One of the phrases that don’t accept easily from clients is “I can’t…” I hear this often when I teach them a new exercise or hand them a heavier weight for an exercise they have been training. It is also a phrase that people don’t want to let go of easily. My clients modify their language and say things like “I don’t think I can …”. Different wording, but still a phrase that expresses self-doubt.
I struggle with this too. There are days when I feel fairly certain at the start of a training session that I am behind the eight-ball. Days when I’m sleep deprived, stressed, improperly fueled, or just plain unsure that I’m up for the task of lifting the weight that my program indicates I should aim for on that day. But I’ve learned that those feelings do not always correspond with the outcome, and I’ve learned that language matters.
Obviously there are some things that are physically impossible, beyond reasonable limits; I can’t train really hard and make myself grow three inches or fly. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the times when we feel uncertain about our abilities to do something new, the times when we are heading into uncharted territory and want some kind of reassurance or control. The phrase “I can’t” provides a type of certainty by insuring an incomplete or failed outcome. We might not be able to lift a heavier weight or learn a new exercise, but instead we can feel confident in our ability to predict the future, and we can then find reassurance in saying, “I knew I couldn’t do it.” But of course you know, this is not how progress is made.
Whether you like or hate Tony Horton and P90X, one thing that stuck with me from that program was his insistence that people not use the phrasing “I can’t”. The substitute phrase that he offers runs along the lines of “Currently I am working on …” The language that I use when I show up to train on a day when I’m feeling less than confident is “We’ll see what happens.” However you word it, leave the door open for an uncertain outcome. When we are willing to challenge ourselves, when we are willing to work in the space where success is not guaranteed, then we open to ourselves the possibilities of growth and change and progress.