The 3 Lies of “I Can’t,” “They Can’t” and “I Won’t”

The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves.  Can’t is really won’t and with stubborn self-protecting pride, we stifle life.  

There are three lies that will keep you stuck.

I can’t change; They can’t change; Things won’t change

Perhaps you have said them to yourself or in other forms. [pullquote]Despair is when you fall under the belief and conviction that tomorrow will simply be a repeat of today. Rob Bell [/pullquote]

  • I can’t lose weight
  • They can’t break their addiction
  • It’s always going to be this way. It won’t change.

As you repeat these micro curses a constriction tightens around your life.

Can’t vs. Won’t 

There are a couple of words that we need to explore. Can’t (cannot) and won’t (will not).

Can’t means that you cannot do something.

Won’t means you will not do something. It implies that you have considered the situation and made a decision. It also means that you have taken ownership of your decisions.

“I can’t” often means “I won’t,” but asking “Why won’t I?” will lead you on to discover and remove the obstacle to willingness. David Riddell

It’s a subtle difference but quite profound when you understand it. It’s about choosing to face the obstacles to willingness.

What are the obstacles in your way if you are going change?

  • Attitudes?
  • Beliefs?
  • Unbearable feelings?

The Lie of 500

I don’t know how to play the card game called ‘500’.

When I was growing up my family never played card games with playing cards. Playing with real cards was like a slippery slope to gambling, and then that could lead to dancing!

So then I married, and my wife’s family were really into playing card games with those demon-infested playing cards. They weren’t so keen on dancing through :).

So I have a problem. I want to fit in, so I try and learn to play 500.
BIG LEARNING challenge.

My brain had not grown up with all the concepts and ideas contained in this game. When others have tried to teach me, my brain has gone into overload, and feelings of overwhelm hit me. Then other thoughts and other feelings come, and I just put the cards down in despair.

I made a decision that I can’t learn 500. I have tried many times, but every time my brain goes into a state of confusion.

In reality, it’s not that I can’t learn 500 it’s more that I won’t learn 500. There is a stubborn resistance to the idea.

The consequence is I am not able to part of the fun of my family when they are playing the game. Also, some family members feel a bit frustrated with me not knowing how to play.

This is how the ‘can’t’ and the ‘won’t’ can become a big issue.

It flows into many areas of our lives.

If I go a bit deeper with my resistance to learning 500, then I discover obstacles such as

  • feelings of being small
  • feelings of inadequacy
  • feelings of embarrassment when people notice that I am just not learning
  • feelings of brain overload and confusion
  • thoughts of ‘I could be doing so many other things that are more important.’

The addictive can’t.

This movement from ‘can’t’ to ‘won’t’ becomes more of an issue when you start exploring more serious issues.

For example the topic of anger.

I know someone who has real anger issues.

They trot out the mantra of ‘I can’t change.’ Whereas in reality, they have decided that they won’t change. The consequence is that significant relationships are being destroyed. The stubbornness and opposition that is growing creates isolation.

The ‘I won’t change’ attitude is there because they are too afraid of what they need to face.

Underlying much of our addictive behaviors is a stubborn decision of ‘I won’t tackle the underlying issues because I’m afraid.’

The birth and death of a lie. 

Every lie you have ever told yourself has always had a birthplace. A genesis of its creation. Most likely in your childhood, a seed was sown and with watering and care it has grown into a dominating belief system.

Improvement of our lives begins with the renewing of our minds, which is begun in turn by challenging old beliefs and childhood conclusions. David Riddell

How do we bring truth to the lies that grip us?

We come to God with humble, broken heart and a willingness to go to those places where the lies took root in our thinking.

Investigate my life, O God,
    find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
    get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
    then guide me on the road to eternal life. Psalm 139: 23-24

The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves.  Can’t is really won’t, and then with stubborn self-protecting pride, we stifle life.

‘Can’t’ can become ‘Can’.
‘Won’t’ can become ‘Why not try’.

Further reading

Quotes to consider

  • Nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside. I can help you, but it’s your fight, your fight. Bono
  • Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. Leo Tolstoy
  • Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most. Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Questions to answer  

  1. What personal example can you think of that relates to the can’t and won’t issue.
  2. What feelings act like protective guards stopping you from making the changes you need to make?
  3. What insights have you gleaned from this post?

Barry Pearman
p.s. I’m going to try and learn 500 again. Any help appreciated. Leave a comment below.

Image cc: Eric Ward

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