I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the idea “I Can’t” that has been in the back of my head for about as long as I can remember. It’s been a constant companion for me through the years, and has both held me back, and propelled me forward.
Knowing nothing about how TBI can affect how you behave in the world, didn’t help me at all. I had no idea that how it can disrupt your short-term working memory, how it can make you more distractable and lead to “catastrophic response” meltdowns, and really disrupt your functioning in stressful situations. And so, I figured that I was just built wrong, that I was messed up, and there was nothing to be done about it.
I would try and try and try to do things, but they would just fall flat. I would get overwhelmed or distracted (and then forget what I was doing), and then I’d end up with a lot of plans that never happened. This was for things that others asked me to do, as well as things I took on myself. Nobody ever realized that I might need a little prompting — they just assumed I was lazy, and that was that. They just assumed that there was something wrong with me, and they made sure I knew that they thought so.
And being a basically trusting individual, I assumed they were right. There was something amiss with me. And that was that I couldn’t do the things that other people did. I just couldn’t. I didn’t give a lot of thought to why or how — all I knew was, “I can’t.”
Now, on the other hand, I’ve got this stubborn, contrary streak that refuses to give in to the “I can’ts” all rattling ’round in my head. For those things that meant the most to me, as well as the things that everybody else said I couldn’t do, I had an irresistible, unconquerable, indomitable drive to succeed. I would just get to a point where I couldn’t stand having people think that about me, and I couldn’t stand the thought of them “winning” over me and convincing me that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. That just pissed me off.
So, I would pull out all the stops, put all doubt from my mind, and drive head-first into any storm, not caring what anyone said, not paying any attention to any detractors, not giving an inch in my pursuit for my goals. And I would drive through any and all obstacles that kept me from my goal. Because I could. I could do it. I could get there. I could succeed, by God, I could.
Now, when I think back on my life, I realize that a lot of things I’ve done over the years have been done for the sake of proving to others (and myself), that I could do something. I would take on challenges, not because they were something I genuinely wanted to do, but because they were things I supposedly couldn’t do. They were things that nobody else believed in, that nobody else thought I was up to accomplishing. And I would accomplish them with pretty impressive skill, if I say so myself.
The only thing was, once the challenge was conquered, I lost all interest in what I was doing, because the thing that kept me going was the challenge, not the ultimate goal. And even if the goal was still off in the distance, if the challenge was overcome, I would not complete the task to reach the ultimate goal.
And I’d end up with half-finished projects and half-attained goals — which ultimately add up to failure to complete — failure.
And my once-bright-and-shining glory would fade… and once again, I would be left standing alone in the construction site of my life, proverbial hammer in hand, other tools scattered around me, crowbar still hooked to the nail I was pulling out of that beam, just hanging there…
And once again, my success would sour into failure, and I would have confirmation, yet again, that I can’t.
The thing was — and this is actually a life-changing revelation for me — the problem was not my ability, the problem was my motivation. My drive to succeed wasn’t about me achieving a goal because I wanted that goal. It was about me achieving something that nobody else thought could be done. And once that source of motivation — doing the “impossible” — was over and done with, all motivation to keep on going was gone, baby, gone.
So, the source of that “I can’t” core belief was really contextual. For the things I care most about, that matter so much to me, that I really care about, my motivation always stays strong. Because it’s what I want to do — for myself. For my life. For my soul. Things like writing about my life experiences, taking care of my health and my personal relationships, pursuing the projects that I work on in my spare time… they are all so precious to me, so vital to me, there is no need for me to keep bolstering up my motivation, because I want to do them for the right reasons. They give me life.
On the other hand, my job — which has pretty much been just a way to make money to fund the other parts of my life, so that I can do them freely as I please — is another story. And it’s driven by that contrary, “Yes, I can do it – I don’t care what you say – just watch me” mentality that is directly connected to proving to myself and others that we are all wrong about me and my general ineptitude. It’s just about me proving a point, not actually doing something I care about and believe in.
So, of course after a certain point, that’s going to fall apart. Because there’s really only so much I can expect to gain from a situation that has nothing to do with my deepest values and that I’m really just doing for the money. And when that situation starts going directly against my deepest values, like the current job I’m in, then the clock is well and truly ticking. Proving “I can do it” in a situation where my accomplishment is going to literally trash the world I live in, is not my idea of success.
The thing I need to remember is that, when I start to back off on things that I’ve lost motivation for, it is not an indication that I cannot succeed at them. I am literally choosing to under-perform. It’s that simple. I’m not failing because I lack ability. I’m under-performing because I’m choosing to not apply my ability. And that’s usually for a pretty good reason. I just disengage and let the chips fall where they may — usually in some sort of disarray.
Of course, the problems start in my head, when I start listening to others telling me that my failings mean I am not good enough, or there is some fundamental flaw in me. That’s what they seem to think, without apparently stopping to ask if there might be a reason why I am under-performing… and if there might be a way that they can help turn things around. They don’t get it. They don’t understand. And too often the results are that I internalize what they’re communicating to me, and I get a completely wrong perception of myself. I get tired, basically, and then my filtering system doesn’t work so well.
See, that’s the thing — I get tired. I get worn out, and then my ability to think clearly and have an objective perspective is totally screwed. I get down on myself for not being able to think well when I’m exhausted. Well d’oh – of course I can’t. Who can? I have pretty unrealistic expectations of myself, sometimes, and it takes a toll. When I’m tired, I’m probably living at about 25% of my potential, which is no reflection on my true abilities and prospects.
It’s wild, now my self-perception is directly linked to fatigue and how I feel physically. This is something I am examining and learning about, more each day, and this is an important piece of the puzzle that is my life.
So, here’s the thing — that whole “I can’t” business is directly tied to a bunch of things — my motivation, how I feel physically, feedback from others, and my memory and distractability issues.
When I am aware of them all, and I am managing them actively, then I’m fine. I don’t get bothered by the whole “I can’t” thing.
- When my motivation is for something I really, really want to do that brings me to life, I’m good to go.
- When I am well-rested and not feeling sick to my stomach and I am feeling vigorous, I’m good to go.
- When I am actively screening feedback from others to block out the B.S. they send my way and make up my own damn’ mind about things (especially myself), I am good to go.
- When I am using my tools to deal with my memory and distractability and actively keep myself on track, then yes, I am really good to go.
All that being said, I have all of the above going for me today. So, off I go…