“I Can’t” vs. “I Choose Not To”

user Darren Gold
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Recently, I was on a much-needed vacation with my family. It was an opportunity to unwind and disconnect…a chance to wake up late, take long walks, eat well, and exercise. The particular place where I was staying had some tennis courts and a professional instructor on staff. One of my favorite things to do is to take a lesson. It’s a great workout and it allows me to play a sport that I love and that I don’t do enough of on my own.

On this particular day, I was hitting with a pro in his mid-twenties. It was a hot day, with early morning temperatures already above 80 degrees. The instructor was pushing me hard. About 45 minutes into the lesson, I struggled to get to a ball. Exhausted, I put my hands on my knees, and said, “I can’t.”

Within seconds, I caught myself. “What do I mean I can’t?” I asked myself. If one of my children’s lives was at risk, I would have easily gotten to the ball. Why did I reflexively question my ability, I wondered. I turned to the instructor and corrected myself. “I actually can…I chose not to,” I said. He looked at me bewildered. Let’s face it. This is not how normal human beings behave and speak to each other.

Acting out of choice, in every part of your life, is always more empowering and effective.

We are accustomed to creating excuses for ourselves without questioning them. So accustomed are we to this default way of being, that we rob ourselves of the possibility of taking responsibility for our lives. This is what I had done. In the moment of saying “I can’t,” I fell victim to a set of beliefs about my age, the weather, my being tired from my busy schedule. And in the moment, I got to be right and I got to feel good about myself. This is the short-term payoff of a victim mindset. But it comes at a steep price. I deprived myself of my agency to choose…to be in control of the actions I take and don’t take. And while this was just a simple game of tennis, how you play games is how you live your entire life.

For the next 15 minutes of the lesson, every part of my game occurred to me as a set of conscious choices. It didn’t mean that I got to every single ball, or that I necessarily went all out on every single point (although I believe I did). It meant that the actions I took or didn’t take were the result of conscious choice. Acting out of choice, in every part of your life, is always more empowering and effective.

I had a great lesson that morning. Not so much the tennis instruction itself (although that was very good), but the learning that occurred as a result of a powerful shift in how I made meaning of my circumstances. A shift that began as a belief that there was little I could do to affect my situation, became a powerful declaration that I always have a choice in every situation in every part of my life.

For additional tools to lead a more extraordinary life, visit www.darrenjgold.com. Darren’s new book, Master Your Code, is launching in October, 2019.

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