What to Do?

Bill Abbate

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Do you ever worry about what you can't do? Such thoughts invariably arise in us at times. For some of us, they come too often, surfacing as a form of self-doubt. Why do we have such doubts about ourselves, and what can we do about them? Let's take a look!


Let's get to the root of this type of doubt. It lies in what you believe. You either believe you can or believe you can't. You will likely do fine if you are in the "can" camp. If you're in the "can't" camp, take a closer look by questioning the assumption that you can't do something. Or better yet, change your focus from what you can't do to what you can do.

"We're all spending way too much of our time and energy trying to fight the stuff we can't change." Gayle King (1954-present)

Focusing on limitations of what you can't have or do, derails and limits your ability to create something new, better, or greater. Such doubts manifest as self-limiting beliefs. Yes, you read that correctly. They are limits you put on yourself! You have chosen to accept them. Since you chose them, you can change your mind and make a different choice.

Did you know this self-doubt is one of the easiest to overcome through self-coaching. All that is needed is a better understanding of this type of doubt, a change in mindset from can't do to can do, and a little persistence.

What CAN you do?

Turn the focus away from what you can't do to what you can do. Whenever the thought "I can't do that!" comes up, stop and ask, "So, what can I do?" There is always something you can do!

I often stop and mentally shift myself or my coaching client 180 degrees and ask, "What can I/you/we do?" When asked such a question, you naturally seek an answer. The results are often surprising.

A few years ago, a gentleman called and explained his company had experienced zero growth for several years. He had never had a coach before and hired me for twelve sessions. We met twice a month during that period. After a few sessions, he understood his effort to grow the company would be fruitless so long as he and his people were stalled by what they couldn't do.

He started focusing on changing their many can't dos to can dos. The company and its management had been steeped in many years of thinking and hearing what they could not do. But when the leader started asking what they could do, it created a significant shift throughout the company.

Yes, there were still the naysayers, yet the result of this small change in thinking became the turning point for the company. As they had more and more successes, they put the company on the growing and profitable course it's on today. Was it easy? No. But this leader's persistence in focusing everyone on what was possible instead of what was not possible made all the difference in the world.

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right." Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Refocusing your thoughts' direction on what you can do is simple, yet implementing the change is not always easy. Take it one step at a time.

In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) terms, you shift from moving away from what you don't want (can't do) toward what you do want (can do). It is common knowledge today that your mind can only deal with one thought at a time. When you attempt to multi-task, such as thinking about what you can and can't do, your mind must switch back and forth between the can and the can't. Known in psychology as task switching, it restricts the full use of the brain, severely limiting the quality of your thinking.

Anytime you say you can't do something, put the thought aside completely. Then focus on its opposite—what you can do. I am not saying you should completely ignore the current reality of the situation. But remember, what we perceive as reality is often incomplete and is usually a small part of the larger whole. It's safe to put it aside for a time.

A true story

For example, I once did considerable research on a car I desired. When I arrived at the car dealer, I found the price tag was much more than I wanted to pay. I said to myself, "As much as I want it, I can't justify spending that much money." Reality had stopped me cold.

I had recently learned about shifting from can'ts to cans and was starting to use the concept with clients. The thought came, "I can stand there and believe I can't afford it and go away disappointed. Or perhaps, I can ask myself: What do I really want?" and What can I do?"

I uncovered a great deal about what I wanted in researching the car. I loved the styling, the leather interior, and how the car handled and drove. I had my "heart set" on this car on an emotional level. (Emotions, by the way, not logic, drive most of our buying decisions.) I remember promising myself to give it more thought and started to leave feeling disheartened.

As I exited the showroom, I saw a row of used cars to my left. I see the same car—virtually identical, but its sign in the window indicated it was two years older. It's even in the color I wanted! I noticed It was practically indistinguishable from the brand new car.

I turn around, go back into the showroom, and ask the salesperson, "How much is that diamond white car?" She gets the price for me, which is considerably less than the new car. It has very few miles on it and is in excellent condition inside and out. It has every option I want and more, plus a great warranty. I begin to get excited again.

I usually purchase new cars, so it seems like a letdown. But it sure is a great car! The vehicle has very low mileage and is priced even lower than I had hoped.

This true story happened to me some years back. While a car is not an impulse buy for most of us, it can be a very emotional purchase. In this car-shopping experience, I learned a huge lesson by shifting my perspective from wanting a new car to realizing some exceptional used vehicles are available. And many are like new, with excellent warranties, at significant savings over buying new. That day, my range of choices widened considerably. Had I not intended to consider what I could do, this opportunity may never have surfaced.

Final thoughts

When you make a concerted effort to change your "can'ts" to "cans," opportunities will begin to flow. This small change in perspective has created so much opportunity in my life I could write volumes about it. All it takes is some willingness to give it a try, with persistence to make it happen.

Using this simple concept with some practice, you can change your self-limiting beliefs to self-empowering beliefs. I challenge you to pay attention to the CAN'T DOs in your life and change them to CAN DOs in the coming month. You will be amazed at what happens! I'm sure you CAN DO it! All you need do is change your can'ts to cans. Why not give it a try? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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