If you had to pick just two words, two little words, that would empower you to change your life, what would they be?

Mine would be “I can”.

You’ve probably heard various personal development experts, life coaches, or self-appointed gurus tell you not to say “I can’t”. But why exactly are those two little words “I can” so important? What do they add up to and how do they work?

I Am Responsible For My Life

The first word is “I”. For me, this emphasizes who has to do the changing.

However much we might like to blame someone else for the bits of our life we don’t like, the truth is that we’ve got full responsibility for our life conditions. Unless you’re in an very extreme situation (like being held prisoner), there’s no reason why you can’t wake up one morning and decide to completely overhaul your life. You can:

  • Quit your job
  • Start that small business you’ve always dreamt about
  • Learn to play a musical instrument
  • Take the first step in healing a broken relationship
  • Start eating more healthily
  • Be more active

Don’t ever put your hopes for change on someone else. This sort of thinking looks like: “It’s up to my partner to get a good job, then I’ll be better off financially” or “If only my mother would cook healthier food, I wouldn’t be overweight.”

No-one else can change you. If you’re heavily in debt, overspending, addicted to shopping … and you win the lottery, will you really turn your life around? Or will you rapidly end up back where you started? (You might want to read 8 lottery winners who lost their millions for some food for thought here.)

However difficult your circumstances (poor health, family problems, money troubles), you can start the process of change by looking at your response to events. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, emphasises that it isn’t a negative event itself that’s a problem – it’s your response to it. He explains that “Our most difficult experiences become the crucibles that forge our character and develop the internal powers, the freedom to handle difficult circumstances in the future and to inspire others to do so as well.”

I Have the Ability to Act

It’s not enough to just think “I” when you want to make a change in your life, though. Simply accepting that you’re responsible for your life doesn’t necessarily empower you to change – in fact, it can be a bit depressing when you accept that the bits of your life you don’t like are your responsibility rather than someone else’s fault!

So the second word that I consider crucial for change is the word can. With the tools of motivation, self-discipline and guidance from those more expert than us, it’s possible for us to accomplish anything we really set our minds to and set our hearts on.

How often have you said “I can’t” or words to that effect? Have you ever attempted a goal that you were saying “I can’t” about? I certainly haven’t. Here are a few popular “I can’t” statements:

  • I can’t sing (write/paint/act…)
  • I’m trapped in this job (relationship/town/situation)
  • I don’t have any choices
  • It would be impossible to quit
  • I’ll never succeed
  • I can’t lose weight
  • I always fail

Think about one of your “I can’t” statements. What do you often tell yourself, or others, that you’re incapable of doing? I know that I often say that “I can’t sing”.

Is your statement really true? Is it actually impossible for you to do that – or is it just that you don’t want to face up to the fact that effort, discomfort and perhaps emotional pain might be involved? Is my “I can’t sing” true? No. Singing is certainly not something I’m naturally gifted at, but I can sing – and I know that if I took singing lessons, I could learn to improve my singing.

You always have the choice of saying “can do” about your dreams, instead of “can’t do”.

Using “I can” Today

I’m sure there’s something in your life that you’d like to change, but that you feel you’ve not yet made progress on. Perhaps it’s something that other people have had an influence over – such as your sense of self-worth, or your material circumstances. Perhaps it’s something which you’ve been secretly convinced you can’t change.

Keep that part of your life in your mind for a moment. Recognize that, whatever the influences from other people and circumstances, you do have 100% responsibility for your actions and thoughts. You do have the power to choose your response.

And now realise that you can change this, whatever it is. Even if you’ve tried and failed in the past, even if you’re afraid it will take a lot of hard work, even if you don’t know all the steps to fully changing that aspect of yourself or your life just yet. You can change.

If you’re willing to share your thoughts and your own experience of how “I can” empowers change, please take a moment to add a comment to this post.

Ali Luke

Ali writes about personal growth and development on her blog, Aliventures. As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing.

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