“I Can’t”: What Does it Mean?


“I Can’t” has many meanings. Can’t simply means can not. According to Merriam Webster, can is defined as:

be physically or mentally able to

That is just one of the many definitions of the verb can; so can’t means that you are not physically or mentally able to. We say can’t all the time. We often believe that we are physically unable to, but usually there’s a deeper meaning there – a mental reason we believe we cannot.

I’m looking at a couple of translations of can’t.

Fairytales and Fitness

I don’t want to
How many times have you heard from people that they can’t run? Either they tried, and it’s too hard, or they can’t because they’re too old, too heavy, too busy, and so on.

What they really mean is they don’t want to look foolish, they don’t want to give up something to invest the time in learning to run, they don’t want other people to be laughing at them.

Turn can’t into can: if you want something badly enough, you will prioritize it. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you — besides, most people are far too busy worrying about how you are thinking about them to pay you much mind. Don’t ever say can’t until you’ve actually tried something — if you truly can’t, or you find out you truly don’t want to — there’s no shame in that. The shame is in the not trying.

Was I afraid to tackle something longer than 13.1? Especially with a time limit? In summer? A really hot & humid summer? Of course I was. But I never thought I can’t — and guess what — I could!

I’m afraid to
It’s so easy to ignore that fearful voice inside by simply saying you can’t. What are you truly afraid of? Hurting yourself? Join a beginner runner group or hire yourself a trainer/coach. Being last? It’s possible, of course, but chances are pretty good you won’t be (spoiler alert: in most races the walkers are the last people, and they’re usually having a pretty good time). Looking foolish? Read a few blogs, books, and magazines about running. You might still look foolish, but at least you’re unlikely to make as many rookie mistakes.

Turn can’t into can: as Nike says so wisely: Just do it. Feel the fear, and just do it anyway. I guarantee you you will feel so empowered by conquering your fears.

Can’t crops up in all areas of life
Of course this advice applies to all life, not just running. Changing careers. Moving. Starting a family. Losing weight. If you believe you can’t? Guess what: you probably won’t. But what if you stopped listening to the stories you tell yourself and believe you can?

All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.
— Walt Disney

When in your life have you used “I can’t”?

How did that work out for you? Do you regret it?

What will you start telling yourself you can do?

20 thoughts on ““I Can’t”: What Does it Mean?

  1. Can’t? Hmmm. When I first started running, I thought I could not run longer than a 5k.

    Obviously that wasn’t true.

    Now I’m going to run 26.2.

    Now I say I can’t run a trail rail because I may get hurt. But truthfully I don’t want to find out if I can.

    Somethings are better left undone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, there is a difference between “I don’t want to” (perfectly fine) and “I can’t” — which should really only be used when there is some true physical limitation.

      It’s all about thinking positive!


  2. There are so many different versions of “can’t” and various reasons behind them. Like you mentioned, not wanting to, fear, etc. I’ve realized now that at this point in my life I need to take a running hiatus and I’m okay with that. So my “can’t ” right now is that I really dont want too. …lol. I know running will be there when I want to get back to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So true! There have been plenty of times when I thought I can’t do something when really I don’t want to or am scared to. Both of which are fine, but it’s important to know our true motivation and make sure that’s something that we still agree with 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think running helps with turning can’ts into cans! I really do. Other things do as well — for instance, having my own business — THAT definitely put myself out of my comfort zone, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.


  4. I am guilty of using “i can’t” when I really mean “I’m afraid to” but that’s more internally in my mind. I’ve definitely said I can’t to plans when in reality I just didn’t want to hang out with them haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Years ago, I never thought I could run farther than a 5K. Then, I did a 5-mile race (that the hubby surprised me with). Then, a 10K. Then 13.1 miles. I had to run several half marathons before i got up the courage to register for a full marathon. As you know, the rest is history. Then, a had a freaky emergency surgery that left me sidelined for three months. I knew I’d run again, but I was skeptical if I’d ever be as fast (not that I was a world-class sprinter to begin with). But, we all know how that played out 😉 I’m thankful for all the confidence running has blessed me with, as well as the awesome support system of fellow runners who supported me through my recovery and rally-back. There are very few things I don’t think I “can” do these days; at least I’m not afraid of trying 😉 Great post, Judy!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think “can’t” often means “don’t want to” — for whatever reason. At yoga, Ann urges us to change “I can’t do that” into “I’m not able to do that yet”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting piece and yes, I used it for “I’m afraid to”. I also like “I can … but I don’t choose to”. This applies to sailing, selling, horse riding over jumps and trail running!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I wrote a post once about running away from I can’t. I need to find it
    Mom was an elementary school principal and they held a funeral for “I can’t” and buried it in the yard.

    Liked by 1 person

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