“Can’t” vs. “Don’t”

I’ve been paying more attention to my reading and writing this year, looking at when I sit down to write or read, how long I write/read, how carefully I write/read, and other metrics. And when I looked back at my notes, I found myself making certain comments about the data. Things like “I can’t write for long periods” or “I can’t write without some noise in the background from music or TV.”

That word kept popping up: can’t. But then I wondered if it was really true. I can’t? Or is it that I simply don’t? Is it that I can’t write for long stretches, or am I finding excuses to stop writing? Is it that I need noise in the background, or is it that I’m building distractions into my routine?

So I started making changes. I turned off the TV and Pandora. I forced myself to stop checking Facebook and Twitter and Gchat. And you know what? I was able to write. A lot. And that’s when it hit me. I was falling victim to Steven Pressfield’s idea of “resistance.” Resistance is any limit you put on yourself or any easy out that lets you quit instead of doing the work when it’s hard or uncomfortable or challenging in some way. It’s something he talks about in his book THE WAR OF ART, and it something he talks about overcoming here:

I don’t know if this will work for you, but I found it helpful. Next time you find yourself saying you can’t do something, stop and ask if you really can’t or if you simply don’t. And if it’s the latter, try doing it anyway. You might be as surprised as I was to find that you’re only limiting yourself for no real reason at all.

And knocking down those limits feels really good. All right, that’s enough for today. Back to work.