There’s this thing that happens when stuff gets hard. Our brains and bodies seem to conspire against us convincing us that whatever we’re trying to do is impossible. Whether it’s running up a steep hill, trying to finish a project, or even writing those very first words on a blank page, we seem destined to fall into the “can’t” trap. In moments like these, we’re not just attempting to work through the task at hand, but we’re battling our own will that seems to want us to fail. No wonder all these hard things feel impossible. It’s because our brains tell us they are.
The word can’t is a tricky little bugger. It seems fitting to use the word when something feels impossibly hard. Yet, if we look at it objectively, the word can’t is an enabler, allowing us to put distance between something hard and our decision to back away from even attempting to do that thing. Sure, there are things every person actually can’t do, like time travel, achieve eternal youth (although. . . Botox), or grow money on trees, but those things are few and far between. Even major feats like climbing Everest, travelling to space, or meeting Billie Eilish and hooking up with her if that’s your bag, are all possible if you work hard enough. You can train, you can learn, you can work your way into an entourage, but it’s not that you can’t. You choose not to for obvious reasons.
When we look at something and say we can’t, most of the time we mean we won’t. Of course, it’s never impossible to take on one more project, to start writing something massive, or even to make it up that stupidly steep hill. Each of these things simply takes effort, grit, passion, and drive. Therefore, when you say, “I’m sorry, I can’t” and walk away from something big, the truth is, you’re often making the conscious decision not to do that thing rather than being stopped by your own abilities.
And that’s okay.
There are some things that just aren’t worth doing—they’re not worth the energy you could be dedicating to other things. In those instances, the fact that you’re choosing that you won’t participate or work for it is an act of self-care, even self-preservation. However, there are some things that are absolutely worth doing, but they demand you step it up and meet the challenge head-on. They require you to push past the point of comfort and embrace the discomfort as a part of the journey.
In those instances, it’ll feel extremely hard to use the word won’t because it forces you to admit the real truth about your motivations.
I do this exercise often, especially when my heart rate picks up and I feel smothered by the task or opportunity at hand. When that happens, I like to try swapping the word can’t for the word won’t when I desperately want to say I can’t do something. Then I force myself to add a reason. For example:
- I won’t go to that party because I hate socializing with humans.
- I won’t write today because I feel lazy.
- I won’t try to defend myself because I was wrong.
- I won’t submit my writing to Random House because I’m afraid I’m not good enough.
Just swapping out that one word clarifies so much. Looking at it this way, I can see where exactly I need to focus my grit. Screw the email and the party, those aren’t important. Writing is vital. Laziness isn’t an excuse. Submitting my work is crucial. Fear isn’t a reason to back down.
The next time your brain and body are screaming at you to stop, scream back—but not in a public place because people will think you’re a whackadoo. Stop and think about the choice you’re making and what’s really behind the resistance. Sometimes your instinct is right, continuing on the path is pointless. Other times, your instinct is powered by anxiety, fear, and doubt. No trails are blazed by those who back down from the important stuff. Someone silent can’t have their voice amplified. Someone who lets fear get in the way of producing writing will never change the world with words. You are not someone who runs. You are not someone who hides. You are someone who shows up. You are someone who stays. You are someone with important things to say. There is nothing you can’t do, but there are things you’ll choose not to do. That’s the sign of a powerful, strong creative who knows how to prioritize productivity. All it takes is one shift to sort through the shit and see what’s motivating each and every decision you make. Most of them are spot-on, but others require a little more thought and honest analysis.
Written by our founder, Alee Anderson. Click HERE to learn more about her writing journey and career.
Photo credit Jimi Anderson @jimiandersonphotography