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Zero Dean

Author | Photographer | CG Artist | Filmmaker

If your life was a story to be published upon your death...

Goal setting and breaking the “I can’t” excuse addiction

We, as a society, are addicted to the word “can’t.”

“I can’t [change something I want to change about myself] for the better.”
“I can’t quit [this habit].”
“I tried, I just can’t.”
“I can’t. It’s just not in my nature.”
“I can’t — I’m just not good enough.”

But there is a big difference between “I can’t” and “It just isn’t a high priority”.

When a person says, “I can’t”, it means they are incapable of doing something.

It does not mean, “I don’t want to.”
It does not mean, “I just don’t have time.”
It does not mean, “I don’t want to work to accomplish something.”

What many people actually mean when they use the word “can’t” is “it just isn’t a high priority.”

Before you say, “I can’t” or resolve to tell yourself, “I tried, I just couldn’t” — consider the following…

  • How educated did you become regarding the aspect of the goal you wanted to achieve?

Sometimes all we need to achieve our goals is a bit more information about whatever it is we want to achieve.

Consider this: If someone tasked you with climbing a cliff — and you knew nothing about rock climbing — how could you possibly expect to smoothly accomplish your goal by learning from as-you-go experience alone?

  • Did you acquire the resources necessary to help you achieve your goal?

Sometimes we have all the information we need to achieve our goal, but we fail to take the steps necessary to acquire the resources necessary to do so.

Consider this: This is like having the information necessary to climb a cliff, but failing to acquire the equipment (climbing gear) necessary to make your task easier.

  • How motivated were you to meet your goal? How was this reflected in your life?
  • Was your goal a high priority?
  • If your goal was a high priority, how was this reflected in your life?
  • Did you list the upsides of meeting your goal and the downsides if you didn’t?

Without proper motivation, even the simplest tasks can feel like a burden. We tend to lower the priority of those things which we feel less motivated to do — and raise the priority of those things we want to do.

When seeking to accomplish a goal, it is important to have the motivation necessary to see you through to the end of that goal. Always be aware of the benefits of achieving your goal and the downsides if you don’t.

Consider this: If your life — or the life of a loved one — depended on you climbing a cliff, your motivation to climb the cliff would be much stronger knowing a life was in the balance than if you saw no reward or benefit for climbing a cliff. Motivation matters!

  • Did you write down your goal?

It is a fact that writing down your goals enhances goal achievement. The question is, if it’s so easy to do and has been shown to have a dramatic positive effect on goal achievement, why would you not write down your goal?

  • Was your goal measurable?
  • Did you track your progress to achieving your goal?
  • Did you focus on how much progress you made vs. how far you had to go?

If your goal isn’t measurable, then it is too abstract to be called a goal. Anything you expect to accomplish must be able to be broken down into measurable tasks.

It is a fact that those who break down their goals into achievable tasks — and then track their progress towards reaching their goals are more likely to accomplish those goals than those who don’t. So the question again is, why wouldn’t you?

  • How many attempts did you make to achieve your goal? Did you simply try once and decide you couldn’t do it?
  • How many different things did you try before you gave up?
  • How many days, months, years did you work at it?

This is self-explanatory. Making a single attempt at accomplishing a goal and then giving up, would be like telling your friends that your child will never walk because they tried once and failed.

  • Did you have a support system in place or sources of encouragement?
  • Did anyone know you were trying to make the change?

Depending on the nature of your goal, there are times that having a support system in place can greatly enhance the likelihood of you achieving your goal. Not only does this help provide motivation, but it can also make you accountable for the things you say you are going to do.

In summary:

If you didn’t put much effort into these things before you declared, “I can’t”, it’s NOT that you can’t — it’s that you didn’t want to.

Your life is a reflection of your priorities. There is a big difference, “I can’t” and “It just isn’t a high priority.”

Did you really make an effort to achieve your goal? Can you answer yes to most of the following statements?

The breaking the “I can’t” excuse addiction checklist:

  • I educated myself to the best of my ability regarding my goal.
  • I acquired the resources necessary to help me achieve my goal.
  • I was highly motivated and this was reflected in my life in a number of ways.
  • My goal was a high priority and this reflected in your life in a number of ways.
  • I wrote down my goal.
  • My goal was measurable in some way.
  • I tracked my progress towards achieving my goal.
  • I focused on the progress I made rather than on how much further I had to go.
  • I listed the upsides of achieving my goal and the downsides of not.
  • I made a number of attempts towards achieving my goal.
  • I tried everything I could think of to achieve my goal.
  • I worked at my goal for as long as it was necessary to accomplish.
  • I had a healthy support system in place and sources of encouragment.
  • People were aware of my desire to achieve this goal.

If you can’t say “yes” — with confidence and brutal honesty — to the majority of the items on this list, then you are likely using “I can’t” as an excuse.

If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If it isn’t, you’ll find an excuse.

See also: What I’ve learned about achieving personal goals