As a parent, you want the best for your children. You want to see them succeed. You want them to live up to their full potential. You don’t want obstacles to get in their way or failures to keep them down. A well-meaning parent says: “You can, you can, you can! You can grow up to be whatever you want to be!”

So how do adults (who used to be formative children at some point) get to the point where they fail and stay down? How do adults let obstacles get in their way and stop them from succeeding? I think it starts when these adults are children… maybe.

A while back, my daughter, Sari, said the words “I can’t.” I didn’t think much of those two words at the moment… that is until my pleasant and often congenial wife, Amanda, turns in to an instant disciplinarian: “Don’t say ‘I can’t’ Sari! Don’t ever say, ‘I can’t’!”

I was a little taken aback by my wife’s response to this seemingly innocent and undisciplinable statement from a 4 year-old. She later explained to me, and to Sari, that she wants our children growing up thinking they CAN do anything, not they CAN’T do anything. Amanda’s family are entrepreneurs. They are all CAN DO people. They have been successful through their failures and obstacles. They work hard. They may be limited by things they CAN’T do, but that is by choice, not by circumstance.

Just having a CAN DO attitude does not guarantee one success in life. Merely eliminating CAN’T from your vocabulary does not mean that life will always work out for you. However, do you see life for the possibilities it holds? Or do you see it for the vast limits it holds and the obstacles in your way?

I wonder if helping to create a culture of CAN DO people starts when they are young…


  1. Amazingly, I took a hang gliding lesson with an instructor who said, “We are going to avoid all negative words–don’t, can’t, won’t, not, and no.” In a three-hour hang gliding lesson, he spoke in ALL positive terms. I was amazed and uplifted (pun intended). Now, every once in a while, I challenge myself to go a whole day without saying a negative phrase—everything CAN be said in positive language. I feel it makes kind of a subliminal difference in all my relationships.

    Also, on Outward Bound, there was the “I Can.” The “I Can” was a gallon can of peaches. If you said, “I can’t,” you had to carry and hike with the “I Can” in your backpack until you got to give it to the next person who said “I can’t.”
    On that same trip, I also witnessed the power of the words, “You can do it!” I was ice climbing and didn’t really have the confidence to make it to the top until I heard my comrades shouting below, “You can do it!”

    This later became the most important phrase I could hear during labor with my daughter in a natural child birth.

    I believe it starts early, and makes a huge impact.

    Try it!

    • I’m not always the most positive in the world, so the idea of using positive language often seems good to me because it will “train” my thoughts and responses. And as a parent, that is something I definitely want to teach my children.

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