Overcoming Negativity:’Can’t -Because’

Posted by on May 15, 2019

Ever met someone who’s a real downer? You know the kind – they’re inordinately gifted in articulating why things won’t work? Why things are bad and getting worse, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it?

Real killjoy, they.

I’ve come to appreciate nuances to the art form, but it always seems to come down to the basic premise – Can’t Because – what can’t happen and why.

Why is it that some people just seem to be pathologically connected with the dark side of, well, everything.

I wonder, for instance, how things would have turned out for flight 1549 had Captain Sullenberger taken the approach that this can’t work because it’s never been done before? I mean, no one had ever successfully landed an Airbus a320 with no engines at 2,800 feet… on water.

It just can’t be done. We’re doomed.

But, today Sully is heralded a hero. He and copilot Jeff Skiles crafted what they felt was the best path forward – a combination of established “by the book” protocol, years of experience, and some good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants improvisation.

Though most of us recognize the enormity of what they accomplished, with all due respect, all of us non-pilot civilians have only the faintest clue just exactly what they were up against. The mathematical odds against them. The laws of physics working against the likelihood of success. It’s relatively easy for me, sitting in the safety of my living room, to say ‘great job’.

And so it goes with ‘can’t-because’. Such persons are intimately familiar with their challenges – in ways that no one else understands. You have no idea the insurmountable odds I’m facing. You don’t know how many times I’ve tried and it didn’t work. Believe me – it won’t work.


It can’t…. because.

It was Henry Ford who’s credited with saying

“whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”

-Henry Ford

Which brings us to the heart of the insidious nature of ‘can’t-because’. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Don’t even try, because you’re right – you can’t.

Lest you think I’m advocating some form of positive optimism, I’m not. What I am suggesting is that many more things are possible than is generally believed, and those who accomplish them will always, 100% of the time, be the ones who believe they can. Rarely, if ever, is success predicated by ‘can’t because’.

I was once accused of accomplishing something because, so they said, I was “too dumb to know I couldn’t”.

I took it as a compliment.

Simon Sinek helped us understand how the human brain ‘starts with why’ in his landmark TED Talk, which he furthered in his best-selling Start With Why. Says Simon, humans make decisions primarily from a sense of purpose – a ‘why’ that we believe in, albeit subconsciously at times. Once we’ve made such an instinctive decision, we search for logical reasons to support the decision we’ve already made.

To my point here – ‘can’t’ is actually our why if we approach life ‘can’t-because’. We believe the goal in view is not possible. As soon as you say ‘can’t’, you’ve already made your decision that it isn’t going to happen. Once we’ve made the ‘can’t’ decision on intuition, our brain instinctively searches for logical support for our ‘can’t’. The entire mental process defeating.

“I can’t run a marathon because I’m not an athlete”

” I can’t travel to Europe because I’m paying for my kid’s college”

The successful would-be marathoner is she who thinks “I haven’t been very athletic, but I can go out and walk a few hundred yards today”. And the next day does it again.

And again.

And over time, she may discover she can start jogging a few yards. She may never run a marathon, but she’s much more likely to do so than the person who ‘can’t-because’.

Overcoming Can’t-Because

While we all struggle with can’t-because at times, achievers:

  • Practice gratitude
  • Actively manage their emotions (practice Emotional Intelligence)
  • Imagine possibilities
  • Don’t give up easily
  • Lift others up
  • Embrace a Growth Mindset
  • Surround themselves with positive, high achieving people
  • Don’t worry about looking stupid
  • Put failure behind them quickly and move forward
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