Are These 2 Words Sabotaging Your Success?

[fbls] As some of you know, Lisa and I recently took custody of my soon-to-be-12-year-old cousin and are raising him as our son. We couldn’t be more excited. He’s a great kid and he’s fitting in really well with us.

At the same time, we didn’t raise him for those first 11 years and he has patterns in how he thinks and how he speaks that are the antithesis of what we as a family believe and operate under. I don’t blame him for the things he was exposed to and the habits he developed prior to coming to live with our family. However, we do expect him to take full responsibility for his thoughts, choices, and actions moving forward.

He can’t change what happened to him, but he can choose how he responds to it and he can choose how he lives from here forward. The same goes for you. You can’t change what happened to you, but you can choose your response. (Tweet this.)

One of the things we instituted in our family was a swear jar. It was originally called the “crap jar” until we realized that talking about the jar required us to use a word we didn’t want him to say. Now, we refer to it as “The Ugly Jar.”

The basic premise is simple: if you say something “ugly”, you put $1 into the jar. Now, for the record, the “famous” swear words come with major punishment. The Ugly Jar is really for words or phrases that hold no place in our family or our vernacular.

There are two phrases that our son REALLY didn’t want added to the list because he really struggles with saying them. The first, we’ve already covered on this blog: “It’s not my fault.” This phrase, even in a joking way, is never allowed.

But there’s a phrase that is perhaps even more deadly to a person than the phrase “It’s not my fault” and that is these two words: “I can’t.

I’ve learned from my own experience and from the experience of my clients, friends, family members, and people in general that there is nobody who can keep you from reaching your goals other than you. And the only way we keep ourselves from reaching our goals is by believing that we can’t reach them. (Tweet this.)

When things get difficult, we think or say, “I can’t.” The minute we say that, we’re right – we can’t. Henry Ford said it best we he said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Most of us (myself included) don’t realize just how much we say those two words. Here’s a partial list:

  • I can’t figure this out.”
  • I can’t get this done in time.”
  • I can’t get to the gym today.”
  • I can’t stay focused.”
  • I can’t lose weight.”
  • I can’t get a job.”

What’s worse is that statements that begin with “I can’t…” are rarely this short. They’re usually followed with the word “because” and an excuse that shifts the blame away from ourselves.

“I can’t get a job because the economy sucks.”

I have clients that are on pace to double or triple their business this year simply because they believe that they can find new ways of generating business. They refuse to believe they can’t. I have other clients that are starting new businesses and are on pace to surpass $500,000 in sales in their first year. Why? Because they believe they can.

Next week is the week where most people begin to fall off of their New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because they don’t believe they can actually accomplish them. And the sad thing is, they never actually believed it when they started out. Why? Because the only thing that changed is the year – not the person living it.

Change begins and ends in your mind – not in the changing of calendars. As my dad was fond of saying, “You take YOU with you wherever you go.” Well, you brought the 2011 you into 2012.

How do we change ourselves? Here’s the first step: take responsibility for – and control of – your thoughts. It’s amazing how one little jar can have such a huge impact. Make it a family activity or do it with friends who truly want to improve. You’ll quickly realize just how much you’ve allowed yourself to get away with.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” ~ The Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2

In what area of your life have you been limiting yourself by thinking or saying the phrase, “I can’t”?

About the Author

  • @socalfitrunner

    I wish you luck with your new edition to your immediate family. I’m sure having you as a role model will be no problem for your cousin to learn the new way of doing things in your household and gaining the confidence he needs. I truly enjoyed your blog and wishing you and your family the absolute best.

    • Thank you so much! I really appreciate that. He’s a good kid and we are blessed to have him. 🙂

    • Thank you so much! I really appreciate that. He’s a good kid and we are blessed to have him. 🙂

  • I wiped can’t out of my vocabulary a few years ago and it had such a huge impact on me and my husband. It’s the reason I’ve been able to start a business, move abroad and live my dream.

  • I wiped can’t out of my vocabulary a few years ago and it had such a huge impact on me and my husband. It’s the reason I’ve been able to start a business, move abroad and live my dream.

  • That is soooo awesome, Kate! I love hearing success stories like that. Congrats on living your dream and rocking it! You’re an inspiration to many.

  • That is soooo awesome, Kate! I love hearing success stories like that. Congrats on living your dream and rocking it! You’re an inspiration to many.

  • That Henry Ford quote is my favourite. I say that to people all the time who are ‘downers’. Great post!

  • Jessica

    We are so excited for you guys!!  I keep meaning to call Lisa to chat and for some reason I just get so distracted by the babes at my feet! 🙂  I think of you all often and keep your family in my prayers!!! 🙂  Love you loads!

    • Thanks, Jessica! I get it. No need to explain! we love you guys too and can’t wait to see you again and catch up. 🙂

  • @cmjenkins

    dude u are so on point with this message I really appreciate this post, but how do u convey to ppl that they should not use these words specially if they are close to u… I feel by being a example but do u have any other ideas

    • Thanks! It’s a great question. I guess it depends on the relationship you have with those people. Certainly, leading by example is a great start if it’s family, spouse, or kids. I also recommend talking with them directly and frankly about why it’s important.

      For friends, it’s a bit different. When you’re trying to improve, it’s not uncommon (in fact, it’s likely to happen) that your friends will actually get mad at you and try to sabotage your success. The reason is that they don’t want the relationship to change and, if you get healthy, they know that they’ll either have to change as well or the relationship will naturally break apart (this is a post in itself).

      This is actually happening with a close friend who is actually losing the relationship with her mom and her best friend because they refuse to support her changes. They are actually going so far as to tell her that she is one step up scum for wanting to change and imrove.

      It’s happened to me, my wife and others that we know. At the end of the day, some people may not want to change, may not support your change, and should not be included in your life going forward.

      Without knowing more about your situation, it’s hard to know where to land with this. But these are the two extremes. Often, you’ll land somewhere in the middle with people. Just know that the ending of relationships is EXTREMELY common in these situations.

      We are who we associate with.

      • @cmjenkins

        I completely agree and thanks for the reply lol and ur right part of ur reply could be  a post in it self keep it in mind it would be great content ttys

  • Travis.. Good reminder.. thanks!

    As someone whose confidence borders on arrogance, I hardly understand saying those words. I am in the habit of verbally giving people “permission” to go ahead with their plans – their dreams – without having to fulfill the “traditional” requisite B.S. that believe is required.

    ie: I can’t be an author without my English degree.

    I told a friend recently, “I give you permission to ignore those who stand in the way of your goals with their bad attitude and lack of vision – including ignoring your inner-critic.”

    Permission granted!

    • HAHA! I love it. It’s amazing what people say they can’t do because of roadblocks put up by others. Great advice. 🙂

  • Hmm, I can’t think of a time that using “I can’t” held me back. haha.

    Bang on mesage. We hold ourselves back way too much using this language, but more important the thoughts that reinforce them and their long term impact. There are other more subtle ways we sabotage ourselves in what we do. I think some of it has to do with our nature to reduce perceived risk.

    Congrats on your family addition. You are all lucky and blessed to have come together and seem to be heading on a great path.

    • LOL!

      Thanks so much. You’re absolutely right that there are countless and more subtle ways that we sabotage ourselves. I like what you said about it being our nature to reduce perceived risk. We really do try to do that at every turn.

  • I really have been wanting to start an outreach ministry for kids. Always have that doubt about myself when I really should be going for it! 

  • @_brad_davis

    Thanks Travis, that was an awesome read! My wife and I are in a very similar situation having taken custody of her one year old neice! We are fortunate enough to not have many prior behaviour issues of our child due to her age. She is our fourth child which does increase our responsibilities to an already ‘full plate’! The term ‘I can’t’ isn’t an option with a full house! I wish your family much success for your recent addition and know that your family will grow strong!

    • Thank you, Brad and congrats to you and your wife. I would imagine that the circumstance surrounding the custody are just as unfortunate and I pray that God gives you the grace and patience you’ll need!

      Here’s to “family” meaning more than just “biological.” 🙂

  • When I saw the headline, I just KNEW “I can’t” was going to be the two words! It’s amazing how destructive that can be. We’ve been trained to let that seep into our vocabulary without realizing the damage it can do.

    I know it’s impossible to be positive all of the time, but it certainly helps if you do! Thanks for the kick in pants. We could all use that now and then.

    • Ha! You know me too well. 🙂

      You’re right that it’s impossible to be that all of the time, but if we are intentional about it, it’s amazing the percentage of the time that we can be.

      Appreciate your comment!

  • My husband and I are struggling with this with our 7 year old (his biological son, my stepson).  Its hard to teach kids that their thoughts are just as powerful as their actions and that how you think about a situation is usually going to determine how that situation will work out.  If he thinks he will never win at playing a game, then most likely his thoughts will come true and he will never win.  And, we can’t control what goes on at his mom’s house, so it often feels like one step forward and then two steps back.

    Reading your post reminded me that I’m not just retraining my stepson’s brain, I’m retraining my brain too!

  • Rosvita at TEXTWinders

    Travis,
    Good post, but I went away and thought about it and something bothered my 12-year-old mind (yup, still have one of those).  I want to rename your jar:  The Solutions Jar!   The whole point of not saying “I can’t…” is to rephrase it to “I can…” but maybe there’s something that needs to be added to the mix.   “I can do this math homework, if Mom helps me read through it.”; “I can start hitting better, if my friend and I knock a few balls around on Saturday.”;  “I can manage my client’s demands better, if I ask them a few questions about their needs first…” 

    As a kid, being fined for something emphasizes what I shouldn’t do.  A Solutions Jar would require the fine to be pid, but more importantly, the thought to be reformulated:  “I can’t” becomes, “By doing/trying/learning/building/asking/researching X, I can…”   Writing the possible solution on a piece of paper would reinforce it. And the bonus is that the jar doesn’t become a menace, it might even open conversations between you and your new son as he works on rephrasing.  In itself, the jar has become “A Solution”.  

    Good luck!

  • Rosvita at TEXTWinders

    Travis,
    Good post, but I went away and thought about it and something bothered my 12-year-old mind (yup, still have one of those).  I want to rename your jar:  The Solutions Jar!   The whole point of not saying “I can’t…” is to rephrase it to “I can…” but maybe there’s something that needs to be added to the mix.   “I can do this math homework, if Mom helps me read through it.”; “I can start hitting better, if my friend and I knock a few balls around on Saturday.”;  “I can manage my client’s demands better, if I ask them a few questions about their needs first…” 

    As a kid, being fined for something emphasizes what I shouldn’t do.  A Solutions Jar would require the fine to be pid, but more importantly, the thought to be reformulated:  “I can’t” becomes, “By doing/trying/learning/building/asking/researching X, I can…”   Writing the possible solution on a piece of paper would reinforce it. And the bonus is that the jar doesn’t become a menace, it might even open conversations between you and your new son as he works on rephrasing.  In itself, the jar has become “A Solution”.  

    Good luck!

  • Rosvita at TEXTWinders

    Travis,
    Good post, but I went away and thought about it and something bothered my 12-year-old mind (yup, still have one of those).  I want to rename your jar:  The Solutions Jar!   The whole point of not saying “I can’t…” is to rephrase it to “I can…” but maybe there’s something that needs to be added to the mix.   “I can do this math homework, if Mom helps me read through it.”; “I can start hitting better, if my friend and I knock a few balls around on Saturday.”;  “I can manage my client’s demands better, if I ask them a few questions about their needs first…” 

    As a kid, being fined for something emphasizes what I shouldn’t do.  A Solutions Jar would require the fine to be pid, but more importantly, the thought to be reformulated:  “I can’t” becomes, “By doing/trying/learning/building/asking/researching X, I can…”   Writing the possible solution on a piece of paper would reinforce it. And the bonus is that the jar doesn’t become a menace, it might even open conversations between you and your new son as he works on rephrasing.  In itself, the jar has become “A Solution”.  

    Good luck!

  • Rosvita at TEXTWinders

    Travis,
    Good post, but I went away and thought about it and something bothered my 12-year-old mind (yup, still have one of those).  I want to rename your jar:  The Solutions Jar!   The whole point of not saying “I can’t…” is to rephrase it to “I can…” but maybe there’s something that needs to be added to the mix.   “I can do this math homework, if Mom helps me read through it.”; “I can start hitting better, if my friend and I knock a few balls around on Saturday.”;  “I can manage my client’s demands better, if I ask them a few questions about their needs first…” 

    As a kid, being fined for something emphasizes what I shouldn’t do.  A Solutions Jar would require the fine to be pid, but more importantly, the thought to be reformulated:  “I can’t” becomes, “By doing/trying/learning/building/asking/researching X, I can…”   Writing the possible solution on a piece of paper would reinforce it. And the bonus is that the jar doesn’t become a menace, it might even open conversations between you and your new son as he works on rephrasing.  In itself, the jar has become “A Solution”.  

    Good luck!

  • Rosvita at TEXTWinders

    Travis,
    Good post, but I went away and thought about it and something bothered my 12-year-old mind (yup, still have one of those).  I want to rename your jar:  The Solutions Jar!   The whole point of not saying “I can’t…” is to rephrase it to “I can…” but maybe there’s something that needs to be added to the mix.   “I can do this math homework, if Mom helps me read through it.”; “I can start hitting better, if my friend and I knock a few balls around on Saturday.”;  “I can manage my client’s demands better, if I ask them a few questions about their needs first…” 

    As a kid, being fined for something emphasizes what I shouldn’t do.  A Solutions Jar would require the fine to be pid, but more importantly, the thought to be reformulated:  “I can’t” becomes, “By doing/trying/learning/building/asking/researching X, I can…”   Writing the possible solution on a piece of paper would reinforce it. And the bonus is that the jar doesn’t become a menace, it might even open conversations between you and your new son as he works on rephrasing.  In itself, the jar has become “A Solution”.  

    Good luck!

  • Rosvita at TEXTWinders

    Travis,
    Good post, but I went away and thought about it and something bothered my 12-year-old mind (yup, still have one of those).  I want to rename your jar:  The Solutions Jar!   The whole point of not saying “I can’t…” is to rephrase it to “I can…” but maybe there’s something that needs to be added to the mix.   “I can do this math homework, if Mom helps me read through it.”; “I can start hitting better, if my friend and I knock a few balls around on Saturday.”;  “I can manage my client’s demands better, if I ask them a few questions about their needs first…” 

    As a kid, being fined for something emphasizes what I shouldn’t do.  A Solutions Jar would require the fine to be pid, but more importantly, the thought to be reformulated:  “I can’t” becomes, “By doing/trying/learning/building/asking/researching X, I can…”   Writing the possible solution on a piece of paper would reinforce it. And the bonus is that the jar doesn’t become a menace, it might even open conversations between you and your new son as he works on rephrasing.  In itself, the jar has become “A Solution”.  

    Good luck!

    • That is a VERY interesting idea! I’ll have to put some thought into how to handle that since the jar also features words that are ugly such as “retarded” (when used to demean something or someone). I love the concept though w/ the “I can’t…” being rephrased as part of the correction/punishment. 🙂

      Thanks!

      • Rosvita at TEXTWinders

        Well, I was going to suggest two jars :), but before your shelves fill up (!) it could be that words like “retarded” need some “better alternatives”, too?  Instead of saying someone is “retarded”, a “Better Alternative” could be to find a more accurate expression of feelings:  ie. instead of “Suzy’s retarded because she broke my model!” it might be “I get mad when Suzy does breaks my stuff, but maybe I can find a higher shelf for my stuff…”    

  • “Because the only thing that changed is the year – not the person living it.” I cannot state how important of a decision it is in ourselves to make changes happen.
    Most expect the world, the economy, their spouse, or their employer to change and they’re going to be waiting around for a long time!

    Great write up here, Travis.  Kudos to you for the adoption and taking on the responsibility of showing your cousin a better way.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Travis! Needed this reminder today…funny how you come across the right things at the right moments in life…just need to stay open and aware.

  • Louise

    Hi,
    Loved your write up and your new family will be truly blessed. I am slightly older than you, but my parents brought us up with the saying’ There is No such Word as Can’t, the Word you are looking for is Won’t”

  • My six year old says “I can’t” all the time.  He gives up before he even attempts and my husband and I are trying really hard to change this habit of his.  This is great stuff. Good luck and so glad you are opening up your family and taking on responsibility of your cousin.  Much respect.

  • Midnightpaw1313

    I love your website and what you do really helps to motivate
    others.  I’m a 24 year old millennial and
    I agree with your millennial articles and this one. I told my mom once that “we
    can’t always control a situation, but we can change how we react to it”, Like
    with our emotions or what we will do next time because we learned something
    from it. When I catch myself saying I can’t, that means I’m slipping into old habits
    and I’m getting stale, that I need to change it up and get a new perspective,
    to take a step back and analyze the situation.  Then I can usually do what I thought it was
    that I could not do. I just need a moment to reprogram myself. J

  • I love this. I too have said it way too many times. I hate self-sabotage. I can, I can, I can & I will.