The Problem with Can’t

At my place of work, I’ve built a reputation of being the person in the office who knows everything and can do anything. Don’t tell anyone this, but … I’m not entirely sure that it’s true! But so far, everything I’ve been asked to do, it turns out I can do it. I have yet to be given a challenge that I can’t at least coast through and accomplish the bare minimum. It would be absurd, though, to think that one person could actually do anything and know everything. So the real truth is this: the reputation I’ve ACTUALLY built is the reputation of being the person in the office who is always willing to find a solution to the problem.

Can you imagine how many times that reputation has earned me promotions, raises, and public praise? What if every time I was asked if I could do something, I smugly responded with “I can’t. That’s not my job.”? I sure wouldn’t have the experience and success I have today.

This habit has also changed my personal life. Because I’ve learned to fearlessly enjoy every opportunity that I’m faced with, I’ve had more awesome experiences in the last few years than ever before in my life. I’ve sung on a stage in front of all my coworkers. I’ve hit a home run playing softball. I was nuzzled by a baby sea lion while kayaking in the Pacific Ocean. I beat-boxed along with some passing strangers who were freestyle rapping, and we became instant friends. I courageously jumped into an out of control car in order to slam on the brakes and save the day! I wouldn’t have a single one of those amazing memories if I’d instead looked away and said: “that’s not something I can do.”

Recently, I challenged my daughter’s girl scout troop to paint a mural of Rosie the Riveter. I put some paint bottles down in front of them and showed them a picture of what their painting would look like. The girls IMMEDIATELY whined their doubts and disbelief. Who did I think I was, challenging them with a task they could never accomplish?! I patiently waited for them to finish, then I calmly rolled out the canvas and gave them the first step. They realized there was no way of getting out of this assignment, and they got to work.

After only a few hours, they finished the “impossible” work of art, and the mural is now hanging in the school library. The troop is so very proud. It really opened the girls’ eyes to the amazing things they could accomplish with a little teamwork and determination. I sincerely hope that the lesson they learned was not just “how to paint a mural”, but more importantly, “how to overcome doubt and take on challenges fearlessly and joyfully”.

Your Alter Ego

Alter Ego: A second-self created by the individual, usually to live out a better version of the self.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

It can be scary to try something that’s out of your comfort zone. Your ego starts shouting “What are you doing? Stop! Why would you take a risk?” Your alter ego can come to the rescue! When you’re facing a new challenge, and you’re filled with doubt or fear, switch from your ego to your alter-ego. You’ll be switching characters, and you’ll have a window of opportunity to tap into that inner courage and let go of your hang-ups. Use that window of opportunity to push against your comfort zone and try something new!

Your Alter Ego Can Empower You

Your alter-ego isn’t somebody else—it’s you. But it’s a part of you that you don’t normally allow yourself access to. Maybe as a kid, you were told that girls shouldn’t be so aggressive or that boys who take too many risks always get into trouble. So you buried parts of yourself so deep, you forgot they were there. But they are still there! There is a force within you that is ruthless, fearless, and powerful. You have every right to tap into that force and use it to your own advantage. A well thought out alter ego can help you bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. It can allow you to step out of the box that you’ve created for yourself and do something that’s totally out of character for you. Get out of your own way and discover you who you could be!

Create Distance from Yourself

Alter egos can help give us distance from ourselves, which can help us deal better with the past, the present, and the future. If you’re dealing with painful memories or traumatic experiences from the past, you’ll experience less stress and anxiety if you tell yourself that they happened to somebody else. That is, tell yourself that they happened to your alter-ego. This will allow you to work through the issues that arise because of the traumatic event without being overwhelmed by negative emotions.

When it comes to the present, distancing from yourself helps willpower. Suppose you’re trying to cut back on donuts. When you pass by a donut shop, and you’re tempted to go in and get yourself something, Ask yourself: “Does my alter ego want a donut?” This works because when you think of yourself in the first person, you’re more likely to get caught up in your momentary feelings and cravings. But when you think of you alter ego, you’re more likely to make good decisions on their behalf. The self-distance that you create when you think in terms of what your alter ego should do allows you to focus on the bigger picture and on your long-term goals.

When it comes to the future, you’ll be more willing to take on challenges if you think of your alter ego taking on the challenge instead of yourself. Then it won’t be you having to face obstacles and risking failure, and you already know that your alter ego is more than capable of handling the challenging situation.

Make Life More Fun

As an example of how you could use you’re alter ego to make life more fun, you can imagine “turning into” your alter ego when it’s time to go do something you don’t really want to do, like go to the gym or take on a huge project. Then it isn’t you going to the gym to exercise or cross one more chore off your to-do list. Instead, it’s your alter ego creating a superhero body so that you will have the strength and stamina necessary to complete missions and go on epic quests. A good reason to create an alter ego is to make life more fun.