Can’t, Haven’t, Won’t

In my coaching practice over the years, I’ve heard people say “I can’t” innumerable times. It’s frequently what gets the coaching process underway.

I can’t lose weight.

I can’t stop arguing with my (boss, wife, kid).

I can’t get ahead.

I can’t learn this new material.

I can’t hit a golf ball where I want to (my personal favorite!).

I’m stuck. I can’t get to the next level.

You get the point.

Sometimes when I feel stuck trying to do something, my exasperated “I can’t” has been my only release. It has temporarily made me feel better (because I’ve just announced to the world that I’m totally incapable so why keep trying) and further ensures that I never will (because failure is now my expectation for any further practice).

There are truly some things I can’t do. I can’t dunk a basketball. Nothing I can possibly do will put me in a position to be successful at that. I’m 5’7” tall and old… ain’t gonna happen. Physically impossible.

But I like to run. And, while I’ve run a couple of half marathons (jogged actually) which was definitely on my list of “can’ts” five years ago, I’m now focused on running faster but for shorter distant.

I used to think “I can’t run a 5K at all”—I fell flat on my face on a couple of early ones (even became a subject of this newsletter once).

I discovered that when I realized that finishing a 5K was a matter of sequential training to get the muscles prepared and the aerobic system and heart pumping (with my doc’s permission), a 5K became an easy run. My normal run around my hometown is now over 3.5 miles, which is more than a 5K. So a “can’t” became a “can.”

Then my son-in-law started running long runs and prodded me into entering a half marathon. What was I thinking?

Applying the same processes to this project I’d applied to the 5K adventure, I set about running (jogging) longer and longer distances until I’d run 12 miles in one outing the week before the big event. Another “can’t” became a “can.”

I realized along these processes that my “can’ts” were really just “haven’t yets.”

So now I’m trying to take care of the “I can’t run a 5K in under 30 minutes.” I haven’t yet. That’s accurate. So far I haven’t run 5K with a 10-minute pace. As a matter of fact, about 10:40 is the best I’ve done in practice. But that was after I’d run for a while at a 10:57 pace, so 10:40 was a significant improvement. I have a long way to go. So I keep running. I keep sprinting longer in the middle of these runs. My heart pumps. My legs ache. My time drops. Can I run a 30-minute 5K? I haven’t yet. But that’s all I’m willing to concede.

If I haven’t yet, what are my options?

Depends on how badly I want to do this.

I can keep running. I can work harder at conditioning. Engage in the process for all the benefits the process contributes (whether I reach my aspiration or not).

I can quit. Stop trying. Disengage from the process. That’s a decision—that’s more “I won’t” than “I can’t.”

I might quit. It’s possible. Something else may take a higher priority. But I will no longer tell myself “I can’t.” “I haven’t” may just be my legacy. But not “I can’t.”

What are you telling yourself you can’t do that you want to? What’s got you stuck? How badly do you want to? I’d suggest a “clarity conversation” with yourself and submit that it may not be that you can’t.

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