company P&L.
  • I can grow orchards.
  • I can engage an audience from a stage.
  • I can scuba dive.
  • I can be more patient.
  • I can have thoughts about others and not always speak them out loud.

Talking to yourself can be invaluable. Yes, the crazy kind where you talk out loud to yourself and people notice. I do it all the time. I’ll be walking around the house talking out loud to myself, and one of my three young sons will ask, “Hey, Dad—who are you talking to?” They now know to expect the same answer, “Oh, I’m just talking to myself about something I’m trying to accomplish.” My wife has long ago stopped asking. Now she’ll even weigh in with ideas or comments.

Perhaps we all could be more mindful of what we say (out loud or in our heads) about what we can and cannot do. Imagine if you replaced “can’t” with “won’t”:

  • I won’t give a presentation.
  • I won’t follow a budget.
  • I won’t make pot de crème for dessert.
  • I won’t run/jog/walk that half-marathon.
  • I won’t be nicer to my sister-in-law.
  • I won’t work with people who don’t plan better.

You would never accept this type of statement from your spouse, child, or team member, so why would you accept it from yourself? In essence, it’s the same—“can’t” is often a cover for “won’t.” It just sounds more politically correct.

Become more vulnerable in every area of your life. Admit. Accept. Own. The power you’ll gain over not just yourself, but your future is palpable and immediate.

Unconscious biases are hard to identify, much less know their true impact. Before you can take steps to operate more fairly and effectively at work, you need to get your bearings. Download our latest guide: Seven Misconceptions About Unconscious Bias. 

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as Senior Advisor, Thought Leadership. Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest-growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Releases, Master Mentors: 30 Transformative Insights From Our Greatest Minds, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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