Can’t Means Won’t

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“I CAN’T!”

No two words bother me more as a Fitness Professional than those two. They are the reason some people stop reaching their goals, and they are the reason some people never begin working toward theirs. That phrase is one of the most defeating, self-deflating, unproductive sentences of all time. In short, I despise it. Especially when a majority of the time it comes prior to even attempting the action.

My 7th grade English Teacher Mr. Lingenfelter had a phrase “Can’t Means Won’t” that has always stuck with me. He was always big on inspiration and humanitarian stories about overcoming tragedies (Ryan White, Ponyboy from The Outsiders, Space Shuttle Challenger). He would give us an assignment sometimes a little beyond our middle school abilities just to see how we would approach it. No matter what it was, there would be a small group of people who would respond with “I can’t do this, it’s too much work/too hard/too many words.” He had the simple response of “Can’t Means Won’t.” At the time I thought it was a really stupid reply because ultimately the person making the excuse ended in the same place, being crushed under the assignment’s expectations. But it always stuck with me, and I never truly understood the meaning until I started working with kids, and training adults, and started hearing the phrase more and more often. I wasn’t asking for difficult tasks, just something that would be challenging.

That’s when it hit me, it’s not so much the end result, because ultimately we all have different capabilities, but it was about not allowing our mindset to handicap us before we even tried. The difference between “I can’t” and “I won’t” is so much bigger than my middle school mind could process at the time. It’s a matter of perspective and how you view obstacles. If there is something in the way of your goal, do you work to find a way around/through/over or do you turn tail and say “That’s not going to happen.” Ultimately the choice is on the individual some people see obstacles, some people see opportunities. It’s all about your mindset, being open minded and being committed to your goals.

Chase Noll, CPT


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