Success comes in cans, not in can'ts.

From a purely psychological perspective, what happens right after we tell ourselves we can’t? The next step after “I can’t” is, “I won't even try. I’m done. Finished. Defeated.”

“I can’t” is a toggle switch on the side of our brain that turns our creative mind off. It is the end of the trail. There is no next step. We are stuck, stopped, finished.

The opposite of “I can’t” is obviously “I can.” It is followed by an important question, “How can I?”

The “I can’t” people and the “I can” people ask the same thing, “How can I possibly do this?”

They mean the exact opposite, however.

In “I can’t” mode, “How can I possibly do this!” is actually a statement disguised as a question – notice the exclamation mark? What it really means in this mode is, “There is no way I can possibly do this!”  In “I can” mode, however, it is a real question. “How can I possibly do this?”

We know we don’t know everything. We may have absolutely no clue about how we are going to answer that question, but we ask the question, with full intention of finding the answer. Asking the question, as a question, leads to flashes of creativity and brilliant answers. The more we practice, the better it works.

Just as quickly as “I can’t” turns our creative mind off, “I can” turns our creative mind on. It gets us thinking, especially as we ask that important follow up question, “How can I?”

What is the next step? There is always a next step in “I can” mode. Ask for help, look for resources, consult, question, do something, get it done.


He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

~ Epictetus

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Linda says:

    If I can you can! Everybody can can! (picture dancing)
    Simple message – so appropriate. The sequel to the “How can I?” question is to listen and when you hear the answer to follow through with the inspired action. Thank you for answering the call to speak your mind and doing it. :)Love it!

  • Yes, just “can it” Dr. Paul! Your “Success Comes in Cans” message sounds “canned” and it’s great! Can I have a can of that? I can? Thanks!

  • Becky Hinton says:

    Thank you Dr. Paul for this message. It’s a great one to share with my children. My eldest is always saying, “I Can’t!” But, what he really means is, “I’m not willing to try!” I am so grateful for all your knowledge that you so freely share. I miss seeing you. It’s been a long time since we have seen you and your lovely wife. You are a great example of the, “I Can!!!” mindset. Have a great day!

  • Great post Dr. Jenkins! I completely agree. I’ve told my kids for years that “If you say you can’t, you won’t” and the opposite is true as well- “If you say you can, you will.” They’ve figured out that at our house “I can’t” just doesn’t wash. Because of this parental advise, I’ve caught myself on a few occassions giving myself the same advice when I’m tempted to say “I can’t”. I can’t very well tell my kids something then do the opposite.

    Keep up the positive vibes!

    Eric Buchanan (UCCU Branch Manager)