Overcoming “I Can’t”

In my line of work as a personal trainer, you can imagine that I’ve heard pretty much every excuse under the sun:

“I can’t run.”

“My schedule is so crazy, I just can’t find the time to exercise.”

“I could never eat like you.  I’m too much of a foodie, I can’t imagine eating plain chicken breasts.”

“I just can’t seem to wake up early to get my workout in.”

“I really like variety and being spontaneous, so I can’t plan out my meals.”

Would you like me to go on?  Because I could.  I’ve heard all these and more, more, more.  Every day, a new “But, Pahla.  I can’t.”

Let me tell you a little secret about “I can’t.”  It’s a lie, an excuse.  And what I hear when you tell me you can’t do something is this:  I’m afraid.

“I’m afraid of running because I’ve never done it before and it sounds difficult and if I’m outdoors on the sidewalk or indoors on a treadmill, either way, it seems very public, and I think people will laugh at me.”

“My schedule is out of my control and I’m afraid of committing to something else.  It feels overwhelming.”

“I’m afraid of letting go of how I see myself as somebody who really enjoys food.  Holding on to the extra weight feels less scary than the possibility of changing my personality.”

“Making my workouts a priority is scary.  What if I have to let go of something else I like to do?”

“Having a plan and following through is scary because I don’t really see myself as a reliable person, especially when it comes to making healthy choices.”

I’m not going to sugarcoat it:  Making healthy choices can be hard.  Change is scary.  Seeing yourself in a new light – even a positive one! – is intimidating.

But you can do it, and you don’t need to be afraid.  Let me show you how, by telling you about an unreliable girl I used to know:

There were many years where I declared myself to be a spontaneous person.  It was a big part of my personality, my persona.  Sometimes I would be places – *ahem*, like work – when I was supposed to, and sometimes I wouldn’t.  I liked to have fun, to try new things and be adventurous.

Committing to following through on something meant the possibility of failing at that thing, and that was terrifying to me.

I didn’t mind in the least that other people saw me as flaky or unreliable, because the alternative was so much worse.  What if I was a disappointment?

I ran from that fear for a long time before I acknowledged it.  And I might have continued running, had a good friend not pointed it out to me, quite unceremoniously.

But once the words were out of her mouth, there was no denying my fear any more.  I just had to figure out what to do about it.

Decide which Changes are Worth Your While

The secret to making real and lasting changes is this:  there has to be a compelling reason why.  Kind of wanting or wishing for something isn’t going to cut it.  Hoping that things might be better if you make a few changes won’t keep you going when things get tough (and they will get tough, that’s nearly certain).

The reason you decide to make changes is up to you.  Maybe it’s as simple as you finally getting sick of feeling unhappy.  Maybe it’s as big as getting a warning from your doctor.  Or maybe you meet the right person at the right time.

I knew my husband was “the one” the minute I laid eyes on him.  Before him, boys had come and gone in my life as though there was a revolving door, and I couldn’t have cared less.  I was spontaneous!  A party girl!  But this one?  I didn’t want to let him go, so I knew I had to change.  I needed to be a little nicer, a little gentler, and a lot more – *ack* – reliable.  It wasn’t easy, but my “why” was so compelling that it didn’t matter, so I started to make changes.

Stop Looking at the Whole Staircase and Focus on the Step Ahead of You

It’s pretty easy to be afraid of making changes when all you’re thinking about is how far away you are from the person you want to become, so stop looking at her.  Instead, figure out one thing – the tiniest, easiest thing – that you can do today that’ll get you closer to being that person.

What if you planned tonight’s menu, rather than the whole week?

What if you set your alarm for just five minutes earlier each week until you built up to enough time for a 30 minute workout?

What if you started with walking and running intervals instead of tackling a whole run?

What if you showed up just once when you said you would?

Every time you do that tiny little thing, it makes it easier to do that tiny thing again, which makes it easier to do another tiny thing at some point in the future.

Now, to be fair, this part of the story makes it sound like I charged up the whole darn staircase in one step – because I was engaged to that wonderful man within eight months of our first date and married to him just five months after that, and oh, yes, the other detail:  we got a new puppy a mere ten days after the wedding – but the changing process really was slow.

I learned how to be reliable one day at a time.  I fed the puppy and took her for walks, even when I didn’t want to, day in and day out.  I kept groceries in the house and started paying the rent on time, even when it would have been easier to blow it off.  I took baby steps and kept shuffling forward until one day I looked around me and discovered that I could both make promises and keep them.

Recognize and Acknowledge the Fear

You know that old saying, “Knowing is half the battle”?  It’s true.  Start listening to the words you say to yourself in your head and out loud to others, and you’ll hear it.  You’re making excuses.

Acknowledge that, embrace it.  But then stop doing it.

There’s no shame in being afraid of something, so rather than putting your fears out there as excuses, declare them (even if it’s just in your own mind) as fears.  Sit with the knowledge of that fear for a while and decide for yourself whether it’s valid.  Calling them out like that helps take away their power.

There are some fears (hello, skydiving!) that you might not ever overcome, and that is 100% okay.  As long as you’re honest with yourself, you’re making progress.

Rest Assured that Making Changes won’t Truly Change You

Yes, I am more reliable these days.  But I’m still funny.  And I still like to be spontaneous (sometimes).  In many ways – ways that are important to me – I’m the same crazy girl I always was.

Becoming reliable didn’t change the parts of me I didn’t want to change.

You will still be the essential you that you want to be, even if you start running.  Even if you go to bed early.  And, yes, even if you eat plain chicken breasts.

And to be brutally honest, if you ask me if I’d like to go to dinner next Tuesday night, the word maybe is still pretty likely to come blurting out of my mouth first, rather than committing to it outright.

But I’m not going to tell you I can’t.

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