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The power of saying 'I can't'

People are so invested in maintaining their social status that they often cannot imagine that they might rise above it. Charles McGrath:

”[Tom] Wolfe's theory, which has changed not at all over the decades, is Weberian, and he developed it in graduate school, when he found himself more interested in social science than in intellectual history. 'It all has to do with status,' he says. 'Or STATE-us, which is the way you say it if you want more status.' In this scheme of things, social behavior is almost always determined by status consciousness – an instinct to preserve your place in the social pecking order. Our status awareness is so fundamental, Wolfe says, that there may even be a specific place in the brain that creates it. ... In the Wolfean scheme, people aren't so much interested in scaling the social ladder as in clinging to their own, hard-earned rung."

Telling ourselves that we can't do something reduces the likelihood that we will be able to do it. Anthony Robbins:

”Someone says to you, ‘Please get me the salt,’...After looking for a few minutes, you call out, ‘I can't find the salt.’ ... When you said, ‘I can't,’ you gave your brain a command not to see the salt. In psychology, we call it a schotoma.”

It is our attitude, not the impossibility of the thing itself, that causes much of the problem. Brian Luke Seaward:

“Roadblocks may appear to take many forms, such as a belligerent spouse, an alcoholic parent, an unfulfilled job, a terminal illness, or a difficult child, but these are not in themselves the obstruction. They are the tip of the iceberg – a reflection of our perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and opinions that stagnate the flow of spirit and keep us immobilized.”

Sometimes we have an experience that we aren't prepared to recognize and we might overlook, misinterpret or forget it. Sharon Franquemont:

”These [spontaneous psychic] occurrences are often so dramatic that people can react in one of two ways: either forgetting the experiences quickly because they don't have a model for integrating them into their lives, or getting hooked on the experiences themselves. The latter is such a problem that, in Eastern traditions, students are warned not to give emotionally laden, psychic experiences too much importance even if they are precisely accurate. Students are to view these experiences as a by-product of development and not the purpose for it. This warning is similar to Jung's concern that the intuitive may get lost in inner ephemeral or imaginary life.”

If we are not sure what to do with something, and perhaps not even prepared to encounter it fully, we can be open to it through playfulness and curiosity. Francis P. Cholle:

"The key ingredient in play is engagement: engagement within your own mind, with another person, or with an object. Play is always a dynamic experience. Play is really about immersing oneself in a pleasurable activity for the sake of it, with no other particular intent or specific goal."


"Wolfe's World." Charles McGrath. New York Times Magazine. 31 October 2004. p 37.

Anthony Robbins. Unlimited Power. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1986. p. 57.

Brian Luke Seaward. Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water: Reflections on Stress and Human Spirituality. (1997) Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, Inc. 2007. p. 77.

Sharon Franquemont. You Already Know What to Do: 10 Invitations to the Intuitive Life. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000. p. 26.

Francis P. Cholle. The Intuitive Compass: Why the Best Decisions Balance Reason and Instinct. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. p. 10.


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