For many years “I can’t” was my mantra. I adopted it in elementary school when teachers would tell me, “You can do this; your brother did.” Looking back to 6th grade, I see this curly blond-haired me in my blue uniform and white blouse digging in my heels, snarling and proclaiming loudly, “I can’t.” I didn’t like the pressure of living up to my older brother and not being seen as an individual. TRUTH be known, I just didn’t want to do it; and once I declared my position, I had to keep reinforcing it.
Over the years I adopted it as an easy way to cop out. I recruited others to believe me, do it for me, or maybe even feel sorry for me.
A web was cast. I was trapped in a mire of missed opportunities, withheld energy, helplessness, blame of others, inconsistent dependability, thoughtlessness, depletion of power. Living “I can’t” I didn’t want to see or take on new challenges or solve situations. I held no responsibility for the world I created. I sulked.
As a professional, that posture proffered all sorts of excuses and cover-ups to conceal truth. So much so that I even began to believe my own story! A huge hole had been dug. I had separated myself from others and their needs by my self-indulgence.
The only way out was to face the fact that the life I was living was a lie.
Understanding how I fell out of honest relationship with others and myself, I was freed from the burden I had cultivated. I could begin to respond honestly and responsibly in each situation.
From this perspective I am no longer trapped by my limitations, habits and weaknesses. I am not reactive. I am engaged and honest with the people in my life. I don’t hold others responsible for my shortcomings. I don’t manipulate. Instead, I step forward making choices about what is the best decision to make for the good of all. I understand and tackle what I need to learn or lean into in order to help the situation go well from trivial to major endeavors.
What would it be like to notice yourself on automatic in some variation of the “I can’t” syndrome, even when it is not spoken?
Nancy Smyth, Master Certified Coach, is the Managing Director of Coach Training and Personal Coaching for the Arbinger Institute, the organization-author of the bestsellers, Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace. To learn more about the new expanded second edition of The Anatomy of Peace, please visit www.arbinger.com/anatomyofpeace. The Anatomy of Peace and The Anatomy of Peace Telecourse provide practically helpful ways to practice a heart at peace.