When “I can’t” is Really “I Won’t”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said “I can’t…” I would be able to retire at 28 and buy a private island for each of my family members.  To be able to buy a private island for each of my family members (because it’s not a private island if you have to share, duh) means that there have been a whole lot of I can’ts spewed out of my lips throughout the years. Ugh.  I don’t even want to guess at how many cool things I’ve missed out on because “I couldn’t…”

Often, when people -specifically non runners- find out that I run, there’s normally some polite ‘oh that’s great’ followed up almost immediately by ‘I would love to run, but I can’t.’  And, if I’m being honest, it drives me up a friggen tree!  Unless you have been told by a medical professional that you really ‘can’t’ what basis do you have to make that claim?  What you’re really trying to say is “I can…. but I won’t.”  Bear with me, this post isn’t an attack on non runners. Instead it’s an attack on naysayers.


Gotta love good old Garfield. If I could be any cat, I’d be him.

After doing CrossFit, I seem to hear “I can’t” even more often.  Probably because I won’t shut up talking about things I had done in class.  Really though, CrossFit made me realize how much I had used “I can’t” as a crutch to limit myself.  This sort of self-discovery led me to examine why “I can’t” actually means “I won’t”.  I’m sure there’s a ton more reasons but these were the three that jumped to the top of my mind.

  • Fear
  • Self Doubt
  • Laziness

Let’s talk about fear first.  Fear of failure.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of rejection.  Fear is a common and legitimate emotion and is not to be underestimated.  It’s totally ok to be scared of trying something new or outside of your comfort zone.  In some situations, fear is actually healthy.  I’m a data person so I love charts, graphics and numbers.

fear chartSource

Take a look at the first point.  Look at the third statistic: 90% of what we fear is considered insignificant.  Meaning it’s not worth us expending the energy it takes to be afraid.  So why do we give fear the power to keep us from doing something? Why do we let fear dictate that we can’t? What we’re really saying when we’re scared is “I won’t because I’m afraid of…”.


Next up is self doubt.  Man, this one goes hand-in-hand with fear.  It’s also my personal biggest reason for saying I can’t/won’t.  Time after time after time I see people accomplishing amazing feats and whether it’s a physical or intellectual accomplishment, there is one common thread: they put themselves out there.  What I don’t see is the countless failed attempts and embarrassment before they accomplished the task.  Most likely they weren’t perfect the first time but they believed in themselves enough to keep trying.  Did you catch that? They believed in themselves. Accomplishment has no room for self doubt.  Only room for improvement.


One more lovely fact about self doubt? People believe in your capabilities much more than you do.  Want to be inspired? Ask your friends and family members what they think you’re capable of accomplishing.  You might be surprised at how much others believe in you even when you don’t.

Finally, this post on “I can’t” vs. “I won’t” wouldn’t be complete unless I addressed laziness.  Oh yes I did just go there.  We’re a lazy society.  And we’re also a society of instant gratification.  If we can’t have it by yesterday, we don’t want it.  This goes for all endeavors but since I’m familiar with running, that’s the example I’m going to use.

People view running as an instant/inherent thing.  Like we hit the ground running as soon as we’re shot out of the womb.  What they don’t see is all of the time and effort that goes into becoming a runner.  I was terrible (seriously) when I started running.  It was hard, it hurt, and I looked like a crazy person (and still do).  I don’t know how many times in utter frustration I thought I can’t do this.  Yet the next day, I drug myself back out there and tried again.  I would have been very easy to do the lazy thing and let the I can’t/I won’t win but I would have never run a marathon, let alone two.  Dedication, persistence, tenacity.  We have to get over our laziness in order to achieve something, otherwise you really are saying “I won’t”.

Please don’t mistake this post for saying that we don’t have limitations.  Just don’t let those limitations define you.  Like a rubber band, it’s good to stretch and push our limitations; if we don’t, we stagnate and break.  I don’t want to break.  I want to live life fearlessly and stop saying I can’t.

i can

Question: Are you ready to start being accountable and stop using “I can’t” as an excuse?  What is one thing that you’ve been telling yourself you can’t do that you actually can? 


34 thoughts on “When “I can’t” is Really “I Won’t”

  1. Fab post gina!!! Youre exactly right!! I sodmetimes dont even bother to try stepping from my comfort zone bc i figure its something i just “cant” do! This was a super reminder! Love u!

  2. oh man what a killer post to read today. I think sometimes we all get caught up in those moments of failures and use them as crutches to define us. Instead, I think learning to rise above them, pushing past the doubt, pushing away from the can’t is what actually makes us stronger. Thanks so much for sharing this

  3. wow i love this. I absolutely let fear get in my way 9 times out of 10 and I can’t even count how many times I’ve said “i can’t” on a daily basis, usually right before races. It’s something we all need to work on I think. I have this fear of doing anything out of the ordinary, fitness related or not. I love how you ended this post. Don’t let limitations define you. So true.

    • Fear is definitely a biggie and I completely understand the daily “I can’ts.” Honestly though, it’s been fairly liberating owning up to my I can’t / I won’t try problem.

    • Awesome, Natalie! Don’t you wish you could go back in time and tell the pre-weight lifting Natalie to suck it up Buttercup, you CAN do this? I know I wish I could go back and tell myself a thing or two. 🙂

  4. Yes, yes, and yes! As runners, we heard the “I can’t run” line from a lot of people, and it’s a common response when I’m talking triathlons too. I definitely find myself saying “I can’t” too much. Last week during our swim practice, we had to swim underwater to the other side of the pool. Without even thinking, I said, “I don’t think I can do this.” And without missing a beat, my teammate said, “I think you can.” And I did! Having the right outlook makes a world of difference. 🙂

  5. I hate the line “I can’t”. When people tell me that I tell them, everyone can run at a pace…they just have to find it. It drives me up a wall as well? Are people just born as runners being able to run half marathons? No. They have to find it themselves. I don’t know, this is a great post.

    • Exactly, Hollie. We have to find our own pace and put aside the expectations of being perfect. I know that I can’t run as fast as an Olympian but that doesn’t mean I won’t push myself beyond my limits.

  6. Excellent post. I bet most everyone thought you wrote this just for them today. I remember in college stating the “F” word was running through my mind. They would look at me strange and I would say, “Why of course, the word ‘Failure’.” The moral of the story was I did succeed!

  7. OMG this post. I know I say “I can’t” sometimes because I completely doubt my abilities, especially when it comes to my career. When it comes to running, I know I can do the work. But when it comes to finding a better job, I’m so fearful and racked with self-doubt. It’s crazy.

    P.S. I got a lot of the “I can’t run” comments from friends after my half. One of my friends said he was pretty sure a 5k would kill him, and I’m like… yeahhhh. I didn’t die during my first 5k (even though I felt like puking). You won’t either!

    • Amanda, I think you plucked your comment straight from my brain. I don’t doubt my ability to run, I know how to improve myself. I do doubt my professional abilities though and feel like I ‘can’t’ x-y-z. Keep motivating your friend. Who knows, maybe he’ll join you for a run some time.

  8. I have thankfully been ditching the “I can’t” lately and if it’s something I really don’t want to do or work for, I just say so!! I hear you with running though..it was (and still is at times) SO hard to get started with..but I wanted that end goal so badly that I tried and tried everyday until I could run for 2 hours straight.

    • Yay for you being ahead of the I can’t game! I have definitely been trying to be more honest with the I can’t / I won’t thing but I still hear myself occasionally say I can’t when I know it’s because I don’t want to.

  9. GREAT post Gina. Every single time someone says “I can’t” it’s like an automatic reaction that “Yes you CAN, you just don’t want to” comes out my mouth. Sometimes it really makes me a biatch, but hey – sometimes people need that little nudge and push out the security blankie 😉

  10. Funny that this was the topic of a conversation I had just this evening. I spent the first 30 years of my life saying I can’t and in the past 5 years I have systematically attacked those Can’tS 1 by 1 until eventually they are all becoming I haves! It is an amazing and motivating feeling. Every time I accomplish something I couldn’t believe I could do I am determined to find something else I WILL do! It has made me a happier person, a better wife and a whole lot more fun as a Mom since Il always challenging the kiddo to find something impossible to conquer. I WILL saved my life. I can’t was well on its way to killing me!!

    • I loooooooooooooove this comment for multiple reasons, Sarah! Mainly because you’ve made a conscious effort to crush the I can’ts and it’s made you a much better/happier person because of it!

  11. Love this post Gina! Even though I’ve been super motivated for my running goals, I feel I’m running out of steam for my thesis goal. Definitely guilty of “I won’t” because I feel like I’m always doing the wrong thing for my thesis project (partly thesis advisor issues). But I’m learning to just do the best that I can because at least I’m DOING something rather than sitting back worrying about ‘not doing it right’ and then not getting anything done at all. Thanks for sharing your insight 🙂

    • It’s actually real life I can’ts that get me more in trouble than exercise I can’ts. When it comes to exercising and I say I can’t I know it’s because I’m just being lazy. But when I say I can’t in the real world, it’s because I doubt myself and my abilities. You’re totally right, Nicole, it matters that you are doing something rather than not doing anything at all!

    • I totally think you could nail box jumps, double unders and pullups with a bit of practice. I did lots of things in crossfit I had previously thought I couldn’t. I had to eat my words. 🙂

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