Reframe 'I Can't'
I have read Matthew McConaughey’s advice about never saying, “I can’t” when dealing with a challenge¹. It is the teaching he received from his father when he was twelve years old.
Matthew was struggling to use a lawn mower. He grumbled at his father that he couldn’t get the mower started. His father taught Matthew never to say he couldn’t do something.
If you say ‘I can’t,’ that means there’s no solution, you’re given up, you’ve quit. But if you’re ‘having trouble,’ that means that even though you may not know at that time how to solve the problem, you know there’s a way — you’re just having trouble. Let’s figure it out (McConaughey 63).
This teaching of replacing I can’t with I’m having trouble led me to meditate on our options when tempted to abandon an elusive goal.
A lesson from a best-selling author
Some things take much time, effort, and patience to accomplish.
Ask Kathryn Stockett, the American best-selling author. She had her debut novel, The Help, published after sixty literary agents rejected it. She spent five years rewriting the story while secretly fighting shame and embarrassment.
If she said, “I can’t get this book published.” and put her manuscript away for good, the world would have missed the literary gem later published in thirty-five countries² and adapted for a movie that won four academy award nominations³.
Opportunity for growth
We all heard the adage, “Persistence is the key to success.” And we know how it feels to keep trying something that doesn’t bring a result: self-doubt, fear, discouragement. It’s so uncomfortable to feel stuck in the heavy emotions we just want to say, “I can’t,” quit trying, and move on.
But this messy place is the fertile ground for personal growth.
It is where we face our weakness and strengthen it. It makes us more resourceful and wiser. In this vulnerable place that leaves us standing naked, we realize what truly matters to us and what we really want.
I can’t do it stops this process of self-improvement and learning. It rescues us from uneasiness and saves time and effort, with the price of taking away the chance for growth and empowerment. I can’t crosses out possibilities for different outcomes that could enrich our lives. It is the end of the journey.
Shift your mindset
What if we say, “I’m having difficulty.” instead of “I can’t”?
Then we could pause, calm down, and explore our inner state and choices without feelings of failure.
I’m having difficulty is a continuous path. We could keep going, sit down and rest, take an alternative route, or go home and come back later. We may still not accomplish our goals after many tries, but we might achieve something more important or meaningful. Our journeys continue through different scenery.
I’m having difficulty is also an expression of self-acceptance and confidence. We admit we are not perfect, and it is okay. Because we are not perfect, we make efforts to improve our skills and achieve our goals. Maybe not today, but perhaps tomorrow. Or next week — whenever we regain our strength and patience.
When we say, “I’m having difficulty doing it,” we deal with our challenges on our own terms. We are the only ones who assess our process. We follow our heart compass to guide ourselves.
Refresh and recharge
I noticed some change in myself since I shifted from I can’t to I’m having difficulty. I don’t feel defeated or defensive anymore. Tension and heaviness were gone, and the feelings of expansiveness and freedom emerged. I’m having difficulty gives me comfort and lifts my spirit.
So, here is my invitation for you:
When you want to say, “I can’t.” next time, say instead, “I’m having difficulty.”
See how it feels, and let me know.
1. McConaughey, Matthew. “You Were Just Having Trouble.” The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives by Katie Couric. The Random House Publishing Group, 2011, pp. 62— 63
2. “The Help.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 January 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Help.
3. “The Help (film). Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Help_(film)