May 6, 2015

The number of times we’ve heard excuses that finish with “I can’t” is saddening and sometimes a little frustrating. “I’d love to go on a diet but I’ve got to feed teenage kids so I can’t”, or “I’d love to get fit but I’m so busy that I can’t” or “I’d love to eat healthier but I can’t afford to” are variations on this theme. This Nike commercial is telling. It raises the question of whether you’re a victim of circumstance, or a decision-maker who can get things done.

The reality is that there are very few people and situations where “can’t” is the reality. Choices are made and actions determined.

Take “I can’t lose weight” as an example: the reality might be that you’re really busy with work and family and commitments, but you still have to eat. You have choices about where you get your food, even if it’s take-away. With a choice, for example, between KFC and a salad, what do you choose? At a restaurant, you can choose whether or not to order dessert. You can choose to have a glass (or three) of wine with a meal. Each choice has an impact on whether you do or don’t lose weight.

The problem is not actually whether you can or can’t lose weight; the problem is whether you’re being honest about your choices. A more accurate statement might be “I’d love to lose weight but I don’t want to stop eating chocolate.” At least then the reason for not losing weight is acknowledged. There’s nothing wrong with eating chocolate, but there’s a lot wrong with not acknowledging its negative impact if you’re unhappy with your weight.

The main problem with the word “can’t” is that it removes personal responsibility. It places blame on the external factor, of which the speaker is a victim. While there are many definitions of the word victim, this one from the Macquarie Dictionary is most appropriate: “something that is badly affected by a situation, a decision, etc”.

This means that all of us could be victims: victims of the situations we find ourselves in, and victims of our own decisions. We may not be able to change some situations, but we can always change our decisions.

So what if you’ve got teenagers to feed. They simply need to eat more than you do, and this can be more of the same foods.

Who cares if you’re busy? If you’re honest, there will be times in your week – or even your day – that you can devote to achieving your goals. Is Masterchef more important than losing weight?

You can’t afford to do something? The cost of going for a walk or run is free. The savings you could make by eliminating packaged foods, take-away coffee, and alcohol could be the difference between making healthy food choices or staying as you are.

“Can’t” doesn’t apply if your priorities are different. Imagine being told that the next time you ate chocolate, you’d die immediately. Chances are that you’d easily avoid chocolate for the rest of your (long) life. Your priority and motivation would have changed in an instant, and you’d be a step closer to achieving what you want.

Listen to the words you choose. Do you ever say “can’t” when it comes to your weight and fitness? If so, think carefully about what you’re saying and whether you’re being a victim or a decision-maker.