I Can’t

Clients usually come to me for coaching because they have an issue they cannot resolve on their own. These people are talented and capable individuals who live well-adjusted and secure lives, yet are overwhelmed by an inability to create something they desire in their lives.

In most areas, they thrive and are highly successful; while in others, they are lost at sea, struggling to find a way forward.

How is this possible?

Barrier Thought: I Can’t

This can be because they have the “I can’t” barrier thought running in their mind. This thought predicts that if they take a specific action, an unpleasant or dire consequence will follow. Therefore, to avoid the perceived hazard, they remain frozen in inaction

They are able to say “no”, in some areas of their life; but in others are unable to do so leaving them feeling completely stuck and powerless.  

This thinking typically begins with the statement “I can’t”.

I can’t:

  • bring up the topic with her
  • control my temper
  • post on social media (even though I want to)
  • skip eating at the work morning tea, even it’s if it’s my preference not to
  • say, no

Defining the Situation

When I work with a client, we begin by defining the situation and unpacking the beliefs that lay beneath their inaction. They then, typically, list a range of reasons they feel they can’t do something. 

On the surface, the reason appears valid and reasonable. However, with some investigation, we are able to identify the thoughts that hold up the belief that keeps them from succeeding. 

For example:

  • I can’t bring up the topic with her because she will get verbally aggressive.
  • I can’t control my temper because I just lose it and it all just pours out.
  • I can’t post anything on social media (even though I want to), because I’ll embarrass myself and people will look down on me.
  • I can’t skip eating morning tea at a work function, even it’s if it’s my preference not to, because it will look odd.

When we hold on to reasons which begin with the phrase, I can’t — we trap ourselves in our own internal prison.

A Way Forward

One way forward is to consider the question: Is this really something that I can’t do? Or is it something that I won’t do?

Can’t means, you don’t have the skill or ability to do it.

Won’t means, you are making a choice — be it unconsciously— not to do it.

So how do we navigate through this?

Begin by rephrasing the barrier thought I CAN’T to I WON’T then add the word “AND” to the sentence. This allows you to see things with a different perspective.

Using the examples above. Let’s try it out:

I won’t bring up the topic with her because she will get verbally aggressive, and I don’t have a strategy to deal with her meltdown.


I won’t skip eating at the morning tea work function because it will look odd, and I really don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to eat some delicious food.

With this perspective, you can turn the barrier thought around by changing the word won’t to can, thus giving yourself more options. 

  • I can bring up the topic with her, and if she’s get verbally aggressive, I will confidently and kindly do X, Y, Z.
  • I can skip eating morning tea at a work function, because I can say I’m detoxing. Everyone will leave me alone and I know there will be another opportunity to eat this another time. I can resist the urge to eat it now.

Once you have realized that your desired outcome is possible, a decision and action plan can be made to address the barrier and achieve the goal.

  • I will bring up the topic with her because I would like to deal with the elephant in the room and resolve this situation.
  • I will skip eating at the work morning tea because I have self-control and I don’t need it. My weight-loss goal is more important to me.

Saying “I Can’t” is you saying “I Won’t“, because you are expecting a bad outcome or consequence, and prefer to avoid it. By doing so, you get locked into the state of “I Can’t”.


When you say “I can’t,” take a moment to think it through. Is it something you really can’t do or is it that you won’t do it? By turning the thought around to I can and I will, pathways to action immediately appear before you.

Ishani Noble helps people improve their self-esteem. She is an expert at helping people overcome barrier thinking and being unstoppable in creating their dream life.

If you are interested in working through a situation wherein you feel that you can’t wholeheartedly move forward, reach out and contact Ishani today. She can be reached by emailing: Ishani@selfesteemconsulting.com

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