"I Can't" Vs. "I Don't Want To"


Throughout this diet, there has been a common reaction when I tell people what I'm doing. Usually they ask how much weight I've lost and then ask me what the catch is. I tell them the basics: no caffeine, no alcohol, no wheat, no dairy... Without fail, their response is: "Oh, I can't do that."

What they really mean to say is that they don't want to do that.

I'm not judging here. I'm guilty of it too. In fact, I've said I "can't" do tons of diets, but really, at those times, I just didn't want to make the sacrifices to lose weight. Now, I do. Which made realize something: I think we should stop saying "I can't" when we mean to say "I don't want to." And here's why: when we say we can't do something, we're not being honest with ourselves and others. 

For example: let's say your friends ask you to come out to the bar and you don't really feel like it. Your response may be: "I can't." That's when your friends start calling bullshit and you either A. Piss them off because you're being so vague and acting like you have no control over your actions or B. Allow yourself to get peer pressured into something you didn't really want to do. But what would the reaction have been if you simply said, "I don't want to tonight"?

"I can't" was the same reaction that people had when I told them how much training I had to do for the marathon. "I could never do that!" No, barring some actual physical disability that prevents you from the training and impact that running a marathon involves, what you mean to say is that you don't want to do that. And I don't blame you! I don't want to do it again either!

That's the second benefit of not relying on the crutch of "I can't": accountability and self-knowledge. 

By taking ownership of your feelings and decisions and interests, you start to hear yourself more clearly. Many people who have learned how much weight I've lost on this diet, seemed incredibly interested to try it, only to shy away when they understand the discipline that's involved. Maybe they don't want to give up their morning coffee or enjoying happy hour with friends and that's great... I'll soon be rejoining them.

But when you start admitting that to yourself, you are admitting that you are accountable for the state of health that you're in. Start saying that you don't want to work out instead of "I can't" and that you don't want to diet to lose weight instead of "I can't" and eventually you will realize where you stand on your approach to your personal health, even if that means finding out that you're standing in your own way.

I hesitated to write this post because isn't about superiority or judgment or trying to push my crazy fad dieting onto anyone else, though I worry that it sounds that way. In fact, it's very much the opposite. Because there's one more benefit to being honest about not wanting to do something: it stops you from being hard on yourself and allows you to be satisfied with your choices. 

  • Stop saying that you can't move to your dream city and say instead that you don't want to move to your dream city if it means leaving xyz behind, because those things are more important to you.
  • Stop saying that you can't quit your job and travel the world for 6 months and instead say that you don't want to work the extra jobs and sacrifice the time or career progression that it would take to finance or indulge a trip like that. 
  • Stop saying that you can't break up with your significant other and instead say that you don't want to because you're scared to be alone or scared of the unknown.
  • Stop saying that you can't get a pet and instead say that you don't want to because you value the freedom and flexibility of not having that obligation to another living being. 

Most importantly, don't be afraid of admitting why you don't want these things. They're who you are! And if you don't like what you hear when you say it out loud, at least now you know and you have the power to either change it or stop beating yourself up and accept it. If other people don't like who you are? Well, then you're making room for people who do.

I believe so much in the power and freedom of transparency. When you're honest with the world and yourself about who you are, you attract the people and experiences that reflect that and reject those that clash with the way you choose to live. When you say "I can't" you are saying that you have no choice as to what happens to you.

When are you saying you can't when you should be saying you don't want to?