Mindfulness · Year and a Day

The True Nature of “I Can’t.”

Mindfulness, Day… I lost count. That’s okay though.

A few days ago, I posted a video called “The Complaint Free World” featuring Will Bowen, and I encouraged everyone to watch it. I’m going to reiterate: please, watch it. I know it’s an hour and 25 minutes long. And I know you think you don’t have time, but trust me… you will want to make time for this.

In just a few days since I watched Bowen’s video, my perspective on life has shifted dramatically. Bowen’s program challenges everyone to become complaint-free.

Now, before you say, “Oh great, another one of those fluffy ‘think positive’ bullshit pieces,” I’ll go ahead and remind you that I approach that type of advice with heavy amounts of side-eye. The only reason I watched “The Complaint Free World” is because I’m mid-30-day work/life balance challenge, and watching this video was my assignment for one of the days.

At first, I was skeptical.

Then I was in disbelief and filled with self-doubt.

Then I was sucked in.

Then I was totally on board.

All in the span of an hour and 25 minutes.

The “complaint-free” challenge is simple. You wear a bracelet (I chose one my daughter made for me long ago), and you move it from wrist to wrist each time you find yourself verbalizing (or typing) a complaint. The goal is to go 21 days without moving your bracelet.

There’s more to it than that (i.e., what constitutes a constructive conversation vs. complaining; the deep-seated reasons why people complain; how to overcome the  complaints of others without adding our own complaints to the mix, etc.) But at its very base, the idea is simply drawing personal awareness to our own habitual complaining, and making a conscious effort to choose our communications so that they default to the constructive.

This idea has caused a shift in my perception on a good number of levels. For example, I just got back to my desk from a walk around the shopping district where my office is. It’s 102 degrees outside. I live in the desert. It’s summer. This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon.

What is uncommon, however, is the fact that I went on that walk. You see, eighteen years ago, when I moved to Phoenix, I made a statement about exercising outside in the heat. “I just can’t,” I said. I told anyone who would listen, “If I walk during the summer, I get headaches.” Which, I have absolutely gotten headaches when I go out and exercise in the heat… however, thinking back, I’ve also spent all day in the sun before, many times. On those days, I probably didn’t get enough water, I definitely exerted myself (swimming, playing with my kids, etc.), and I was just fine.

So… is it that I get headaches from walking in the heat? Or is it that I’ve decided I can’t walk in the heat, therefore, when I do, I get headaches?

For the last couple weeks at work, I’ve gone out for short walks (fifteen minutes or so) two to three times per day. Guess what? No headaches. You know what I did experience? The smell of fresh cut grass. The warmth of the sun on my face and the cool relief of the shadows of trees and buildings. The refreshment of misting systems. The song of the cicadas, reminding me that every day of heat is another day closer to the relief of fall. And last but not least, a feeling of accomplishment for getting off my butt.

When I was younger, I used to keep a copy of Illusions, by Richard Bach, with me at all times. My favorite quote from the book was always, “Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.” I find it quite ironic how many times in life I’ve forgotten to apply that idea to myself. And here’s the kicker… I know exactly why: because complaining about what cannot be done is so much easier than actually doing whatever it is that needs doing, or being whatever I need to be. By complaining about how I can’t, I let myself off the hook. I give myself a solid “out.”

While I was on my most recent walk through the 100+ degree heat (that felt amazing), I had this revelation about the messages I give myself.

  • I’m antisocial and an introvert, I can’t possibly keep up with friendships
  • I’m too old to <insert whatever here>, I can’t start a new hobby
  • I’m a parent, therefore I can’t <same as above>
  • I don’t have time for <anything… literally anything>, therefore, I just… can’t

And the one that immediately reared its head when I first watched Will Bowen’s video:

  • I can’t just stop complaining… sometimes you just need to vent, right?

You see… “I can’t” is, at its very heart, a complaint. When voiced to another, it’s a ploy for sympathy or empathy. When voiced inside ourselves, it relieves us of the responsibility of perceived failure.

“I can’t” is an argument for your own limitations. “I can’t” is the heartbeat at the center of the complainer’s universe.

Being mindful means understanding ourselves deeply so that we may bring peace to ourselves and our surroundings. The self-limiting nature of the “I can’t” complaint runs counter-current to the pursuit of mindfulness. So, now that I realize this, what am I going to do about it? Well, first, I need to make it 21 days without moving my bracelet.

I’m on Day 1.



3 thoughts on “The True Nature of “I Can’t.”

    1. I’m so glad this found you when you needed it 🙂 Definitely check out Will’s video. I barely scratched the surface here. Also, I highly recommend his book, “A Complaint Free World.” I’ve been listening to it on Audible during my daily commute. It dives deeper into the ideas you’ll get from the video, and he gives a lot of great anecdotal stories to support what he’s talking about. And be sure to keep watching! I’m going to post a victory post when I make it 7 days… even if I end up moving my bracelet on day 8. LOL


      1. the day you posted this, my hubby and I had had an indepth discussion of where I was going with my blog–what was my goal. if I was trying to monetize it, what was I doing to set foot on that path. my answer to much of it was: I can’t. I don’t have the education. I don’t have the experience. I don’t have the computer expertise. I can’t. just can’t. my bracelet didn’t last thru the 2nd day. i’m starting over–again–but wanted you to know i’m reblogging this. thanks again.


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