The Quiet Ways We Say “I Can’t”

Sometimes I can catch them — the whispers and mumbles that tell me I can’t do something. Or I shouldn’t.

But I want to!

Is that my “inner parent?” Is it wisdom?

I don’t often know. So I check in with myself. When I check in, I ask questions like:

  • Is this boring or interesting?
  • What part of me is lit up?

It can be hard to know what’s really going on. Asking questions helps me to reveal what’s beneath the surface.

One of the main benefits to doing this practice of self-inquiry is that this sort of well-intentioned self-doubt is guaranteed to come up during a freewrite — though potentially no more so than in regular waking life — it’s just that during a freewriting session there is more of a potential to be aware of these ways we have of stopping ourselves, holding back, and staying “safe.”

When I do a longer freewrite, it’s easier for me to get beneath the surface of the psyche because I am willfully shifting that stuff to the side. The criticism, self-judgment, the “good advice” that seems to just float in the air… all that gets swept to the side to make room for the still small voice of inner wisdom.

In daily life inner wisdom is not often apparent. If I’m sitting behind you at a traffic light and the stoplight turns green and you don’t go when the light turns green, it’s not the voice of my inner wisdom that gets me to honk at you. That’s just good old Stephen.

I can, I can’t

Right now I want to boil down this mechanism of apparently well-intentioned advice into two categories. No matter how well reasoned or strongly felt or well articulated or how many years we have been listening to it… I’m inviting you to see whether it fits into only one of two categories:

  • I can
  • I can’t

When I freewrite, I connect with the part of myself that knows I can. I can write without stopping. I can reach my word count goal. I can write a book that is true to me that readers love.

Take the opportunity — whether you are freewriting or not — to notice these constant little self-judgments and brief intrusions of advice and see whether they boil down to either convincing you that you can … or can’t.

I want to be as big as I really am and live fully in the flow.

The way I figure it, there is plenty out there that might try to stop me. If I want something, there’s no sense in me stopping myself just because it will feel difficult to get what I want. I want to believe that I am capable of doing anything.

Sometimes the voice seems to believe I should try to control how someone can react:

If I call her and say Y, will she think X about me?

Compare this to the simplicity and ease of being spontaneous. Do it or don’t do it and move on to the next thing.

I have a choice. You have a choice. We’re making choices all the time. Do we side with the boring complicated voice that has a million different ways of saying “I can’t?”

The question is whether it serves you in the long run. The big picture.

Does it help you become more of who you deeply are? Or does it keep you in the past? Is it going to help you write or is it going to keep you stuck?

If you want to make creative discoveries, you need to be bold. As bold as you actually are. Already. Deep down.

What do you do when you notice these whispers in your mind that seem to offer you good advice?

“If I listen, I’ll stay safe.”

Much of the advice seems really to boil down to a few concerns:

  • try and control the outcome
  • be right
  • don’t be wrong

Despite how simple they really are, they really do convince me a lot of the time. They seem convincing. All the complications seem to point to them being really good advice.

  • “I can’t!” — It’s impossible and I should stop trying. Sticking my head in the sand is better than trying.
  • “I wish I could.” — I’m just not enough. Maybe it’s possible for someone else, or if I was more skilled.
  • “I’m trying!” — Yeah, I know I’m not getting any closer to my goal. But I’m not going to change course because that would be scary.

Limiting beliefs can feel so very justified.

“Oh, but if only I deserved X.” — This quiet little belief can be a real stinker. Deserve? Says who? What the hell is that belief doing in there?

Give this a try. I find it to be quite revealing and very energizing. It requires that I be ongoingly real with myself. Not being hard on myself, and not going easy on myself. Taking a matter-of-fact standpoint and seeing what the questions reveal.

For me, it makes more room for me to live the life I want.

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