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How We Can Accomplish Amazing Things (If We Really Want To)

When we say we can’t do something, do we really mean we can’t?

Chris Schatz Ed.D
Jun 18 · 8 min read

Last weekend I was at my nephew’s birthday party and go to talking with someone I haven’t seen in a while. Shortly into our conversation he began telling me about his switch to a plant based diet. To many of us, myself included, the thought of going this route seems dang near impossible.

“I couldn’t do that,” I told him. “I love a good burger cooked on the grill too much.”

This man had a pretty good reason for switching diets though. His kidneys were failing and his doctor told him he needed to change what he ate in order to survive. That seems like a pretty good reason, one that would change the minds of a few people if they were in a similar position.

This man’s reasons for going to a new meatless diet overpowered any reasons he had of staying with his old diet. He’s been eating this way for 3 years now, with no plans to go back. His liver is functioning better, he’s happier than ever, and he’s healthier.

After this conversation I began to wonder, “What would I do in that situation?” I started thinking about my attitude now regarding switching to a plant-based diet (I couldn’t do that), versus my attitude I would have if I received similar news from the doctor.

My realization

I realized pretty quickly that I could switch my diet, if I had to. Quite frankly though, I just don’t want to change my diet.

I don’t have enough reasons to change.

I also realized that the words and stories we tell ourselves shape our daily lives in infinite ways. Some for the better, some for the worse. From what we eat to what we can accomplish in life.

People can accomplish amazing things (if they really want to)

People can accomplish amazing things if they really want to-if they have enough reasons to do it. Kyle Maynard climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, something many people would never dream of doing. Kyle’s feat is all the more remarkable though because he was born without arms or legs. He didn’t allow himself to make excuses for why he couldn’t do something, he found a way to do it. Kyle has also wrestles, plays football, and practices martial arts. He has enough reasons to do something, he tells himself he can do it, and he does it. Plain and simple.

We believe what we tell ourselves

We are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves and the words we use to craft those stories. Kyle Maynard told himself he could climb the tallest peak in Africa despite not having any arms or legs. He told himself he wasn’t going to be limited by his physical limitations he was born with. He believed what he told himself and he accomplished what he set out to do.

We believe what we tell ourselves, good or bad, no matter the external feedback we get from others. If we don’t believe something or have faith we can do it, it’s not gonna happen. If we’re not bought in to a thought or idea we have, then it’s destined for failure. If we believe it though, then the sky is the limit. There is no way we are going to fail. We’ll find a way.

We’re always right

Others may say we can’t do something, but if we want it bad enough then we’ll find a way to do it and prove them wrong. If we say to ourselves that we can’t do something though, we’re always right. We’re the ones holding ourselves back, not others. This is especially true when it’s our own inner voice talking.

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford

3 words we tell ourselves that shape our reality

We say many things to ourselves throughout the course of a day. We can be our biggest cheerleader and supporter, or our own worst enemy. Our reality is shaped by the thoughts we have, and the thoughts we have are shaped by what we tell ourselves.

Sometimes though, we lie to ourselves, and frame things in a negative light despite our conscious thoughts to the contrary and what we tell others. These 3 words we often say, that limit us, are can’t, don’t, and won’t.


Can’t, a contraction combining the words can and not. Can’t implies that we know what to do, but we don’t have the ability, resources, or opportunity to do it. For instance, I can’t become a world champion sprinter in the 100 meter dash. I’m over 40 and lack the physical attributes to accomplish such a feat. It’s not that I won’t, or don’t, it’s more that I can’t physically do it. It’s not a choice but a sad reality.

Too often though we say we “can’t” do something when in fact we could, we just either don’t or won’t.


Don’t, a contraction combining the words do and not. Don’t may imply we have a blind spot, or we’re not aware of something. My kids don’t listen to me because they’re ignorant to the wisdom I’ve gained from doing things the hard way and I want to see them avoid the same pitfalls I encountered. They don’t listen because they don’t realize the benefits of doing so. They’re gonna have to learn the hard way, like I did. *Sigh*, but I digress…

But don’t can also be a won’t.


Won’t, a contraction combining the words will and not. Won’t implies we are making a conscious choice. I either will do something or I won’t. We choose every day to do or not do many things. I won’t eat pickles. I can, physically, I just choose not to. They smell terrible. I won’t eat pickles and you can’t make me. I also won’t cheer for the Chicago Bears. I live in Wisconsin and I absolutely refuse to cheer for the Bears (unless cheering for them to win will somehow help the Packers). Again, this is a choice I am making.

The difference between them

Whereas don’t may imply ignorance, won’t says we know better but we’re making the conscious choice not too. I know eating fatty foods is bad for me, but dang it, I won’t stop eating pizza. I can (and have), I just don’t want to.

These words are somewhat trivial when talking about eating pickles or cheering for the Bears. But when it comes to personal development, improving our lives, and accomplishing what we “say” we want in life, these words make all the difference.

How the words we tell ourselves shape our lives

When it comes to accomplishing our goals and improving our situation, it pretty much comes down to this: we don’t do something because we don’t want to. We don’t have enough reasons (yet)to do it. Some people climb mountains while other people sit on the couch and watch reruns of The Office on Netflix.

If you wanted to do it, I mean really wanted to do it, and had enough reasons, you would find a way to get it done. If someone said they’d pay you a million dollars to run a marathon, you’d find a way to run that marathon.

Flat out, you aren’t accomplishing something because you don’t have enough reasons to accomplish it. I know that sounds harsh, but the same holds true for me. I could write an article a day on Medium, but I don’t have enough reasons to accomplish such a feat (and I’m impressed with those that can!). Given where I’m at right now in life, I prioritize the time I have for my job and my family over writing daily. And I’m fine with that. I don’t accomplish the feat of writing daily because I don’t want to. I feel I would have poor quality articles and stress myself out too much. I feel I would be neglecting my family and my job. That’s just me and where I’m at now.

But, when the reasons for doing something outweigh the reasons for not doing it, then we will get it done. If I lost my job tomorrow, or my kids were all grown and out of the house, you can bet I’d be writing a lot more on Medium. I’d have more reasons, more motivation, for doing so.

It’s not that we can’t do something, it’s that we don’t…or we won’t

Most times we tell ourselves we can’t, when what we really mean is that we won’t. We can eat better, we just won’t…because well, we choose not to. We know we should, and that it’ll benefit us, but we’d rather eat pizza. We can exercise more, again we just choose not to. And again, this is a won’t. We know the benefits of exercise, but we choose to let other decisions take precedent (sleep, Netflix, work, scrolling Twitter, etc.)

We can’t go back to school, we can’t get that new position at work, we can’t write that first book, and we can’t exercise. We tell ourselves we can’t find the time. We say we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the opportunity, we don’t have the connections, we don’t have the knowledge, etc.

At least that’s what we tell ourselves, and what we tell others.

But, others find a way to do it, so why won’t we?

It’s possible, we’re just choosing to let other aspects of our lives take precedent. We have a value conflict. For instance, I value time spent watching my kids’ Little League baseball games over time spent writing. I value the joy of eating pizza more than the pain of not. Each person has their own value hierarchy they must constantly reference when making decisions that impact their life.

We may value education, but may not be able to go back to school and get our degree in a reasonable amount of time while our kids are young and we need to devote our resources to them. We may value writing, but not be able to write our first book right now because we’re caring for a family member who is in poor health and we’re putting in a lot of hours at work.

And that’s totally fine.

But, what can we do? Can we take one class a semester online to work towards our degree? Can we write one page a day towards our first book (or one paragraph?). It may take us longer than envisioned, but can we make progress towards it?

And if you absolutely cannot do something (like me being the world record holder in the 100 meter dash) then stop lying to yourself. Be honest and say, “I’m not going to be able to do that. That is no longer in the cards for me” and come to peace with it. Stop beating yourself up for not accomplishing it. Find something you can do, something you choose to do, something you have enough reasons to do.

Engage in honest self-reflection

Be realistic either way though, through honest self-reflection. Are you not doing something because you can’t (truly can’t), because you don’t (maybe you have a blind-spot) or because you won’t (you’re choosing not to)?

How can you change what you tell yourself to be more honest, realistic, and less stressed?

How can you take action on what you say you want to accomplish, if only in small incremental steps?

What’s holding you back, other than yourself?

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Chris Schatz Ed.D

Written by

Just a guy who is motivated to share my experiences and help others. Husband. Father. Educator.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +479K people. Follow to join our community.