When my daughter was young, one of the repeating conversations emerged from a friend’s continuous requests for her to hang out at his house. As much as she liked her friend, her introverted Self needed to be home on some of those afternoons and she couldn’t bring herself to say “no.” I offered her permission to use me as an excuse for not going to her friend’s home. “Mom says I can’t play.” It worked great! She needed time to realize she actually had a choice in her daily activities, and so she leaned on my “authority” to give her space to learn. As she grew and matured, she moved from using me as an “excuse” to being able to stand in her own power and voice to say she was unavailable to hang out without the need of an excuse.
Let’s fast forward to a recent workshop I attended. The speaker drew us into an activity where we worked with another person for 60 seconds. We went back and forth filling in the blank of this question, “I can’t _____.” We volleyed, “I can’t declutter my house.” I can’t lose weight.” I can’t write as much as I want.” “I can’t play tennis well.” For a minute we listed things in life we couldn’t do. Then the text changed. This time it was one minute of going back and forth, filling in the blanks of “I won’t_____.” Within about 30 seconds into the activity, I realized how much relief came from simply saying, “I won’t.”
Why did relief flow from those words? “I can’t” leaves us feeling powerless. “I can’t” happens to us, as if we have no say in the matter. “I won’t” is completely different. It is a decision. It is a choice. It is empowering. I have it completely in my power to say “I won’t,” or (sometimes) to change it to “I will.” It is 100% my responsibility. Taking full responsibility for life lowers our stress because we no longer feel that outside forces have control of our life. Making a choice (“I won’t” or “I will”) allows us to stand in our own voice and speak what is inside of us. It is not always easy, but it is worthwhile. Staying grounded in our own self increases our resiliency.
Using “I can’t” has its place in our lives. There are times when we do not feel strong enough to make decisions on our own and need to lean on others to make decisions for us. And there are times when the system(s) we choose to be part of influences our ability to make certain choices. Systems may make decisions, but they can never choose our response to the decision.
This week consider how you may feel more empowered to move from “I can’t” to “I won’t.” And maybe, for some of these choices, you may choose an “I will.” I know I will.
Peace for your weekend,