Can You or Can’t You?

Bill Abbate

How often do you worry or think about things you “can’t” do? If you are like most of us, the answer is too often. What if there was an easy way to remove some of those “can’ts” from your life? There is, and it will benefit you greatly when you learn how in this article.

You say you CAN’T?

For many of us, the “can’ts” in our lives surface from self-doubt. Why do we doubt ourselves and our abilities? What can we do about it?

Focusing on limitations of what you can’t have or do derails and limits your ability to create something new, better, or greater. A simple doubt can become a limiting belief that focuses on what you cannot do instead of what you can do.

The issue with these self-limiting beliefs is they are not limits someone else places on you. They are limits you put on yourself! You chose to accept them. Since they are your choice, you can change them and choose something that works for you and not against you.

Let’s get to the root of these self-limiting doubts that focus on what you can’t do. It lies in what you believe. Either you think you can or you can’t. You will likely do fine if you are in the “can” camp. If you’re in the “can’t” camp, you can change your focus from what you can’t do to what you can do.

Did you know self-doubt can easily be overcome by self-coaching? All you need is a better understanding of your doubt and a shift in your mindset from what you can’t do to what you can do. It only takes a bit of effort and persistence.

“Some men have thousands of reasons why they cannot do what they want to, when all they need is one reason why they can.” Martha Graham (1894–1991)

What CAN you 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! Change your focus from what you say you can’t do to the possibilities of what you can do.

Whenever a “can’t” arises, I often stop and mentally shift my coaching client (or myself) 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 worked with a coach before and hired me for twelve sessions, meeting twice a month. After a couple of meetings, the issue became apparent.

This leader and his people had become stuck. Because of some past circumstances, a limiting mindset ran through the organization of what they couldn’t, wouldn’t, or shouldn’t allow or do.

Realizing how negative the company had become, the leader started focusing on changing their can’t dos to can dos. He started changing his language and asking his employees what they could do. Most of them began following suit. Over the next few months, a significant shift occurred in the organization.

Yes, there were still a few naysayers, but the result of this small change in thinking became the turning point for the company. In what seemed like no time, the company was on a growth path it has enjoyed since then.

Was it easy? No. However, the leader’s persistence in focusing everyone on what was possible instead of what was not possible made all the difference. Refocusing your thoughts on what you can do is simple for an individual, yet takes longer for a group.

In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) terms, you shift from moving away from what you don’t want (can’t do) toward what you 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 catch yourself saying or thinking you can’t do something, put the thought aside and focus on its opposite — what you can do. I am not saying you should ignore the reality of the situation, but remember, what we perceive as reality is often incomplete and a small part of the larger whole. It’s safe to put aside what you think restricts you for a time.

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be.

If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it.

On the contrary, if I have the belief thatI can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948)

A true story

I once did considerable research on a car I wanted. This was before the internet made it as easy as it is today.

When I arrived at the dealer, I found the price tag was much more than I wanted to spend. I said to myself, “As much as I want it, I can’t justify paying that much.” Reality stopped me cold.

I had recently learned about shifting from can’ts to cans and started using the concept with clients. The thought came, “I can stand there and believe I can’t afford it and go away disappointed. Or I can ask myself: “What do I really want?” and “What can I do?”

I knew what I wanted by thoroughly 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 buying decisions.) I remember promising myself to give it more thought and leaving feeling disappointed.

Exiting the showroom, I saw a row of used cars to my left. Among them was the same car — virtually identical to what I wanted, but two years older. I noticed It was indistinguishable from the brand-new car.

I re-entered the showroom and asked the salesperson, “How much is that diamond white car?” The price was considerably less than the new car. It had very few miles on it and was in excellent condition inside and out. It also had every option I wanted and more, plus a great warranty. I got excited again!

Since I usually purchase new cars, I felt a bit disappointed. But then I thought, “That sure is a great car”! The vehicle was pristine and 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 very emotional.

In that 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 and significant savings. That day, my range of choices widened considerably. This opportunity may never have surfaced if I had not intended to consider what I wanted and could do.

“Having a positive mental attitude is asking how something can be done rather than saying it can’t be done.” Robert Foster Bennett (1933–2016)

Final thoughts

When you make a concerted effort to change your “can’ts” to “cans,” opportunities 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 find what you CAN DO 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!

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” Henry Ford (1863–1947)

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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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