Are you suffering from a TERMINAL case of “The I Can’ts”?

by in American Sickcare System, Discipline, Kitchen Sink, Motivation, Popular, Weight Loss May 23, 2008

icant.jpgI would like to make the official announcement that starting tomorrow I am going to fine anyone that says “I can’t” twenty dollars.

As much as this might be an elaborate scheme to support the “Dr. Nicole Early Retirement Plan” I will absolutely need to retire early if I am forced to continuously battle all the negative and self limiting statements that begin with “I can’t”.

  • “I can’t give up sugar”
  • “I can’t walk every day”
  • “I can’t drink water”
  • “I can’t eat vegetables”
  • “I can’t remember to take that”
  • “I can’t give up wheat and dairy”
  • “I can’t quit coffee”
  • “I can’t quit drinking alcohol”
  • “I can’t quit smoking”
  • And the one I most commonly hear… “I need you to prescribe a magical herbal pill for my cholesterol because I can’t change my diet because I really like to eat fried food and meat.”

Think of “cants” like rocks. Rocks can crush you, weigh you down, be the obstacle in your path, or just an annoying pebble in your shoe. But when put properly in their place, “cants” can help guide your path one stepping stone at a time. When you take the time to understand and embrace the hesitation surrounding your “cants” you are then ready to learn to use them as a tool and not a weapon.

Contrary to popular belief, Naturopathic Medicine is not about giving you a glamorous herb from the rain forest to magically heal you.

True health is typically not about taking something, it is about taking something away. Most of the time we need to subtract before we add. Although herbs have their place, and I typically prefer to use them instead of drugs when at all possible, they still aren’t “treating the cause” “treating the whole person” “preventing disease” or “removing obstacles to cure” in the true spirit of Naturopathic Medicine.

Self limiting semantics like the evil “I cants” are exactly what are inhibiting you from making real long term progress with your health.

Much of what we limit ourselves with by using the phrase “I can’t” is more accurately “I won’t” or “I don’t want to…”

Unless you are physically disabled and unable to get out of bed, please replace the statement “I can’t exercise today” with “I don’t want to exercise today”.

However, before you decide that you don’t want to do something, consider this…If you expect to enjoy the same health next year that you currently enjoy this year then you have no choice but to tighten up your routine and create new healthy habits. If you expect to be better next year than you are right now then you will have to tighten it up that much more.

Now why is the title of this blog “Are you suffering from a TERMINAL case of the “I cants”?

  • Because much of disease is highly preventable by implementing a healthy whole foods diet, exercise, and stress management.
  • Smoking is proven to kill you and those around you with lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, emphysema, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Being overweight will most likely kill you quickly with a heart attack or slowly with diabetes.
  • Drinking too much alcohol will kill you quickly with a drinking related accident (please don’t drink and drive) or slowly and insidiously with cirrhosis of the liver or pancreatic cancer.
  • Eating cholesterol laden foods when you have sub-optimally managed hypercholesterolemia will typically result in clogged arteries that will result in a stroke or heart attack.

Are you starting to see now just how dangerous a bad case of the “I cants” are?

If your doctor wants you to make a health improvement and you brush away the advice with “I can’t” you simply need to change your semantics in order to change your life.

It is fine to admit to yourself that you don’t want to do something. Honesty is the best policy. Yet, every adult knows that much of being an adult is all about doing things that we don’t want to do. Getting the “I cants” out of your life is simply embracing the reality that it is time to be a grown up about your diet and lifestyle. A healthy grown up.

Do you have to do it all at once? Probably not. Most diet and lifestyle changes take time and most people simply need to be on the road to gradual improvement. For example, if you are struggling to follow the cholesterol or diabetes diet now and you try for a bit and then brush it off with an “I can’t” your health will only continue to worsen as time progresses. In ten years you will most likely weigh ten more pounds than you do right now. Cholesterol and blood sugar levels also tend to just continue to rise with age. Without a firm grasp on diet and lifestyle, you will be on that many more medicines five and ten years down the line. Are you sure you really “can’t” make a few simple changes now?

Positive affirmations are a great way to implement these necessary acts of self love and discipline:

  • “I am actively working to eat healthier because I love myself”
  • “I can practice a little bit of discipline each and every day”
  • “Today I will exercise and move my body so that tomorrow I can prevent disease”
  • “I can quit smoking by committing to smoke one less cigarette a day, a week, or a month”
  • “I can reduce the stress in my life by adopting a more positive attitude.”
  • “I can improve my attitude by thinking positively”
  • “I can reduce my anxiety by leaving the worrying up to God”

Make your positive affirmations about what you CAN do and post them on your bathroom mirror to serve as a daily reminder. Visualize yourself being successful with your goals. Remember that oftentimes with these changes it is three steps forward and two steps back. All we CAN do is keep trying!

Instead of getting held up by your failed attempts, focus on the fact that you are moving towards a healthier overall direction in life with your diet and lifestyle. And really that is all any of us really CAN do. That is the purpose of Kitchen Table Medicine, to gradually get you going in the right direction over time, at the pace you feel comfortable.

Now since this is a holiday weekend, and many of you will be off camping and barbecuing I would like to remind everyone of the most important key to overcoming a bad case of the “I cants”…moderation.

Holidays are the perfect excuse for indulgence, and if the other six days this week you have been healthy then why not kick back with a couple beers and some BBQ? I am not here to ruin your life, I am just here to make it a bit more balanced. Of course eating the healthier choices available is also key, if you are working in the direction of progress and adopting new strategies of discipline each and every day, then you are most likely earning the occasional indulgence.

  • Can you eat a salad or plate of veggies along with that hot dog?
  • Can you eat baked chicken instead of fried chicken?
  • Can you drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage?
  • Can you go on a nice long walk while chatting with a friend?
  • Can you play some games with children to get some exercise?
  • Can you give up dessert or eat fresh fruit in lieu of dessert?

Regardless of what you end up doing, please do bite your tongue around me next time you ask me what will help your problem and you tell me that “you can’t do that”. I firmly believe that you are capable of accomplishing ANY goal, large or small. Let’s not waste our time talking about why you can’t do that.

But, if you would like to continue rambling on about what you can’t do, I am sure the “Dr. Nicole early retirement plan” will thank you!

Remember if Lance Armstrong can battle terminal cancer and come back stronger than before to win the Tour de France seven times over, you can easily adopt the discipline necessary to get a handle on your diet and lifestyle.

Just because you “don’t want to” doesn’t mean that you can’t. You CAN do anything you set your mind to. Think about trying it one stepping stone at a time.

I hope you all have a wonderful and safe Memorial Day weekend. Please eat healthy and exercise because you CAN!

~Dr. Nicole Sundene

Naturopathic Physician

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  1. I cant give up smoking I enjoy it to much.

    I like my coffee

    I don’t drink

    I don’t do drugs

    I exercise

    I do eat proper food

    Im about what weight I should be

    Surely Im allowed the first 2 to balance out the good πŸ™‚

  2. Oh my gosh…did you not just read the part about how it gives you cancer, Chris? Well I am sure it is not new news to anyone. I am still shocked that something as deadly as smoking is still legal. Talk about conspiracy theory! Oyoiyoiyoiyoiyoi!

    I will allow the coffee. I do drink it myself πŸ˜›

    You can give up smoking…I did it. So can you…

  3. p.s. that will be twenty bucks!

  4. 20 bucks er, I claim the 56th ammendment

  5. This post reminds me of the children’s book called The Little Red Engine. I think I can, I think I can leads to I know I can. I beat cancer. I survived a horrible car crash and I quit smoking I know I can do anything I set my mind to so there will be no check in the mail.

    I’m wondering if others don’t know how important it is to be your own cheerleader when you determine to make a change. I found I frequently need to “go inside” and hold the hand of my sulky inner brat and talk her into believing that she can.

    Setting that aside, I want to say how much I enjoy reading your posts and how much I learn from them. I really admire your writing style and sense of humor as well as the expertise that you have to offer.

  6. Hi Timethief- thanks that means a lot to me coming from a fabulous writer and blogger such as yourself!

    I agree that we need to be our own inner cheerleader and thanks so much for reminding everyone about that!

    The first step to doing something is really believing that we can…just like that little red engine trying to make it up the railroad tracks!

  7. You know somewhere on My Blog I have a list of “if’s”

    this is kinda like that. I couldn’t – But I could have “if”…

    Trying to use the positive tense as much as you can – will allow you to give and get positive – stay away from the negative tenses and things…

    Love you Nicky


  8. Hi Dr Nicole πŸ˜‰

    Quote: [I would like to make the official announcement that “starting tomorrow” I am going to fine anyone that says β€œI can’t” twenty dollars.]

    LOL. Isn’t there a can’t in there? “Tomorrow” is a form of procrastination. On a serious note, I agree with you totally. “Can’t” is a dis-empowering word and it effectively kills the people that use it (over time).

    What’s your PayPal email, Nicole? I’ll deposit the first $20 for you to donate to charity. Let’s make it the ” I can’t say Can’t” Foundation

    I use the term “can’t” way to much. You’ve inspired me!

    Regards – Sean

  9. Hi Benny- Thanks for your tips! We all depend on you heavily for keeping us in the right Ya-ttitude! I look forward to your writings on “ifs” LOL πŸ˜€

  10. Hi Sean- Gosh I was trying really hard to be nice and not come across really harsh with this tirade on the cant’s so I thought I would give everyone 24 hours notice!

    You are right though. My motto in college used to be DWIT “Deal With It Tomorrow” unfortunately though tomorrow eventually becomes a VERY ugly day!

    Umm…you can donate the money to my paypal but it is going to the charity foundation of “Dr. Nicole is really tired and worn out from all her negative thinking patients and needs to retire next year fund”…actually maybe you are right and we are better off starting a charity!

    We could get employers on board with this too and make their employees donate to our charity. The money should actually go to the REAL people that “can’t”. The handicapped. Although after working with a lot of handicapped people I would say they are way more inspiring and self sufficient than the average bear.

    I am furthermore honored to actually “inspire” someone such as yourself that runs a motivational blog! Wow I have done good today…thanks for stopping by!!!

  11. When I run into the “I can’t … I don’t have time” scenario, I remind them you don’t have time, you make time.

    Making time for what’s important becomes a simple, but effective habit.

  12. Hi Dr. Nicole,

    I can’t…
    stop visiting your blog.
    You’re good. I love the positive affirmations. It’s all up to us, isn’t it?

  13. I allow clients to use the word can’t as long at they incorporate the word yet at the end. I can’t quit smoking yet presupposes that somebody will be able to at some stage in time. It’s a compromise for those people that can’t not say can’t….yet πŸ˜‰

  14. Oh Dr. Nicole, why do you have to be so reasonable and logical?

    I’m having trouble coming up with an excuse not to do the right thing starting now.

    (found a sneaky way to save a twenty)

    I’m changing faster due to reading your wise words every day. Thanks for the service you provide, dear lady.

  15. I am so sorry that I giggled just a little. It’s only because I have stated several times that I wish I had a dollar for each time a client has said, “I can’t”. I never thought of raising it to $20! Great post, Doc.

  16. Hello again Dr. Nicole.
    So, are you going to take my Twenty?
    If you retire, then there will be a lot of sad faces around here! Unless of course, you retire to work your blog. That sounds like fun!

  17. Dr Nicole,

    This is by far my most favorite post of yours. I’m a big believer in the positive affirmations and positivity in general. Our dreams are limited to the heights of our thoughts. If we remove the ceiling, we can accomplish anything in life. Thank you for reminding me that. I’ve stumbled the post.

  18. Erin Happycamper May 26, 2008 at 4:41 pm Reply

    I think I can do it! I think I can!

    You rock, Doc!


  19. @Chris – I’m shore you can quit smoking if you decide to. You just didn’t decided to quit, yet. Just like me. πŸ™‚ But I will some day. πŸ˜‰

  20. I love this article!

    It’s a a NO stinkin’ thinkin’ allowed zone! I “can’t” should not be in our vocabulary!

    You can say things like, “I won’t” or “I don’t want to” and that would be more honest than saying, “I can’t”. Unless a true mental or physical condition keeps us from being able to do something, there should be no excuse why people don’t set goals and fulfill them!

    It’s all about postive affirmations, dedication, and commitment to whatever it is that you want to accomplish!
    Great article!

    Doc KC

  21. Great thoughts, Dr. Nicole.

    The only limitations we have are the ones we put on ourselves. If we tell ourselves “I can’t” well, we can’t. This is a phrase I try to completely eliminate from my vocabulary like Dr. KC recommends. Chances are if we say we can’t about one thing, then we are probably saying it in many areas of our lives.

    What it all comes down to is desire. If we really desire something – say better health, then we will do what it takes, no matter what. Understanding the consequences – both good and bad of our actions is enough to spur some people on to desire. While it seems nothing will spur others. It’s a case of idon’tcareitis. You have done a good job here of laying out some of these.

    I didn’t know you were a coffee drinker. You’ll have to check out my incredible coffee at
    While some things are always bad for us, like smoking, etc., typically it’s all about moderation. Sure coffee can be bad for us, but it also has antioxidants. Water can also be bad for us if we drink too much of it.

  22. This article reminds me of elephants at the circus: the keeper ties one of their hind legs to a post when they’re young so that they can’t move from that one spot. By the time the elephant grows to a size where it has enough strength that it could easily break away, it’s been so conditioned to think that it can’t move from there that it won’t even try. Also, I’m a big believer in positive affirmations πŸ™‚

  23. Isn’t it amazing that when you unblock the negative thinking and really open yourself and commit to change, difficult though it may be, the universe conspires to assist you. I’ve often had good luck with the statement ‘today’ as in ‘today I will not smoke a cig’, giving myself a set period seemed less restricting, basically the one foot in front of the other school of thought. Thanks for the affirmation of affirmations.

  24. Dr. Nicole,

    You’re sounding like a therapist (and being trained as one myself, I mean that as a compliment just in case you were wondering!). I’ll do you one better though. You should not only outlaw “I can’t” but also challenge every “I’ll try” you hear. “I’ll try” is simply polite code for “I can’t” or “I’m too embarassed to admit that I just don’t wanna.”

    I had a professor in grad school (a psychologist) who would never accept an “I’ll try” from us. His response, burned into my brain along with many of his other meaningful catch-phrases, was always “Are you going to try, or are you going to do it?” Committment to a goal is the first step along the path toward reaching it. Without committment you’re doomed before you even begin.

    As always, this was a great and meaningful post. I only wish I had more time to read!!

  25. I have been reading, and enjoying, your posts!

  26. Hi JD- I agree completely. Sometimes we are less productive when we don’t just take one task at a time. I try to just focus on one thing at a time and enjoy the process of doing it so that I can be happy while I am accomplishing my goals. Still tough though at those times when things are overwhelming…

  27. Hi Barbara- Oh dear now I am going to have to charge you for that! LOL I guess the compliment cancels the “I can’t” out though. You are soooooooo sneaky!!

  28. Hi Tim- you are much too kind to your clients. πŸ˜‰

  29. Hi Joe! Anytime…thank you for doing the work! Now I am proud.

  30. Hi Pentad- well you know with the prices of gasoline and food on the rise we should raise the price of our “I can’ts” too don’t you think?

  31. Hi Sean- I would like to retire and just travel around and blog about my adventures. Would you like to fundraise for that too?

  32. Hi Shilpan- I am glad I could return the favor! I always get a great dose of positivity over at THANK YOU!!

  33. Hi Erin- I know you can do it! I know you can…

  34. Hi Aleksander! thanks for getting on Chris’ case. Now I can take the day off!

  35. Hi Doc KC! I think “I don’t want to” is so much more realistic. Agreed!

  36. Hi Jennifer-I agree. I think coffee in organic healthy moderation is fine as both coffee and alcohol have been part of human culture for quite a long time. If you need to drink a pot of coffee a day though it probably is not good for your stomach lining or adrenal glands! Yikes.

  37. Hi Marelisa- what a great (although tragic) example!

  38. Hi Formerly fun- what a great way to make changes. One day at a time. “today I won’t eat fried food” “today I won’t drink alcohol” baby steps is the way to go. Thanks for reminding everyone!!!

  39. Hi Lori- Oh my gosh! You are very right about the “I’ll try’s” although I am BIG on just trying to be better. A lot of time I will hear that “I’ll try” sighed back at me and just know that there is no trying that will be had. I wish I could just show people how much healthier they would be if they actually did try. Hmmm…maybe I need a crystal ball. πŸ˜‰

  40. A pot of coffee a day! Yikes, that is scarey, but I know some people do it. An insulated mug full a few days a week serves me well. My dad makes it so strong that one cup equals a whole pot! πŸ™‚ I hope he doesn’t drink the whole pot!

  41. Great post Dr Nicole – about time a doc gets to the real core issues before doling out the meds.

    There is a cool quote from some cool person – Ill murder it but the gist is
    “Think of positive thoughts and you’ll grow flowers
    Think of negative thoughts and you’ll grow weeds”

    Intention is HUGE.

    Ever read/see/watch Dr Bruce Lipton’s stuff? You gotta!
    The New Biology – watch it/read it.

    Keep it comin Doc!

    Dr Ben

  42. Hi Dr. Ben- glad you liked it! Thanks for stopping by.

    Aren’t weeds our friends though? LOL

    “The only difference between a weed and a flower is judgment”

  43. First of all thanks for submitting your post to my top three blogs competition on blogcatalog….I loved this blog…I am definitely going to be more honest with myself from now on πŸ™‚ …it is my health after all πŸ™‚

    Your line says it all:
    Much of what we limit ourselves with by using the phrase β€œI can’t” is more accurately β€œI won’t” or β€œI don’t want to…”

    I am still evaluating the other submissions…will let you know about my picks soon!

  44. […] you have it down. They say it takes 28 days to make a new habit. To overcome a bad case of the “I cants” simply find one thing that you CAN do at a time and work on […]

  45. […] much as some people don’t always enjoy my tongue in cheek responses to their bad cases of the “I cants”, not eating breakfast simply should just NOT even be viewed as an […]

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