What does “I can’t” really mean?

The other day, one of my brothers’ colleagues said to me, “I heard you run marathons”. To which I said, “Yes, that’s true”. He then said something like, “How do you do that? I can’t even run 8km without barfing!”

I am confident that any endurance athlete will have a story or 10, about someone asking them, “How do you run a marathon?” or “How do you do a triathlon?” etc. I find this question difficult to answer because it’s pretty simple. You put in time, effort and train for your endurance sport of choice, and then you do it. There is no magic. Regardless of the response, it is typically followed by something like, “I could never do that!”

But how can you know for certain that you CAN’T do something if you never try? You see, the choice of language, “I can’t” cannot be interpreted literally.

It can mean:

“I don’t want to”.

“I have never tried”.

“That seems daunting, I’m scared just thinking about it”.

Etc.

It can also mean:

“I am not trained to..”

“I can’t…TODAY”.

These two statements are true of endurance athletes too, the ability to complete a marathon or triathlon requires training, it’s not just something you up and do on a random afternoon (typically). Even people who are seasoned endurance athletes go through periods of un-fitness, and times where they aren’t prepared to complete long events. Training is hard, there’s no question, it involves prioritizing, organization, and dedication. Just because something doesn’t come easy, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It means it’s going to take time and effort.

Saying you “can’t” is limiting yourself, putting a box around a goal and saying no without ever fighting for it. I believe this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because if you have it in your head that you are unable to do something, you probably won’t try to do it. Even though it’s more than likely that this goal would be attainable if the necessary effort was put forth. There are very few things someone actually “can’t” do so long as a goal is set, and we give ourselves the time and tools to complete it.

You may have heard of a tool called S.M.A.R.T goals. It can be used for any type of goal, personal, professional, athletic or other.

S: is for specific.

M: is for measurable.

A: is for achievable.

R: is for relevant.

T: is for time bound.

Using SMART goals is helpful because it keeps you accountable. Sometimes the difference between meeting a goal or not is realizing it by saying it or writing it out etc. Sometimes the difference can be the language we use, for example, “I can’t” vs. “I can’t right now” or “I’m working towards…”

Anyone who can was previously someone who couldn’t. The only difference between those who can and those who can’t, is that those who can are willing to try, willing to potentially fail in pursuit of being able to accomplish their goal. We aren’t born with the inherent ability to do many things, let alone run a marathon. Some of us choose to spend our time training in order to run them. So before you say “I can’t” do something, ask yourself, “Have I ever put forth the effort required to meet this goal? Seriously, have I?” If the answer is no, don’t say “I can’t”.

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