Saturday, June 9, 2012

Of Course You Can

OK, let's get one thing straight: statistically speaking, there is no such thing as "can't", i.e., the percentage of things that you actually can't do is so infinitesimally small that for all intents and purposes, there's nothing you can't do.

Please don't confuse this with the encouragement that your mom gave you when she told you that you could do anything. (Your mom did tell you that, didn't she?) And this has nothing to do with each of us being special. It's a simple existential statement kind of like, "I am, therefore I can."

The reason I wanted to start with this is that I'm getting just a bit weary of people saying that they don't because they can't. They don't exercise. They don't have a better job. They don't know the material. They don't write every day. They don't play as well.

Statistically, all such statements are bullshit. What they mean to say is that a) they won't or b) they don't know how to.


Won't is the more common of the two and in many instances is confused with the second. Most things we "can't" do are simply a case of not really wanting to do them. The not wanting is sometimes direct and sometimes indirect.

For example, "I can't make the party" is often stated as a direct not wanting. It's a socially acceptable substitute for "I don't want to come to your party and be bored out of my mind." (The reasoning may vary.)

"I could never play the bass like Victor Wooten", is more likely an indirect not wanting. I want to play the bass like Victor Wooten, but I don't want to put the time and effort into it. Even the second order not wanting can be viewed as (and is often stated as) cannot, e.g., I can't afford the time and effort.

Of course you can. It's just a question of priorities. So the more accurate statement might be, "I'd love to play bass like Victor Wooten, but I have other things that I'd rather spend my time doing than practicing bass."

So there is no can't; there's just wanting and not wanting.

Unfortunately, wanting and not wanting isn't black-and-white. Instead, wanting comes in shades of gray. This makes identifying not wanting a bit tricky. Without a context the not wanting looks like wanting. However, when juxtaposed to other wants, it fades to a not-want. You end up with conflicting wants and you pick the one that is the strongest.

This brings us to the second substitute for "I can't" which is "I don't know how to..." More often than you would imagine, your sense of not being able to do something is simply and artifact of not knowing where to start or how to go about it.  Not knowing how can make pretty much anything seem impossible. Even if it seems possible, not knowing how to go about it can make it much more difficult.  There are many impossible things that are easy once you know the trick to doing them.

Not wanting and not knowing how can get a bit confusing. When you don't know how to do something, then you assume that learning to do it will take a lot of time and effort. The assumption of big time and effort leads to low priority.  The low priority causes you not to even think about easier ways to go about it. Before you know it, not knowing has become not wanting has become can't.

This is the scenario that baffles me most. I daily encounter people who can't do something because the approach they know how to do is too time consuming or challenging.

I'll ask about the approach and think, "Shit, I wouldn't want to do that either."

I'll then suggest another approach that's much easier and quicker. That's where the baffling part occurs. I think, "Wow, I'd be relieved to find out that I could do something ten-times faster with significantly less effort than I'd anticipated."

However, my would-be could-be often responds with a) disbelief, or b) a statement on the order of, "that's not how I do things."

I think, "But the way you're doing things isn't working. Why would you want to keep doing things that way?"

OK, I more than think that.

The response is typically a defense of the person's approach or an existential statement, "that's just how I work."

Baffling.

It's simple, really.

You can if you want.

You can faster and easier if you know how.

You can know how if you're open to it.

Happy Saturday,
Teflon




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