At first glance, the questions Can I? and How Can I? may appear to be very similar. However, the reality is that they are worlds apart in terms of results. Can I? is a question filled with hesitation and doubt. It is a question that imposes limitations. If that is the question you regularly ask yourself, you’re undermining your efforts before you even begin. How many people could have accomplished much in life but failed to try because they doubted and answered no to the question “Can I?”
When you ask yourself “How can I?” you give yourself a fighting chance to achieve something. The most common reason people don’t overcome the odds is that they don’t challenge them enough. They don’t test their limits. They don’t push their capacity. How can I? assumes there is a way. You just need to find it.
As a young leader, I was challenged by the words of Robert Schuller, who said, “What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail?” To me the answer was obvious. A lot more than I was currently attempting! Schuller’s question prompted me to think outside the box. It made me want to take more risks, to push more boundaries, to test my own limits. It made me realize that most of our limitations are based not on lack of ability, but lack of belief.
Sharon Wood, the first North American woman to climb Mount Everest, said of her experience, “I discovered it wasn’t a matter of physical strength, but a matter of psychological strength. The conquest lay within my own mind to penetrate those barriers of self-imposed limitations and get to the good stuff—the stuff called potential, 90 percent of which we barely use.” If you want to tap into that unused 90 percent, ask “How can I?” Do that and greater achievement becomes a matter of when and how, not if.
Recently a friend gave me a book by Price Pritchett entitled, You. In it Pritchett writes,
Your skepticism, which you presume is based on rational thinking and an objective assessment of factual data about yourself, is rooted in mental junk. Your doubts are not the product of accurate thinking, but habitual thinking. Years ago you accepted flawed conclusions as correct, began to live your life as if those warped ideas about your potential were true, and ceased the bold experiment in living that brought you many breakthrough behaviors as a child. Now it’s time for you to find that faith you had in yourself before.
If you have spent time in a negative environment or you have experienced abuse in your life, you may find this thinking transition to be very difficult. If that describes you, then let me take a moment to encourage you and explain something. I’m asking you to shift from Can I? to How can I? when maybe you need to change your thinking from I can’t! to How can I? I believe that if you’re reading these words, then deep down you already believe that you can achieve things. I believe you can too. I believe God has put in every person the potential to grow, expand, and achieve. The first step in doing that is believing that you can. I believe in you!
The second is perseverance. As you get started, it may not look like you’re making progress. That doesn’t matter. Don’t give up. Pritchett says that everything looks like a failure in the middle. He writes, “You can’t bake a cake without getting the kitchen messy. Halfway through surgery it looks like there’s been a murder in the operating room. If you send a rocket to the moon, about ninety percent of the time it’s off course—it ‘fails’ its way to the moon by continually making mistakes and correcting them.”
You can change your thinking. You can believe in your potential. You can use failure as a resource to help you find the edge of your capacities. As psychiatrist Fritz Perls observed, “Learning is discovering that something is possible.” The Law of Expansion in The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth is about learning, growing, increasing our capacity.
It’s said that one day the great artist Michelangelo went into the studio of Raphael. He looked at one of his early drawings, considered it a moment, then took a piece of chalk and wrote the word Amplius, which means “greater” or “larger,” across the entire drawing. Michelangelo was encouraging Raphael to think bigger. That’s what we need to do.
From The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth (October 2012)