Can’t is a Four-Letter Word

There are quite a few things Catherine can’t do. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t see. She can’t move very much. These are facts and her reality. For most of us, the things we think and say we can’t do are actually choices.

Think about it. Sarah might say, “I can’t do my homework.” Or I might say, “I can’t do a handstand.” Brian might say, “I can’t pick up Sarah after school.” And these are all choices. In fact, we COULD. We choose to do something else instead.

I could practice a long time and learn how to do a handstand, for example. Brian could choose to skip his class to pick up Sarah from school. Sarah could simply apply herself a little more or look up how to do her homework with the vast resources of google and Alexa, our new best friend from Amazon.

In our house, we try really hard to eliminate the word – and the even idea – CAN’T. It’s a four-letter word around here. I felt incredibly gratified when I heard Sarah correct herself the other day. “I can’t open this bottle,” she said. Then she looked up at me because we had been talking about the word “can’t” and realized she needed to add something to her thought. She quickly changed what she said: “I can’t open this bottle, yet.”

Look at how “yet” immediately changes the sentiment around the idea she was trying to express. Look how much hope it gives to the situation. And to her delight, right after she said it, she got the bottle open. Smile.

When I think of the things I think I can’t do, I try to reframe them as choices. “I can’t meet you for lunch,” becomes “I choose to work through lunch.” The reality is that I could if I re-prioritized it. “I can’t take a great photo,” becomes “I’m not satisfied with my photography, yet. I’ll practice more.”

To some degree, when we say, “I can’t meet you that day,” it’s a polite way of saying, “I choose something else instead of you.” Imagine how we’d feel to hear “Yeah, you’re not my top priority, so I choose to do this instead.” That would be a little disheartening. I understand how the word has gained power over time. I think we’ve let it go too far, though.

So, while there may very well be things that Catherine truly can’t do, most of us are simply making choices when we say, “I can’t.” And actually, we don’t really know what Catherine may be able to do in time with enough patience, persistence, hope… and probably technology! I’d like to challenge you for one day to think about this four-letter word differently. Even if you want to continue to use the word “can’t”, at least think about it in terms of the choices you are making. Replace the word “can’t” with “I choose” and see what happens for a day.

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