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The Tiny Mental Shift That Makes EVERYTHING Easier

Patricia Thompson, Ph.D.
Corporate Psychologist By Patricia Thompson, Ph.D.
Corporate Psychologist
Patricia Thompson, Ph.D., is a corporate psychologist, management consultant, executive coach, and author. She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Georgia State University.

Have you ever set a goal for yourself, then been utterly frustrated that you seemed unable to put forth the necessary effort to get what you wanted? Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • “I just can’t make myself go to the gym.”
  • “I can’t control my emotions. I always blow up and then regret it later.”
  • “I really want to get started on my business idea, but I just can’t find the time.”

In most cases like this, the word can’t is inaccurate. It suggests that you have a complete and utter inability to engage in the act in question — as if there is some invisible external force preventing you from doing what it is you said you want to do.

Saying can’t takes away your power, and in some ways provides an excuse for not moving forward toward your goals or fulfilling your commitments.

So, how can you shift your mindset to sidestep this problem? Replace can’t with won’t.

  • “I just won’t make myself eat healthy foods consistently.”
  • “I won’t leave this relationship, even though I know it is unhealthy.”
  • “I won’t take the time to meditate every day.”

This will feel uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the point. It forces you to take full ownership of your actions. It puts the power back in your hands. Won’t creates the possibility that you can make a different choice.

How do you apply this in your own life?

1. Reflect on what's actually true.

While it is true that in some instances, can’t could be accurate, I challenge you to look at your situation to determine if and when that’s actually true. If you do indeed find that won’t is a more fitting reflection of your current situation, consider why. Why won’t you engage in the action necessary to accomplish your goal? Do you need to reprioritize? Are you afraid? Is the goal less important to you than you previously thought it was? Asking yourself these sorts of questions will provide you with insights that will help you deal with the obstacles that are holding you back.

2. Make a commitment to yourself.

If you decide that your goal is important to you and that you do want to accomplish it, say that you "will" take the action necessary. Write it down, and leave this note somewhere (or in several places) where you will come across it regularly. This will help keep you motivated.

3. Share your plans with others.

For additional accountability (and healthy peer pressure) share your commitment with others. When we make our plans public, it increases our odds for success — perhaps because we want to honor our commitments and make ourselves look good. So, take a stand for your willingness to act by telling others about your goal.

4. Repeat as needed.

When obstacles arise and you feel like you “can’t” persist, remind yourself of won’t. Take back your power, and be intentional about taking necessary actions to accomplish your goal.

Finally, remind yourself of the wise words of Thomas Edison: “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

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