Can’t vs. Won’t Mindset Is Key to Unlocking Potential

When it comes to limiting our potential for success, Marie Forleo, our cover subject for the November/December 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine, says three primary things stand in our way: our beliefs, fears and mindset. And when it comes to the latter, it’s usually a can’t vs. won’t mindset.

Use this three-step plan to access your inner potential:

1. Change your belief system.

“The most powerful words in the universe are the words you say to yourself,” says Forleo, an author, speaker, entrepreneur and personal development powerhouse. It’s as simple as this: If you believe you don’t have the time, money, creativity or conviction to do something, then you won’t do it.

“As cliché as the Henry Ford quote is, if you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right,” Forleo says, adding that belief is the first thing that holds people back from achieving their dreams. “Belief is the first domino—if you tip that, everything else becomes available to you.”

2. Face your fears.

If you can change your belief system, the next limiting factor for many people is fear. Even once people change their belief system and realize that everything is figureoutable” (the moniker of Forleo’s book) and available to them, many people are still afraid to move forward.

“It can be kind of scary, because you’re like, Oh my god, everything’s available,” Forleo says. “What am I going to do about that? Then it’s about investigating and learning how to manage, mitigate and move through your fear.”

Forleo says personal development concepts surrounding fear tend to encourage smashing, punching or annihilating what we’re afraid of. She eschews this way of thinking about fear.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily the most useful way to think about fear, because it’s always going to be there,” she says. “What I believe is that fear is really a GPS for where your soul most wants to go. When you feel afraid, that’s actually a positive signal that something is really important to you and you should pay attention.”

Use your fears as fuel for going forward in the direction of the things you really want. “Understand that it’s really there to be your friend,” Forleo says.

3. Adopt a new mindset: can’t vs. won’t.

Once you’ve changed your belief system and reframed how you see fear, the third step in achieving your goals is adopting a new mindset—one without self-limiting excuses.

“The two four-letter words that can help us annihilate our excuses are can’t vs. won’t,” Forleo says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, when any of us say we can’t do something, can’t is actually a euphemism for won’t. And what does won’t mean? It means we’re not willing. We don’t really want to. It’s not enough of a priority. It’s not important enough. We don’t want to go through the discomfort. We don’t want to go through the risk.”

Determining can’t vs. won’t

Forleo says we all fall victim to the can’t vs. won’t mindset—herself included. One of her bucket list items was to learn to speak fluent Italian. She knew she was limiting herself when she realized that, despite telling herself she didn’t have time to learn Italian, she managed to spend hours watching Stranger Things each night.

Whenever people say things like, “I can’t find the time to write,” or, “I can’t work out because I don’t have time,” or, “I can’t forgive her—it’s just not possible,” they’re limiting themselves without even realizing it.

“If we replace can’t with won’t, what we get is usually something much more honest,” Forleo says. “We don’t really want to. It’s not a high enough priority. Facing that fact doesn’t make us lazy or bad or unambitious. It makes us honest. And from that place, we can take full responsibility for how we’re spending our most precious resources of time and effort and attention.”

Replacing can’t with won’t puts you in a position of power so you’re no longer a victim of your circumstances.

“When you remove those excuses, you empower yourself to make new choices,” Forleo says. “You start to go, ‘Hmm, how am I spending my time from moment to moment? Is this really aligned with where I say I want to go? And if not, what changes am I willing to make even if they make me uncomfortable, even if they force me to break some patterns?’”

This change can lead to difficult conversations, letting go of some responsibilities, resetting boundaries and saying “no” to things. “If you really want to create a life you love, that’s the price of admission,” she says.

This article was published in October 2019 and has been updated. Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock

Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.

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