Going from I Can't to I Can: 3 Questions to Unlock your Journey
Life is an adventure that is meant to be experienced. All of us have our unique journeys with its challenges and joys. The way that we approach our life has a dramatic impact on the types of adventure we will have, what we will learn, and the sense of meaning we will derive. Our approach, or what can be called a mindset, can help us get the most from our experience or keep us locked in a box. The fact is that it is more in our control than we might realize, we need to know how to identify our mindset so we can make the necessary course adjustments.
Whether we want them or not, life is going to throw curve balls our way. Part of our journey is learning how to handle these sudden changes and to continue onward. When one of these curve balls arrives, we are met with a decision, one that we are not always aware we are making. This decision has a profound impact on us, as it influences how we will approach the challenge and the types of lessons that we will learn. The more miles we have under our feet in our lives, the easier it is for this decision to happen almost instantaneous and without our awareness.
This reflexive decision comes from our mindset. Our mindset is focused on the way we approach life, what we believe about ourselves and our abilities, and where we see our place in this world. Two mindsets to keep in mind are the Auto-pilot Mindset and the Empowered Mindset. Depending on which one we choose, we will either fall back on default beliefs or lean on our strengths and seek to learn something new.
When a curveball is thrown our way, the Auto-pilot Mindset is the one that decides it with little conscious recognition on our part. The Auto-pilot Mindset acts like a reflex, simply reacting by deciding with the least amount of information necessary. Sometimes this helps us, but for the most part, it will hinder our growth. This mindset comes armed with several tools, such as anxiety, fear, a closed mind, and a famous phrase of “I can’t.” When life gets hard, it looks for a way out or a way to keep us from taking another step.
In contrast, when a curveball comes and we are acting from the Empowered Mindset, a decision is not made immediately. With this mindset, we take time to pause and reflect before making a conscious decision of how to move forward. We are more likely to use our strengths instead of focus on what we are lacking, and we take on the challenge with an open mind to what we will learn. An Empowered Mindset has tools such as endurance, personal strengths, and an “I Can” attitude.
While we are equipped with both mindsets, the one we choose more often will become the dominant one. This is where it becomes risky to have the Auto-pilot Mindset become the one we lean on more. The Auto-pilot Mindset already reacts quickly to a given situation, and this reflex will be stronger and act sooner the more often we let it decide for us. Before we know it, we will feel locked in a box, saddled with fear and believing that we can’t move forward.
Do you often find yourself saying “I can’t” when facing a new situation or challenge? Do you only have experiences in your mind that provided evidence for the “I can’t” attitude, rather than looking at the whole picture? Have you noticed yourself putting the blame elsewhere as to why something can’t be done, or do you tend to go after yourself and what you perceive you lack? The longer we let the Auto-pilot Mindset make the calls, the more opportunities we miss out on for learning and for growth.
Life does come with pain, sorrow, hurt, and a lot of experiences that just plain suck. When we let the Auto-pilot Mindset become our default approach, this is all we focus on, and it becomes a weighted chain that keeps us tethered down. Unfortunately, the more tethered down we feel, the more we believe that we can’t. This is the negative circular reasoning the Auto-pilot Mindset uses to keep us from taking a step forward into the unknown.
Have you found yourself locked in this negative circular reasoning? Does it happen so quickly that you believe you can’t and stay confined in your box? If someone was to ask you if you wanted to break free, in your mind would you hear an answer along the lines of “I want to, but I know I can’t, it’s just who I am”? That is the mis-power of the negative circular reasoning on the Auto-pilot Mindset, and it is time for you to begin the process of breaking free from its tethers and embracing the Empowered Mindset.
The key here is to recognize that it is a process. For true change to take place, the new pattern must be in place over time. Leaving the confines of the Auto-pilot Mindset will be no different; it will take time, patience, struggle, and the ability to question yourself in a way that leads to productive answers. To begin this process, here are three powerful questions you can start to ask yourself to transform your mindset and empower your journey.
Question #1: Whose voice do you hear saying “I can’t”?
This one may sound a little strange at first, but it is worth taking the time to explore. Often the critical voice in our head is an influence from someone else in our past. The voice may also change with the situations you find yourself in, so do not hesitate to ask yourself this question numerous times. Let me provide you with an example from my own life.
In high school, I had a teacher give me some feedback to an assignment that would stick with me long past that due date. The feedback was, “you should drop out of school now since that is what you’re destined to do.” Unfortunately, this voice had more power for a longer period than I care to admit. Any time I faced a tough assignment, struggled to write a paper or anything school-related that was a challenge, this voice would sound in my head. The Auto-pilot Mindset would kick in, I would think, “I can’t,” and I nearly dropped out of college due to failing a couple of courses.
The fact is these voices can have more power than we care to admit. Beginning to identify them allows us to look at their origins. If we know where a voice comes from, we can put a face on it and take away from its power. We can point out the times it was wrong and stop feeding it. If some of these voices are from traumatic experiences in the past, it would be wise to do this with a professional rather than just on your own; there is no shame in asking for help!
Question #2: Why can’t I do it?
This question seems simple at first, but the truth is, how often do we truly ask ourselves this? When we have been presented with a new situation that creates some anxiety or stress, and we go straight to saying, “I can’t,” how often do we actually challenge this? Remember, the Auto-pilot Mindset reacts quickly like a reflex, and the more often we use it, the more often we will go along with it. This question is meant to start the process of stopping this.
Take the time to list out the reasons why you can’t do something. Are there any patterns that emerge? Are they focused on external items, such as time, money, other people, or resources? Does there tend to be an internal theme, such as traits or strengths you are missing? If you were to show someone else who knows you well that list, what would they say about it? Challenge that Auto-pilot Mindset by seeking out its reasoning. Often in therapy with clients when I have asked, “why can’t you do something,” there is a puzzled look with the response of “I don’t know.” Just because the Auto-pilot Mindset gets us to fall for these beliefs does not mean there is truth in them!
Question #3: Why can I do it?
This question means it’s time to play devil's advocate with your Auto-pilot Mindset. It likes to give out the vague reason of “you can’t” for why you should not stretch yourself, face a challenging situation, and move forward. Find the reasons why you can do something. Do not let your “I can’t” voice win on this one! We all have unique strengths and abilities in our lives; now is the time to find those and list them out. Ask others around you that you trust if you need help breaking the mental block.
We are identifying reasons as to why we can do something rather than simply focusing on the reasons why we can’t, which will lead us to open our minds to other possibilities. Instead of seeing only one piece of the puzzle, we begin to see many pieces and the image that they form together. We begin to see more of ourselves and what we truly are and can be. That moves us more in the direction of the Empowered Mindset!
Starting the process of breaking away from the Auto-pilot Mindset is not easy, and in your discomfort, you will feel the pull to return to the way things were. Continue to use these three empowering questions to break through the mis-power of the Auto-pilot Mindset and begin to open your mind to the possibilities of the unknown. Life will continue to throw its curve balls your way, and it is up to you to find a way to empower your journey so you can move from “I can’t” to “I can” to transform your adventure! You can do this, and you will do it!