“Why can’t things ever go right, just once in my life?” “I’m such a ________.” “I’ll never be as good as ___________.” “Why do things never go my way?” “Why can’t I ever succeed, just once?”

Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve tried behavior and habit change methods to help you overcome these types of thoughts. Diets, exercise programs, the newest habit change systems, meditation – guided and not, gratitude journals, medication, the latest therapy techniques, vacations and even drugs and/or alcohol. Nothing helps.

Of course nothing helps. Because you are feeding your “can’t,” not eating mine. Let me explain. Down deep, way down deep, inside of your thinking, there is a set of core thoughts that govern much of your behaviors, that filter much of what you see, and that color many of your thoughts.

I recently saw a young girl, maybe six or seven, sitting on the lap of her physically challenged father, her backpack tucked safely in the back of his electric wheelchair. They were crossing the street, apparently on the way to school. She’d arrive on her dad’s lap in his wheelchair, while most of the other kids would be dropped off at school by their parents from cars and vans. I wondered what lens that little girl saw life through. Others have it better than me? Why can’t I have a father who drives? How embarrassing it is to arrive at school with the other kids in a wheelchair? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I have it better in life?

Then again, maybe not. Maybe she wasn’t feeding her negative. Maybe she was fortunate to be able to see life through the lens of what was happening for her, not to her. Let’s hope. Let’s hope she sees she’s not competing with anyone, and doesn’t see limits but rather opportunities. Otherwise, she’ll grow up with a “can’t” hidden deep within her.

Want to rid yourself of your hidden and not-so-hidden“can’t”? Want to stop thinking you are can’t be perfect and must be? Want to stop seeing what you can’t do and avoid seeing life as nothing but one disappointment after another? Want to delete the can’t and stop feeding the negative labels you put on yourself and answer to from others, feeling flawed, and like a failure? Want to turn the page on your can’t and always seeing the worst possible outcomes in life?

If you search, you’ll see that your “can’t” is at the core of every frustration, disappointment, sadness, procrastination, avoidance, and “failure” in your life. It explains why you recede, not succeed. It is the single deadliest accusing voice in your head and it’s time to hit the delete button on this negative, erroneous, irrational, illogical and harmful word. Ready to stop feeding your can’t and eat mine?

Start here:
Catch, challenge and change every negative thought, whisper, or belief to see the good in whatever happens. I was recently waiting at an airport after a series of talks I gave, and just before I began making myself annoyed at the long wait, a young woman came up to me and asked if I was Dr. Mantell. I said I was and she proceeded to tell me that she was not going to go to my third talk, but heard strong raves about my first two, so decided to go. She was thrilled she caught up with me at the airport because she was able to tell me how “life-changing” my words were, how impactful my talk was on her life and how she intended to use my points at her work. So THAT’S the reason I waited in line. Not because nothing can ever work out for me, not because bad things always happen to me, not because I was too stupid to read the fine print that Alaska Airlines didn’t open until 2:30 in Orlando. I caught, challenged and changed my negative thoughts about “I can’t stand waiting in line” to see the good.

Appreciate your achievements and be grateful for your accomplishments. Do you focus on your losses, your slip ups, the wrong turns you make in life, and how you ate the donut when you knew you weren’t supposed to? Or do you focus on the wins you’ve had, the good guesses you’ve made, the right turns you’ve made in life, and all of the times you didn’t eat the donut? Guess which will propel your success? Kurt Vonnegut urged, “Please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t what is.’”

No on the negative. The story is told about Jean-Paul Satre, who was writing “Being and Nothingness” in a coffee shop when the barista asked him if he wanted anything. Satre answered, “Sure, I’d like a cup of coffee with no milk.” The barista answered, “I’m sorry sir, but we’re out of milk. Would you prefer no cream instead?” Some folks just focus on the negative. They turn rainbows gray. What can you do to see what goes right in your life, what you have, instead of don’t have? Would you be ok with no cream instead of no coffee? Think “I can’t do this and will never be better at it!” Replace it with, “I’ll keep trying.” “I’m just a lazy person and can’t change.” Replace it with “I haven’t been able YET to fit it into my schedule, but I can take another look and find a way.”

‘ahhhpostrophe. Ahhhh, yes. It’s that little break, the chance to catch your breath and your thinking. That moment to meditate on Marcus Aurelius’ wonderful reminder, “The happiness in your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” That tiny pause when you can focus on my mantra, “The link is what you think,” and then catch your thoughts. Remind yourself that in the 1590’s happiness, the antithesis of “can’t” thinking, shifted in meaning from “good fortune” to “pleasant and contented mental state.”

Trust and faith in something larger than yourself. Remember the “serenity prayer”? "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference." It begins with trust and faith. I’m not preaching a religion here, but acknowledging what science tells us about those who have serenity and trust. They have healthier hearts, better cholesterol, handle stress better, have stronger immunity, have lower stroke risk, regulate emotions in healthier ways and have better longevity. Faith encourages healthy behavior, prayer which is a form of meditation, reduces stress, folks who spend time in communities find improved emotional health, and the act of helping others overcomes the “can’t “ mentality. Seems enough for me. How about you?

Can’t is a word that is best deleted. Next time your ears hear your mouth say it or your brain think it, consider my version of can’t and to paraphrase Vonnegut’s urging, “If this isn’t better, I don’t what is.’”

Author's Bio: 

Michael R. Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, where he wrote his thesis on the psychological aspects of obesity. His career includes serving as the Chief Psychologist for Children’s Hospital in San Diego, and as the founding Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He served on the faculty of UCSD’s School of Medicine, Dept. of Psychiatry.

He provides behavior science coaching for sustainable strategic outcomes, in mindful, values driven and positively adaptive ways to business leaders, entrepreneurs, athletes, individuals, families and fitness organizations to reach new breakthrough levels of success and significance in their professional and personal lives.

Michael is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Council on Active Aging, the Chief Consultant for Behavior Science for the Premier Fitness Camp at Omni La Costa,, and served as the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for the American Council on Exercise. He travels the world speaking with fitness and health professionals to provide the most current thinking and tools for behavior change.

He is a best-selling author of three books including the 25th Anniversary updated edition of his 1988 original “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, P.S. It’s All Small Stuff.” He is listed is listed in greatist.com’s 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”

Please connect with Michael on Twitter: @FitnessPsych & @DrSanDiego
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Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drmichaelmantell