Take the Power Away From “I Can Only”

When someone says, “I can’t,” I know where we stand. But I would permanently strike these three words from my clients’ vocabulary if I could.

If I could permanently strike three words from my clients’ vocabulary, it would be these: “I can only…”

  • “I can only lift fifteen pounds.”
  • “I can only come to the gym twice a week.”
  • “I can only run a quarter of a mile.”

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like to hear “I can’t” either. It sucks. But at least when someone says, “I can’t,” I know where we stand. Fine, okay, you can’t. Whatever you say. Argument over.

What makes me want to kick every “I can only” straight in the balls is that it means even though you are making an effort to get better at something you still don’t believe in yourself.

That, my friends, is something that pisses me off to no end. I don’t like being pissed. Anger kills gains, sex drive, and rainbows. I love all of those things, especially rainbows.

So please, do me a favor: next time you feel the words “I can only” start to flap out of your lips, I want you to trap those words in your hands like a steamy winter breath, carry them to the bathroom, and place them in the toilet. I then want you to sit on the toilet, poop on your own words, and flush everything down because it is all just a bunch of your own shit.

Put “I can only” where it really belongs.

Learn to Appreciate Your Own Efforts

Seriously, whether you are my client are not, I never want you to demean your efforts with the words, “I can only.” Because once you have dipped your toes into the pool of “I am going to stop being scared and give something a try,” you need to own that shit.

Let’s use chin ups for an example. Maybe you are currently at a basic progression – ring rows, jumping hangs, or wherever you might be at this time. If you haven’t attempted a chin up in a while, then think about running. Maybe you currently max out after running for five minutes straight. Cool.

“Success takes work and effort. There is no such thing as luck. Luck is just the imaginary sum of work and effort.”

Does this mean you “can only” do ring rows and you “can only” run for five minutes? Hell no! It means, in the face of a largely unhealthy and sedentary society, that you are one of the brave few to turn off Chicago Fire, get off your couch, and go after a difficult physical challenge.

Believe me, I know this is hard to do – especially when they do those mega-cross-over episodes with Chicago P.D. and Law and Order. I mean, Mariska Hargitay? I can’t even.

Everyone Starts at the Beginning

So, yes, it is perfectly acceptable to periodically not be able to even, such as when this guy at Whole Foods decided to get in the ten-item express lane with twenty jugs of milk:

Sometimes it’s okay to admit defeat.

But it is never acceptable to dump on yourself for being a beginner by saying, “I can only.”

This may seem trite, but it is true: everyone was once a beginner. Mozart, Gretzky, Drake – everyone. Next time you get down on yourself because you are working on ring rows, picture someone who you admire totally messing up something basic.

When I try a new recipe, it helps me to think of the Pioneer Woman burning a pan of dinner rolls. Not because I want to relish in someone’s misfortune, but because it is an important reminder that no one is born a master of anything. Success takes work and effort. There is no such thing as luck. Luck is just the imaginary sum of work and effort.

Get Your Mind Right

This is why it totally drives me nuts when I see someone get down on themselves. I constantly come across people who go out on a limb to try and get a little better every day but are unable to see how awesome even just the simple act of trying can be.

Here are some ideas of how to shift your mentality when the toothless, peg-legged “I can only” fairy comes to visit:

“I can only lift fifteen pounds.”

What were you lifting before that? Ten? Five? Nothing? Then fifteen is an improvement, just as twenty will be. But for now, focus on how those fifteen pounds feel. Create good body tension. Focus on breathing. Maintain great form. Progress isn’t always a numerical value. Sometimes progress is made by making the same weight feel different.

“I can only come to the gym twice a week.”

Twice a week is great! Let’s just make sure your routine is directed and efficient with full-body compound movements while keeping the intensity up to develop your conditioning. When you find time to come more often, you can look forward to things such as challenging accessory exercises and skill-based development. For now, make the best with what you have. You can still make some great progress.

“I can only run quarter of a mile.”

Okay, cool! How does that quarter of a mile feel? Is your breath controlled or is it erratic? Are you taking good strides or are you just kind of trudging along? Work toward running a smooth quarter mile and then add a little bit more when it feels right. This will keep you injury-free while removing the miserable suck-factor out of running (which are generally the top two reasons people abandon their running goals).

“I can only do incline push ups.”

Nice job! A lot of people, especially women, think that novice bodyweight training means doing push ups from your knees. Incline push ups are an excellent progression for developing great carry-over core strength and for activating postural muscles that are a weak byproduct of our modern lifestyle. Even if you hover around a higher incline for a long time, trust me – everything happening to your body right now is good.

Everyone has to start somewhere.

Build a Pretty Sand Castle

I am not trying to be overly fluffy here. Self-talk – whether we are talking about the gym, careers, or everyday lives – plays a huge part in dictating our success. I cannot stress the value of a positive mentality enough. Why? Because life can get shitty sometimes.

“Self-talk – whether we are talking about the gym, careers, or everyday lives – plays a huge part in dictating our success.”

Things get unpredictable and stressful, and it can be easy to give up on yourself and your goals. I don’t want that to happen to you. I want you to be comfortable being a beginner when you are a beginner, and I also want you to be comfortable being stuck during the times when you are stuck.

Sometimes, to keep my mind right, I think about sand castles. With no water, there is no castle – just a pile of sand. Too much water and you get a heap of mud. Just the right amount of water, though, and you can build a beautiful palace adorned with the finest shells and seaweed.

Does that make sense? I have no idea. But at least it is something to think about the next time you get down on yourself when you are trying your best.

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Photo courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.

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