Pushing Through ‘I Can’t…’

I can’t.  Words are powerful.  The words we use inside our own heads are the ones that shape our reality the most.  As I listen to students I notice some fascinating trends in how they speak to themselves.


When someone feels confident they speak well of themselves.  When they are uncertain or intimidated the language changes to a darker, more negative direction.  Positive and negative are relative here.  Positive isn’t patting oneself on the back and negative isn’t ripping oneself to shreds in this case.  Instead this is more of an encouraging (positive, yes I can) and discouraging (negative, no I can’t) dialogue.

As a teacher I look out for negative phrases from students.  Especially if someone normally has a positive dialogue.  It highlights discomfort or distress that the student might be feeling.

By recognizing that the student is challenged, I’m able to offer them assistance, space or just a friendly ear; whatever they need.  This allows me to head off any potential issues with their training.

Beginner students are usually a little nervous but they come in with an open mind.  As they advance new challenges are faced and preconceptions can start to show up.  Preconceptions of what they are capable of, what they ‘should’ be doing and what they ‘can’ do.

Image courtesy of forcoloredgurls.com.

Image courtesy of forcoloredgurls.com.

In my experience, the preconceptions of ‘capable’ and ‘should’ are easier to break through.  Can’t on the other hand is a beast.  There is a great saying,

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”  – Henry Ford

Can’t is rooted in fear.  Fear of failure, fear of injury, even fear of success.  Fear can hold us in a powerful and paralyzing grip, if we let it.  It paralyzes the student and gets in the way of them challenging themselves, their boundaries and their preconceptions.

When students come up against this, there are many approaches that can be taken to help them work through this challenge.  One approach is to give them space, encouragement and support.  This gentle, caring approach works for some people as the support they feel allows them to release whatever is holding them back and start moving forward again.

For more stubborn challenges I have an approach I like to employ; push-ups.  I know it sounds odd, but it works, and here’s why.

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Push-ups strengthen the body, especially the chest and abs.  This in turn builds self-confidence.


People running into the ‘I can’t’ dilemma don’t like push-ups because they are challenging and force them to work hard to meet the challenge.  Facing the challenge of push-ups allows them to face greater challenges with confidence.


Push-ups are easier to face than whatever else the person is facing.  Once they get into the push-ups and build themselves up physically and emotionally, they end up creating space in themselves to face any challenge they come up against.

As a student progresses through a push-up regimen, the confidence they gain changes their internal dialogue.  It’s easier to remove perceived obstacles.  The preconceptions that used to exist get moved, changed or even shattered.  ‘I can’t’ becomes ‘I don’t know but I’ll try’ or even ‘of course I can.’

The next time you feel you ‘can’t,’ stop, breathe, make space for that reaction and see what’s holding you back.  If it’s fear you feel there, you could get a hug, but you could also drop and start doing some push-ups.

Photo credit: myyogaonline / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: myyogaonline / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND


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