“Why can’t things ever go right, just once in my life?” 

“I’m such a ________.” 

“I’ll never be as good as ___________.” 

“Why don’t things ever go my way?” 

“Why can’t I ever succeed, just once in my life?”

Sound familiar? Perhaps you’re exasperated with many of the behavior and habit change schemes aimed at helping you overcome these types of demoralizing thoughts. Diets, exercise programs, meditation practices, gratitude journals, medication, the latest “therapy” procedures, vacations and even drugs and/or alcohol. Nothing helps, right? Perhaps you’ve got a bit too much “nah” going on. “Never accepting hope.” OK, OK, had to get at least one acronym in this article.

Of course, nothing helps. Because you’re feeding your “can’t.” Let me explain. Way down deep, inside of your thinking, you’ve got a set of core beliefs that preside over, actually create, your feelings and behaviors. 

I recently observed a young girl, maybe five or six years old, sitting on the lap of her physically challenged father, with her backpack tucked safely into the back of his electric wheelchair. They were crossing the street on the way to her school. She’d arrive on her dad’s lap in his wheelchair, while most of the other kids would be dropped off at school by their parents from cars and vans. I wondered what lens that little girl saw life through. “Others have it better than me?” “Why can’t I have a father who drives?” “How embarrassing is this?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I have it better in life?”

Then again, maybe she wasn’t thinking this way. Maybe she wasn’t feeding her “can’t.” Perhaps her “nah” was really “now accepting hope.”  Maybe she was blessed to be able to view life through the lens of what was happening for her, not to her. Let’s hope. Let’s hope she recognizes that she’s not competing with anyone. Let’s hope that she doesn’t focus on limits but rather on opportunities. Otherwise, she’ll grow up with restraining, restricting, limiting “can’t” governing her life from deeply within.

Want to rid yourself of your hidden, and not-so-hidden “can’t”? Want to stop thinking you “can’t be perfect and must be”? Want to stop seeing what you “can’t do” and shun seeing life as nothing but one disappointment after another? Want to elude the “can’t” and stop feeding the negative identity that you put on yourself? Feeling like it’s long overdue to cease feeling flawed and like a failure? Want to turn the page on your “can’t” perspective and terminate always seeing the worst possible outcomes in your life? 

If you search within, you’ll see that “can’t” is at the core of every frustration, disappointment, sadness, procrastination, avoidance, and “failure” in your life. It explains why you recede, not succeed. It is the single deadliest accusing voice in your head and it’s time to hit the delete button on this negative, erroneous, irrational, illogical and harmful word. Ready to stop feeding your “can’t”?

Here are the five steps:

Catch, challenge and change every negative thought, whisper, or belief. Whew doc, that isn’t so easy! No, it isn’t. Ohhhh, you wanted the easy method? Hmmm, I don’t know any…that’ll work.  But when you begin to, you’ll start to recognize some good in whatever happens. Hold on, pain ends. That’s HOPE. Oops, snuck another acronym in here. I was recently waiting at an airport after a series of presentations I had given at a conference, and just before I began making myself annoyed at the long wait, someone came up to me and asked if I was Dr. Mantell. Somewhat hesitatingly, I said I was.  She proceeded to tell me that she was not going to go to my talks but heard strong raves about my first two, so decided to go to the third one. She was thrilled she caught up with me at the airport because she was able to practice something that she learned about sharing gratitude. She shared with me how “life-changing” my words were, how impactful my talk was on her life and how she intended to use my points at her work. So THAT’S the reason I waited in line! Not because “nothing can ever work out for me,” not because “bad things always happen to me,” not because “I was too stupid” to read the fine print that Alaska Airlines didn’t open until 2:30 in Orlando. I caught, challenged and changed my negative thoughts about “I can’t stand waiting in line” to see the good that waiting in line can bring, for me and others.

Appreciate your achievements and be grateful for your accomplishments. Do you focus on your losses, your slip ups, the wrong turns you make in life, and how you ate the donut when you knew you weren’t “supposed” to? Or do you focus on the wins you’ve had, the good guesses you’ve made, the right turns you’ve made in life, and all of the times you didn’t eat the donut? Guess which will propel you succeeding, not receding? Kurt Vonnegut urged, “Please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

No on the negative. The story is told about Jean-Paul Satre, who was writing “Being and Nothingness” in a coffee shop when the barista asked him if he wanted anything. Satre answered, “Sure, I’d like a cup of coffee with sugar and with no cream.” The barista answered, “I’m sorry sir, but we’re out of cream. How about with no milk instead?” Some folks just focus on the negative. They turn rainbows gray. Thinking “I can’t do this and will never be better at it!”? How about instead, “I’ll keep trying.” “I’m just a lazy person and can’t change.” How about instead, “I haven’t been able YET to fit it into my schedule, but I can take another look and will find a way.”

ahhhpostrophe. Ahhhh, yes. It’s that little break, the chance to catch your breath and your thinking. You didn’t think I’d leave that out, did you? That moment to meditate on Marcus Aurelius’ wonderful reminder, “The happiness in your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” That tiny pause when you can focus on my mantra, “The link is what you think,” and then catch your thoughts. Remind yourself that in the 1590’s happiness, the antithesis of “can’t” thinking, shifted in meaning from “good fortune” to “pleasant and contented mental state.”

Trust and faith in something larger than yourself. Remember the “serenity prayer”? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It begins with trust and faith. I’m not preaching religion here, but acknowledging what science tells us about those who have serenity and trust. They have healthier hearts, better cholesterol, handle stress better, have stronger immunity, have lower stroke risk, regulate emotions in healthier ways and have better longevity. Faith encourages healthy behavior, prayer which is a form of meditation reduces stress, folks who spend time in communities find improved emotional health, and the act of helping others overcomes the “can’t” mentality. Seems enough for me. How about you?

“Can’t” is a word, is an attitude, that is best scrubbed from your mindset. Next time your ears hear your mouth say it or your brain think it, consider what’s inside the word to remove it – Catch it, Appreciate what you have achieved, say No to the negative, take an ahhhh breather, and have some Trust. See? You can!