The word “can’t” was a topic of conversation the other day. In terms of training, someone made reference to a client who said, “I can’t [insert lift or exercise].” So the personal trainer began to stress the importance of making people believe they can do anything.

Can’t: contraction of cannot.

Cannot: An auxiliary verb expressing incapacity, inability, withholding permission, etc; can not

I think it is beneficial to point out that saying, “I can’t,” should be avoided. The word is negative and self-limiting.

On the other hand, it’s silly that personal trainers, coaches, teammates, family, etc. have to convince someone they are good enough…”You can do it!”

I’m all for the mental and motivational aspects of coaching. I know, from experience, what it takes to lift heavy weight, reach a new goal, lose weight, and so on…but at what point did it become acceptable for personal trainers or coaches to tell everyone they’re great? Hmm…Really? Nobody’s better then anyone else? Ugh, you have to be kidding, right?

This applies to training and just about everything else.

Saying, “I can’t”:

  1. Allows people to justify failure.
  2. Is a way for people to fish for compliments.
  3. Or, they actually tried, and couldn’t.

Consider the above.

  1. Someone says they can’t do something. Others react by saying, “Yes you can,” and all sorts of encouraging things (whether it’s genuine or not). The person makes an attempt. They fail. Whether they gave it their all, they weren’t expecting to succeed. Their earlier disclaimer, “I can’t,” must have been enough for those who witnessed to just let it slide. I think if you continue to justify failure, people will stop caring.
  1. You’re invested in training or some other activity, and you know you’re decent, or maybe very good. At least you know your ability is better than others. BUT, you insist on saying you can’t, only to gain reassurance from others…”You can do it!” These are the kids who say, “I think I failed the test.” And when the teacher hands it back, they act surprised…”Wow, I got an A!” All along they knew what would happen. It’s a shame that people need constant reassurance, and that others can’t see through the BS. They get sucked into telling Sally how great she is…she already knows, but likes to hear it. So why not keep fishing?
  1. You try for a personal best—a new 1RM, a greater number of stadiums completed in 15 minutes, etc. You tried, but fell short. You really thought you would succeed. So you say, “I can’t.” But it’s temporary, because you keep trying and eventually reach your goal. You don’t justify failure, you’re not looking for a pat on the back, you don’t feel sorry for yourself, because it will happen. These people are self-aware and motivated.

It’s all good and well to be positive and tell people they can [insert any task], but telling everyone they can, isn’t the way to go either. Why? Because…

  1. It’s a lie.
  2. Participation doesn’t make you great.

Honesty goes a long way, but most people don’t want to hear the truth, or they can’t handle the truth. Kids, athletes, adults—basically everyone—are told, “Anything is possible.” It’s not. But, if you believe it, good for you.

Seems cold, but participation itself should not be rewarded. If you signed up for something, like a sports team or class, you go to practice or lecture. You get better at skills and learn something. That’s your reward for participation…not some trophy for showing up.

If there’s always an award, what are you working towards? You want to be the best participator? The idea that everyone gets a trophy is sad. Can’t have anyone feeling left out.

There are winners and losers. That is sports. That is life. And competition. Without competition, it’s just a bunch of people participating. A world of mediocrity. But…Anything is possible!



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