A case of the "I can’ts"

16.10.11 | Posted in Entrepreneurship General



We had such a fab morning on Friday in Brisbane at the Business Chicks brekky. Professor Fiona Wood was the speaker, and as always, she was exceptional. And… I was feeling great as it was the first night I’d spent away from my baby (now 13 weeks) and I got six straight hours of sleep – bliss!

Professor Wood encouraged the crowd of over 450 people to avoid negative energy and negative people at all costs, and urged us to do and strive for more. She said that just by being born here in Australia we’re already privileged, and that we should take that opportunity, be grateful, and make the most of it.

Professor Wood is a living example of someone who’s removed “I can’t” from her vocabulary. Get married after only three weeks? I can. Move overseas to a foreign place with my new husband? I can. Invent spray on skin? I can. Cycle 50kms every morning? I can. Raise a family of six kids and work full time? I can. Start a foundation to improve burns research and technology? I can. Be awarded Australian of the Year? I can.

Her positivity is infectious and she radiates enthusiasm and passion. She’s everything that I try and be all the time, but lately I’ve felt myself slipping a little, and the two words “I can’t” have surfaced more than I’d like.

Have you ever noticed when you’re struggling with an issue and then someone else displays those qualities, how much it gets your back up? Well that happened to me after the brekky on Friday. You see, we announced the most incredible leadership trips that Business Chicks, in collaboration with The Hunger Project Australia, is organising. To be eligible to go on these trips, there are a number of hurdles to jump over.

Firstly, you’ll need to raise $10,000 for The Hunger Project and then you’ll either need to fundraise the immersion program expenses (or pay for them out of your own pocket.) You’ll need to take a week off work and travel to either Bangladesh or Africa (we’re doing one trip to each) and while in those places, you’ll be stretched and challenged spiritually and emotionally. Yes it’ll be confronting and difficult, but that’s the idea! It’s a kind of easy concept to grasp – when you put yourself outside of your comfort zone, you grow.

We’d spent the morning hearing from Fiona Wood about how anything is possible, and also been given the opportunity to prove her theory by participating on these trips.

After the event, I was standing in a group of people and someone approached me and said “Oh Emma, those trips to Africa and Bangladesh sound amazing! I’d so love to come, but I can’t”. Everyone in the group was very polite and nodded their heads, but I was curious. Hadn’t she just been in the same room as the woman who had convinced us that anything was possible if you applied yourself, stopped the negative self-chatter and asked for help without feeling guilty?

So I made myself uncomfortable, and I’m sure everyone around me, with my reply to her: “Why do you feel you can’t go?” She said “Well I have a business, and a family, and I don’t have the money.”

All valid excuses, but can you imagine if Fiona Wood had said that no further developments could be made in saving lives of burns victims or if Russia had said that it was impossible to send a man to space? Nothing would have happened.

There’s a great little anecdote about the dreaded case of the “I can’ts”: A negative man sees the house of his dreams up on the hill and says “I can’t afford that house.” A positive, smart man however sees the house up on that hill and says “How can I afford that house?”

This week, try focus on “how can I?” rather than “I can’t”. I know I’ll be!


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  1. Jillian Kingsford Smith

    Did you know that neuroscientists have discovered that the human brain is highly sensitive and responsive to language? Everything we say to ourselves – either out loud or silently inside our own heads – has the effect of giving our brain cells a command. Whenever we say “I can’t do this” we dampen down brain cell activity, which reduces our capacity to achieve the task in question and turns our statement into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    One of the most powerful things you can do is to swap the word “can’t” for the word “how”. The word “how” has the opposite effect on your brain to the word “can’t”.

    When you ask “How?” it directs your brain to seek out the answers you need.

    We all get a bit overwhelmed in life so maybe saying ‘how’ rather than ‘cant’ will put us in a more positive frame of mind.

    The other thing I’m starting to practice is say ‘no’….. but that’s a whole different topic!


  2. Emma

    Awesome Jillian – I so get this. Thanks for sharing, really appreciate your insights.

  3. Fiona Pascoe

    Hey Em, inspirational as usual. I recently started using “I’m a small business owner therefore I can’t” more than I had realised and someone in my life turned to me and said that is exactly why you have to! I chose to start my own business exactly for that purpose to have the freedom to make my own choices and yet I was using it to quash my dreams. So now I am all about the “how can I make this work for me?”…..I’m joining your Club of positivity. cheers