The Cave

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When I first started learning judo, my sensei had a rule against saying a specific word,  ”can’t.”  If you said it, we stopped class and everybody got to throw you.  It became known as the dreaded C-word.  This was a great experience as a martial arts student because it taught us to be careful about what we said– important if you’re trying to avoid fighting in real life– and for the positive attitude it helped create.

You don't make it to the Olympics by saying "I can't."

You don't make it to the Olympics by saying "I can't."

Now, I’m not suggesting that we start throwing everybody in the gym who says the C-word (well, maybe…), but it sure doesn’t hurt to eliminate it from your vocabulary and from your thought process, especially with regards to your workouts.

The attitude that comes with that word is limiting.  It puts an immediate stop to whatever action you’re talking about and doesn’t give any recourse or exemption.  ”I can’t lift that,” is a definite statement that leaves no room for improvement or a change of situation.  It might be true, in a sense, but it’s a poor attitude that will hold you back.  A similarly true statement with a considerably different attitude would be “I’m currently unable to lift that.”  And even better would be “It’s going to be hard for me to lift that.”  It’s okay if something is hard.  Hard is still possible, but if you say that you can’t do it, you’ve given up.  Anything worth doing is hard, but it’s insane to do something that’s actually impossible.

Cultivating this attitude and eliminating can’t from your vocabulary can be a pretty powerful mental tool in overcoming lots of obstacles, especially challenges like cleaning up your diet.  If you tell yourself, “I can’t give up soda,” then you won’t do it, you’ve quit before you even started.  But if you go into it saying, “It’s going to be really hard to give up soda,” then you’ve acknowledged that it’s possible and that it will be a struggle.  Get rid of can’t and you’ll be better mentally prepared for whatever you’re attempting and you’ll have the understanding to keep trying even if you fail.

Whenever you’re facing a new challenge, be it diet, tough movements or even getting enough sleep, just remember: you can.

3 Responses to “Can’t”

  1. Patricia says:

    So when I’m on the pull-up bar trying to do an unassisted strict pull-up going nowhere.. should i just hang there indefinitely and say..”this is really hard..” Or if you ask me if I can do one, should i say “well, it’s really hard and it takes a long time, in fact I don’t know how long because I have not actually completed one..” ??

  2. Nick Wise says:

    Patricia, you know how if you’re really close to being able to do something, you work on it every day until you finally get it? Then, once you do get it, you still practice it all the time because it feels awesome to have mastered a skill that once eluded you. Like when you first figured out the handstand.
    When a skill is much farther out of your reach, it’s easier to say that you can’t do it, and easier to not bother practicing it every chance you get.
    But if you looked at things that you “can’t” do as though they were things you could almost do, you’d be able to do them much sooner.

  3. Patricia says:

    Nick, i was teasing you .. being literal… i.e instead of saying i can’t do a strict pullup, just hang there indefinitely until i fall off.. lol…

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