The Can/Can't Mind Game

Much of my anxiety is a head game. Someone asks me to do something, or tells me to do something, or encourages me to do something and I respond: “I can't.”

I don't always respond to them verbally, but even if I only think “I can't,” it is debilitating.

“I can't.” Not even “I won't.” “I can't.”

If it were “I won't” then it would be a choice, either laziness or assertiveness, but my decision.

“I can't” is saying it's not my choice, that it's out of my hands, that I'm doomed, fated to what I am.

While meditating I was thinking about the opposite of “I can't”: “I can.”

“I can” is pregnant with possibility. It's not quite as dominant as “I will” (the opposite of “I won't”) but it's quite powerful in its own right. I realized that so much of my anxiety is saying “I can't,” and believing it! Then someone says “do this,” and I think, “I can't,” and this thought pulls me in the opposite direction of where that person is leading me. It's a tug of war that causes much unneeded stress, fear, worry, instability, uncertainty, anger, and guilt.

It creates pain in the brain. But when I exclaim, “I can,” I may not ever do the thing in question, but I no longer feel the pain. I am free.

I also realized (though I'm not going to take credit for it, because any cognitive psychologist should be able to tell you the same thing) that the more I say “I can't,” the more I won't. And the more I say “I can,” the more I will. Each leads to its own conclusion, and giving up and saying “I can't,” is like closing a million doors of possibility all at once. “I can,” does not close doors. It may not necessarily shove me through any (“I will” will do that), but it leaves all opportunities open and acclimates me to facing the world.

This is the mind game then: If I leave these doors open and believe that a thing is at least possible, it makes that thing easier, and therefore less daunting. If I close these doors, I must face the reality that everything is too difficult—and so everything will be daunting.

If this was advice to give I would say just this: “Do yourself a favor. You don't have to go through any of these doorways, but at least don't close the doors. Don't lock yourself out of life. Don't give up. Keep the door open, even if it's only ajar, and wait. Practice, repeat over and over that you can, and wait. Sooner or later an opportunity will arise that you will want to take advantage of, an opportunity that you would be forced to miss if you closed any one of these doors.”

I of course need no guinea pig for this. I have myself. The advice is for me. But take it if you want it. I bet it will work for many things, not just anxiety. Leave these doors open in your education, in your vocation, in your personal life.

Live as if all the world is your playground.

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11 Responses to The Can/Can't Mind Game

  1. If a door can be a jar, you can be anything....

    j/k. Nice piece!

  2. Its all in that tiny mind.. 3 pounds
    of the most complex material we’ve discovered
    in the universe..
    As James Allen says-

    The visions you glorify in your mind,
    The ideals you enthrone in your heart..
    This you will build your life by...
    This you will become...

  3. These thoughts remind me of the best children's book ever written: The Little Engine That Could!

    1. One of my all-time favorites!

      Maybe it made a bigger impact on me than I suspect? ;)

  4. Will take that advice. I'm still fighting the battle against fear. Wide open spaces, leaving the door open - that's a lot of possibility and excitement - but there are times when I still can't shake that awful feeling that I might not be up to it. Bad....

    1. Take the plunge anyway and find out if you're up to it or not :)

      Surprise yourself!

  5. I agree that it's a mind game.I have discovered a lot of things I could actually do because I believed I could. There's a wonderful feeling that comes with it.

  6. Great post! There is power in positive thinking! (And negative thinking does indeed pull one down)! Since we were born we have all encountered more negatives than positive, so it is a constant battle. We have to at least push ourselves forward with 'I can.' I agree that it does make you free to say 'I can.' Now, just to remind ourselves to do it all the time! The mind is a powerful tool, if only we would use it to its full capacity! Take care!

  7. I am now at a very decisive stage in life and the words "i can't" are trying to stop me from doing what I have to do. I needed to read this post. I need to convince myself that I can and that I will


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