Lessons for Living        
Lesson Two: "Words to avoid. Can't or won't?"


What is it that you
can't do?




Welcome to Lessons for Living. Common sense information to make life go better.

Today’s lesson is on, "Words to avoid." Some words can create problems for you, especially, when you use them without thinking about their true meaning. The way we think and the words we use determine our reactions to life. Life acts and then we react, but in between we think. So, watch out for what you think. You may be creating more trouble than you need.

For example take the word "can’t." Have you ever said to yourself, "I can’t …" As in, "I can’t do it." What is it that you can’t do? Right now think of something you "can’t" do. People often say something like, "I can’t lose weight, stop smoking, forgive, or play the piano.

None of this is true.

What did you think of? What is it that you can’t do? Most likely what you thought of isn’t true either.

You see "can’t" means cannot be done. If it can’t be done then it is impossible. So, you can’t fly like a bird, walk through walls, or run a two minute mile. All of these statements are true.

Most often when we say we can’t do something we are using the wrong word.

"Can’t" is not the right word. The right word is "won’t." Not "I can’t" but "I won’t." Won’t means will not. It means, "I choose not to."

If we change our words then our statements to ourselves sound different. It is, "I won’t lose weight, stop smoking, forgive, or I won’t play the piano." All of these are options are actually possible, we just choose not to do them

Most of us do not like this change in words because it confronts us with our responsibility for not acting. After all, if you say you "can’t" do it then you let your self off the hook of responsibility. When you say you can’t, you give yourself permission not to try.

  • If you can’t lose weight – don’t try.
  • If you can’t stop smoking – give up.
  • If you can’t forgive – then keep holding a grudge.

You get to give up before you start.You are allowing yourself to be stuck with a problem of your own choosing.

Learn to take responsibility for your choices. Intentionally make a choice. It is all right to decide not to do something. Just take responsibility for your decision.

You may choose not to lose weight, stop smoking, or forgive. That’s okay. Make the choice not to, but don’t convince yourself it is impossible to do. Don’t give yourself the easy way out.

Taking responsibility for your thoughts and actions puts you in control of yourself, rather than having you feel controlled by habits, emotions, and circumstances.

So, listen out for the word "can’t." When you hear yourself saying it, challenge it. Call time-out. Try out the word "won’t" and see if it fits better. If you don’t like it when you say it, then it is probably the right word. It challenges you to make a conscious choice and to exercise responsibility. Pay attention to the way you think. You can think yourself into more trouble than you need. Learn to change your thinking and life will go better.

1999 Daniel H. Johnston. All Rights Reserved.

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