Recently I’ve been pondering the distinction between can’t and won’t. Often we say that we can’t do something when really we mean we won’t. Recognizing the won’t carries with it the burden of responsibility–which is why I think we often avoid it–but it can also be extremely empowering.

Before I thoroughly confuse you with my esoteric blather, let me give you some practical examples.

1.  I can’t go to your retirement party because my son has a wrestling meet tonight. (Sure, I can, but I choose not to go because my son is more important to me.)

2.  I can’t send my kids on the People to People tour they’ve been invited to attend; it’s too expensive. (I can probably find a way to do it, but it would mean making sacrifices in other areas and I’m not willing to do that. The price is too high. Besides, I can find more cost-effective ways to help them see the world.)

3.  I can’t take that French class. My work schedule will cause me to miss too many classes. (No, I’m just not willing to rearrange my schedule or take time off. My job is more important to me than the class.)

These are real examples from my life, however minor. Although I believe I made the right decision in each case, simply saying I can’t does nothing to help me understand the underlying reasons, nor does it remind me that I really do have a choice. Can’t holds me powerless to circumstances; won’t forces me to take responsibility for my action (or inaction). It also gives me dominion over my life.

If you don’t see the importance of this one little word, try this. The next time you find yourself saying I can’t, ask yourself why not. Then ask yourself whether you have the power to change those reasons. If you do but you choose not to, then you have to recognize that you’re really in a won’t situation. Before long, you’ll realize that there are far more won’t situations than true can’t situations.

That’s when you realize you have the power to change your life.