I can’t (?)

Shah-Does-Mike-Photoshoot-27

“I can’t. ”

It’s a phrase that’s used often. Sometimes it’s as trivial as, “I can’t go, I have plans.” Recently it’s gained favor in the millennial destruction of the English language. But often, the phrase, “I can’t,” is used when we express our limits.

I was reflecting on this phrase the other day while training and I asked myself, “why not?” Now, before you stop reading, because that really sounds like a cheesy graphic T-shirt, hear me out.

How many times, when you say, “I can’t” do something, can you literally not do said thing? If you really think about it, the reasons why not can be peeled away like the layers of an onion until you get to the center. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what’s at the center of an onion, but of this proverbial onion, the answer is almost always, you can.

Okay, let’s move beyond the hyperbole and demonstrate. I love the basketball but it was never a sport I pursued seriously. Once in high school I dunked a tennis ball and it was one of the best days of my then-fifteen years on earth. But today, as a 5’11”, 31 year old endurance athlete, “I can’t dunk.”

If you looked at Mark Cuban, mega-accomplished billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, would you guess that he can dunk? Fun story: he can. And he wasn’t a basketball stud who did this in his prime. He dunked for the first time at the age of 37! 

See, Mark Cuban wanted to dunk a basketball. So for a year he trained to do just that. It’s a testament to goals, determination and focus. Mark does have four inches on me, so maybe it would take me two years, but if I went all in on box jumps and squats, you couldn’t tell me that dunking is out of the question.

So why not a more relevant scenario, like “I can’t swim under 28 minutes in a half Ironman?” After all this is a triathlon blog and this is something I’ve said, and sometimes even believed.

Because most would look at that and say one of two things:

  1. “I don’t know anything about that, but you train and race all the time, so I’m sure you could.”
  2. “I know what it takes and you train and race all the time, so I know you can.”

Changing “can’t” to “can” is not about ability. It’s about will. Most people would look at my triathlon racing and say, you have the ability to swim under 28 minutes. But I truly believe that the range of things we can actually do is expansive if the will is there.

And this isn’t limited to grandiose physical accomplishments. In fact, it becomes the most immediately applicable to habits. I often hear, “I just can’t work out early in the morning, before work.” I’m not shaming anyone who’s said that – I have! But if we all look at our most recent “I can’t,” from anywhere in life, once you start to peel those onion layers, it gets really hard not to see “I can.”

Maybe those onion layers are a busy schedule, self doubt, not having the right people around you or hell, maybe it’s just a lack of commitment. More on my layers and how I’ve peeled them to find “can” next week!

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