Can’t is a damned interesting word, responsible for much mischief. With few exceptions, it is simply a cognitive distortion. However, when I say that, you may automatically tune out, assuming I that I am about to rehash some chestnut from my Dale Carnegie-Napoleon Hill,-Norman Vincent Peale-Jim Robbins bag of “positive thinking” tricks. Not so! I promise!
The reason this is not a rehash of “positive thinking” is because Dale and Company’s response to “I can’t!” is “I can!” We feel that is flawed. With all due respect to these early pioneers of New Age, who certainly occupy a place in the history of the evolution of consciousness in the 20th Century, “positive thinking” is shallow and callow and usually leads to disappointment after perhaps some initial elation. Having said that, we are not recommending “negative thinking.” However, how many people have you observed on their way to the poor house chanting “Yes, I can! Yes, I can! Yes, I can!”? It got a U.S. president elected, and look how far that got us! This is important to keep in mind as REBT is often and erroneously assumed to be nothing more than “positive thinking.” But nothing could be further from the truth.
Here is why can’t is not merely negative, it is distorted, vacuous semantics.
Someone comes to me as says “I can’t stop eating junk food!” (substitute your vice of choice; smoking, drinking, using drugs, gambling, yelling at your dog, etc.), and my (admittedly smart ass) response is, “So, what do you want me to do about it???” Meaning that if you can’t, you can’t. Why are you bothering me and upsetting yourself over it? If you can’t stop eating, you might as well enjoy yourself and eat!
That may sound cruel, but unless you begin to challenge your can’t on a fundamental level, the can’t becomes your reality.
I don’t immediately counter with “Of course you can stop smoking, man! Just think positively and exercise some will power!”
However, the one thing we do have going for us is that there is a “secret” affirmation here, embedded in the very act of saying “I can’t stop smoking.” What secret? The secret belief or hope, albeit desperate, “Maybe I can stop smoking!” And you might add to that “Maybe I can stop smoking with the right approach, the right help, the right environment, the right stuff, etc.”
The difference between can, can’t and maybe I can is enormous. Can’t is a deal breaker. Can’t is a blockage. Can’t is a fuckeroo! Can’t leads to feelings of defeat and depression. More importantly, it is seldom a true or accurate way to describe your situation or your possibilities.
On the other hand can is Pollyanna. Can is naive. Can is incorrect because if you could, you would not be running around complaining that you can’t! Would you?
This is a wonderful example of how we are trapped in and by our own distorted semantics. And REBT is “semantics therapy” to the rescue!
REBT teaches us not to go Pollyanna, nor to go closed, bitter and depressed . . . but rather to go rational. Rational is “Maybe I can!” Maybe, just maybe. So far I have not been able to, but given the right help and a little luck, maybe I can! Often achieving something worthwhile requires many failed attempts, and even if you do fail (no fun, admittedly), you may learn valuable life lessons, you may be much better prepared to successfully take on the next challenge, you may become “sober” enough to do the research and get the facts, get organized and prepared next time before you go rushing off, tail-wagging-the dog into your next project.
“Maybe I can” is hope. Hope is motivating. Motivation leads to action. Action brings the possibility of change and fruitful results.
Try it! You’ll like it!
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Originally posted 2015-03-06 06:15:07.