Now, I laugh in the face of "can't."
I sympathize with "I won't" and am good friends with "I don't wanna" ... but I laugh at "I can't."
This new mentality hit home a few months ago, after a particularly hard workout with my fitness coach/personal trainer. My mouth gets me in trouble a lot, and I was poking fun at him over text. He threatened that I would pay for it. "Remember who designs your programs." Told him, "yeah yeah ... empty threats." He got all grim and was like "you don't know me very well."
Except that I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew that the next time I worked with him, the bar would be raised. That he'd be waiting for me to whine, give up, or say "I can't." And I knew that no matter what he threw at me, I was not going to give in. I would put my money where my mouth was. It was a very deliberate poking of the bear.
Frankly, that's a big part of how I got to where I am. Making impulsive and over-the-top statements and then having to live up to them. (Also known as "fake it 'til you make it"). Being stubborn is both a blessing and a curse. But when you're stubborn and someone thinks you can't do something, or is trying to prove a point to knock you down a peg, you find a way to dig deeper and prove them wrong. Just so you don't lose face. And then you end up realizing that you could actually do it and survive! The voice in my head that tells me "you can't" is loud and convincing. I believe it. It's when I have external voices telling me I can't that the inside voice gets defensive and goes "screw you!" and then I do it. It's a weird psychology.
I have no idea when that mind-shift really set in for me, to want a hard session, to enjoy being pushed and to stretch my limits, or to have the understanding that it will be uncomfortable for an hour, but it's only an hour. It didn't happen all at once. Like the rest of this journey, it happened in baby steps. Had I gone from doing nothing to flipping tires, I would have quit after a month. But it really happened in small progressions. The mental strength built up as incrementally as the physical.
It was as simple as trying. That's ultimately what telling yourself you can't do something does: it gives you an out so you don't have to try. Try and fail? No problem. It doesn't mean you can't, it just means you try again. And again. And again. Until you get it. And when you do? You know that the thing you always thought you couldn't do, you really could do. You just needed some practice.
So, every time I was pushed right to my limit - not past, just right to the edge - that limit grew. And I came away thinking, "hey, okay, I may be sore, but I'm not dead. I can still move. I may be sweaty and red in the face, but I'm still breathing. Holy crap, it's working!" And every time THAT happened, it became harder and harder to play the victim card. Harder to let the voice saying "you can't" drown out the voice saying "maybe this time you CAN." Harder to deny that it was me holding myself back all along.
The thing that I didn't expect, though in retrospect it makes perfect sense, is that the "I can" mentality translated to other areas of my life. I'm far more likely to say yes to things that I'm not 100% sure I can do perfectly the first time around. Trying new things, whether physical or not, has given me more confidence ... and more humility. As uptight as I still am, (hello, fellow Type-A Librarians!), I'm actually a lot more relaxed about things and can go more with the flow than I used to,*** just because I know that making mistakes is not the end of the world. And I know that I might surprise myself at what I can do.
I know how daunting it must seem when I talk about some of the things I do. When anyone says "I don't think I could do what YOU do" what I hear is fear talking. But when I think about where I started from - getting winded from one flight of stairs, sweating on hot days without any exertion, not even able to lead the Hokey Pokey in story time without huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf - I know that what they mean is that they can't imagine themselves enjoying it.
Trust me. I did not start out enjoying this. I did not start out thinking I could do it.
Start where you are. Do what you can. Then do a little bit more. And then more.
That's how we grow.
And it is only in the doing that the boundaries of comfort get stretched. I had to DO the things I didn't want to, until I learned to like them. Not the other way around. If I waited until I felt ready to push myself hard, I would still be sitting on the sidelines of my life watching everyone else go about theirs.
*** For anyone who knows me in real life, I'll give you a moment to pick yourself up off the floor and stop laughing. Yes. This is me, more relaxed than I ever used to be. It's all relative.