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“Can’t” or “Won’t”?

In this week’s blog post I want to talk specifically about the term “can’t” vs. “won’t”. As always, I am going to be speaking in regards to weight loss and healthy living but I feel that the general concept could be applied across many aspects of life.

First things first; “can’t” does not mean the same thing as “won’t”. These two terms are often conflated and sometimes used interchangeably. They are profoundly different, however, in their meaning and connotation.

Clients often say things to us along the lines of; “I just can’t get back on track” or “I can’t find anything healthy to eat”. These two phrases are certainly false if taken literally. If someone really wanted to they could find healthy food (we are not living in a post-apocalyptic world). Even worse than being technically incorrect is the value of the word “can’t” to the individual. When someone says they “can’t” do something it empirically means that they have no power and no control over the situation. This can be supremely troublesome for someone with a goal that they are working towards (weight loss or getting healthy). Using the term “can’t” means that you are stuck.

“Won’t”, on the other hand, is not only more accurate but also gives the power back to the individual. “Won’t” allows the option of “will”. “Won’t” allows the individual to make a decision. Changing one word in one of the above phrases profoundly changes its meaning and possibly the mentality of the individual in question. “I won’t get back on track” means that you are actively doing something (physically or mentally) that is keeping you from working towards your goal. This gives the person the power and ability to try and recognize the issue and then work to resolve it, instead of just throwing up their hands and quitting (If you “can’t” then there is no point in trying).

People naturally don’t want to use the term “won’t”, however, because they don’t want to feel responsible for their “failures”. Well, I want people to feel responsible for their own actions and decisions but I would never see a decision made as a failure during the weight loss process. The world is not set up to make the process of intentionally losing weight easy (especially in America). We have sedentary jobs, fast food on every corner, etc. The REALITY, however, is that losing weight, eating healthy, improving one’s health is doable even in today’s world, and (for our clients at least) isn’t really that difficult. Yes, the right tools are needed, yes, a positive attitude is a must. At the end of the day, however, the choice of whether to take the steps to lose weight and get healthy lies with the individual.

Again, while this is a fundamentally important concept in weight loss, I think it can be applied in many if not most aspects of life. Of course there are things that people “can’t” do and spending time working towards these goals will only lead to frustration and lost time (I will never play in the NBA for example ). But in most cases we should strike using the term “can’t” and replace it with “won’t”.

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