This episode follows Chapter 2, Lie # 7: “You Can’t” of Anxiety… I’m So Done with You! One of anxiety’s most powerful lies is telling you you can’t. Just that you can’t. Period. Vagueness is anxiety’s superpower. What would happen when you ask, “why not?” in response? In this episode, you’ll learn:
- that “you can’t” is a lie
- the effects of imposter syndrome
- about wicked competencies and personal authority
- How to empower yourself with the Five-Second Rule
When you ask anxiety, “why not?” you shake the foundation of its power over your life. I’ll unpack how to see through the lie of “you can’t” and give you a tool for starting something when you feel like you can’t. You can. You’ll see.
Anxiety wants you to focus on your deficits, what you can’t do. But that is a small part of your overall story. You can do many things, but anxiety doesn’t want you to see them. You need to override that and start to focus on them with the daily practice I share in this episode.
There’s a science behind why we hesitate to do something. I’ll explain what happens in your brain when you pause to think you can’t do something and show you how to combat that feeling. I connect you with your agency and authority so you can see your abilities, and then they will be more accessible to you.
“When anxiety says you can’t, it sounds right. You accept that as a truth without question. I suggest you do question anxiety. When anxiety says “you can’t”, you need to say, “why not”? When it says “you knew you couldn’t before, you believed me,” you say, “No, really, why can’t I?” Hold its feet to the fire. Its success relies on you taking it at face value and not asking deeper.” – Dr. Jodi Aman.
Listen to Anxiety Lie #7: “You Can’t!”
Resources for this Episode:
Get my other book: You 1, Anxiety 0: Win Your Life Back from Fear and Panic
Teaching Teens Their Personal Agency
Why You think Anxiety is Not Curable
Transcription of Episode 2-7
Welcome to this episode! We’re finishing up Chapter 2 here, talking about Lie #7, “You can’t!” This lie is the single most powerful tactic of anxiety. Anxiety says you can’t, and we believe it hook, line, and sinker! I’m right there with you, fighting off my own inner critic that tells me that I can’t all the time.
Even with this podcast, I try so hard to make these clean, clear, and well-produced, yet I keep making mistakes. I’ve even had to re-record them all at least once, and some of them I’ve re-recorded two or three times already. Anxiety picks up on those mistakes and tries to convince me that I can’t do this. I have to push past these feelings of not being able to, not being skilled enough, not being able to read aloud well enough because of my dyslexia, thinking that my breathing is way too loud or that my small mouth noises are annoying, etc., etc., etc. It picks up on anything it thinks I’d care about. I have to push past all of that because I know the information that I’m sharing in this podcast can help people. I hope I’m helping you. My desire to help you helps me get out of my own way and do it because that is more important than doing any of this perfectly.
Anxiety is telling you that you can’t
In this episode, we’ll
- unpack this lie
- I’ll show you how to prove to yourself that it is untrue
- we’re going to define imposter syndrome, wicked competencies, and personal authority
- we’ll review how understanding yourself and your abilities helps you regulate your emotions
- finally, I’ll detail how to start something when you feel like you can’t
Let’s get started. Remember, there’s not much substance behind anxiety’s lies and this one is no different. It just says, “You can’t!” Period! It doesn’t even have to give a reason because you do the work for it. You think of all the times you didn’t do things perfectly in your past. To be honest, some of these memories of your past “mistakes”–– and you can’t see it, but I’m doing air quotes around mistakes––most of them have been blown out of proportion by your inner critic. People take these blown-out-of-proportion-mistakes and make negative identity conclusions about themselves. They think, “I’m a mess,” “I’m stupid,” and “I’m annoying.” They use I am—that’s what I mean by negative identity conclusions. It’s as if a mess or stupid or annoying is their very personhood.
Even if you don’t mean it like that, that is how your mind and body receive it. These affect us consciously and make us feel bad, but they also affect us unconsciously or implicitly and form inner limiting beliefs about who we are. Those limit what we can do. When anxiety says, “You can’t!” it sounds right and we accept that as a truth without question.
Remember Henry Ford’s quotation, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Question Anxiety Right Back
When anxiety says you can’t, you need to say, “Why not?” When it says, “You knew you couldn’t before, you believed me!” You say, “No, really, why can’t I?” Hold its feet to the fire. Its success relies on you taking it at face value rather than asking deeper. Vagueness is its superpower! When you ask for details, it crumbles. For example, when you ask anxiety, “Why does the fact that someone I thought was a friend was mean to me three years ago mean that I can’t do anything right?”
“Anxiety, when you say I can’t do anything right, do you mean anything, anything? Like, I can’t brush my teeth right? Can’t I put socks on right? I can’t do any homework right? At all?”
Listen, 95-97% of the things we do in a day we could do. We don’t give ourselves credit for them because it doesn’t seem like a big deal. We think Everyone could do that. It is integrated, and we take those abilities for granted. But it’s not true that everyone could do those things, and given how you feel, it’s pretty amazing that you do any of it. It’ll make you feel better to remember that.
I’ve embedded my “I’m a mess” video in the blog post that goes along with this episode to help you unpack that. In reality, only a small percentage of things provide a challenge for us, but when anxiety convinces us to think that it is everything, it feels awful. You know how I emphasize when people struggle emotionally feeling different than other people, it makes them feel worse. This is why I like to normalize emotional struggle––not to minimize people’s experiences––but to decrease the heavy impact of their feeling different because that’s more damaging.
People with Mental Health Problems
In an effort to normalize emotional struggle, I’m going to tell you what I was taught by my teacher, Michael White, that has always powerfully stuck with me. People who report that they have mental health difficulties (in that moment) are stalled in five percent of their life. And people who report that they are free from mental health difficulties (in a given moment) are stalled in three percent of their life. That means for everyone, 95-97% of their life is going okay, or at least it’s benign.
Benign means it’s not harmful. Stalled means something has interrupted forward movement in life. Movement means activity, ability, joy, or contentment. Getting stalled could be from a situation, a traumatic event, an emotion, having low bandwidth, illness, injury, or a negative thought pattern. Stalled comes from a context.
The takeaway from all of this is that there’s only a 2% difference. Albeit that 2% makes a massive difference in lived experience. I know, it doesn’t feel good to have mental health difficulties, but also, the 2% means that there is not much to transverse to get yourself better. That’s the good news.
The anxiety wants you to think you 100% can’t and that you are 100% a mess but that is categorically untrue (which is how we know it is lying). Plus, your abilities are not just about your personal adequacies. The first life form on Earth is estimated to have lived 3.7 billion years ago. That means that brains evolved for 3.7 billion years. Even if you want to think of it in humanoid brain years, the earliest known humans were the homo habilis, who lived over 2 million years ago. In those 2 million years, the human brain evolved to adapt, learn, and solve problems.
Foresight & Imposter Syndrom
Humans are the only animals with foresight. Foresight is the ability to predict what will happen in the future. (I’m going to let my nerd flag fly here and lean into it because I find this interesting, and some of you might, too). Helen Fisher is a cultural anthropologist who writes about early humans and gender dynamics. Her theory of how foresight was developed is from women tracking their menstrual cycle with the moon and being able to anticipate that pattern. Foresight is impressive. It’s a particular problem-solving skill that allows us to anticipate the outcomes and consequences of our actions and have that anticipation inform our choices, which gives us power.
You have power and abilities that are beyond this lifetime. You might not feel like that, but that’s not your fault either there’s just not much in our daily lives that remind us of those abilities. Plus, a lot in our daily lives makes us think that we don’t have those abilities. Remember from Chapter 1, the daily messages that you’re worthless, powerless, and out-of-control? That’s real! Anxiety doubles down or triples down on those to keep you doubting your abilities. Even when you do something you’re proud of, anxiety tries to sabotage that by berating you for thinking that you are better than you are or something.
It’s just nasty! It’s called imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments–– and I want to add, despite your adaptable and problem-solving-evolved-brain! Imposter syndrome has you assuming that you think you could do something that you can’t do, and it shames you for thinking that, so you feel more honorable to think that you can’t do it than to think that you can do it. It’s convoluted!
Anxiety is a liar
A great way to override imposter syndrome and the anxiety and shame that comes with it is Mel Robbins’s five-second rule. Mel Robbins is a self-help author who wrote a book by the same title, Five Second Rule. The basic premise is that if you have to do something, count to five and do it. This circumvents the overthinking that usually gets in people’s way of doing things. If you don’t want to get out of bed, you count to five and get up. 5-4-3-2-1-go!
I interview people all the time about when they can do something and when they can’t. And when they do it, they do it without thinking about it too hard. And when they don’t do it, as you can imagine, it is when they start thinking about it, and all these doubts and all these reasons or excuses come up. Think about a time that you were productive. Did you think a lot about what you had to do before you did it? Now think of a time when you couldn’t do something. Did you think a lot about that?
When you hesitate, your brain says, “Something’s wrong! Find out what is wrong!” Your adrenaline is released, and the monkey looks for a problem. It is never hard for the monkey to find a reason or excuse that you can’t do it. It’s used to convincing you that you’re not able, or whatever it is is “not worth your effort,” or because of your inadequacies, you’re going to fail anyway. It may even sound logical and rational, but it is BS. You will know whether you can do something or not once you do it. In general, I find that humans are often very surprised about what they can do. They can do a lot more than they think they can.
What are wicked competencies?
A wicked problem is a complex problem. It usually refers to a social issue where there’s no single solution. The word wicked denotes resistance to resolution rather than evil. Examples of wicked problems include racism, poverty, and global warming. But there are smaller wicked problems, like, how a family can get everyone where they have to be when there’s only one car. Wicked competencies are skills that prepare people to solve wicked problems. They are the ability to respond efficiently and on the fly to complex challenges.
Paul Hanstedt wrote a book called Creating Wicked Students, where he tells teachers how to improve students’ wicked competencies. The benefits of this are that students build confidence in their innate abilities and develop more skills that build on them. They connect with their agency and authority. Personal agency is a person’s skills and abilities to respond to the world. Personal authority means a belief in oneself. It’s knowing that you can adapt, problem-solve, and figure things out. When you’re connected to your agency and authority, anxiety has very little power over you.
In our modernly convenient world, we don’t have to make a shelter or find our own food and so we have fewer situations where we can watch ourselves engage in that agency and authority. That’s why it’s easier for anxiety to convince us that we don’t have them. But you have them. Everyone has agency and authority. Despite modern conveniences, many of you have had to do a lot to ensure your survival because the context of your family was/is such that you are taking care of yourself a lot. While it’s not okay that you have to bear that burden, the situation gives you more connection to your authority. You’ve had to use it to survive.
Unfortunately, any sense of abandonment and worthlessness that may have come with any neglect and abuse you might have experienced can feel like it’s canceling it out. However, it doesn’t have to. When I work with people who’ve experienced trauma, I emphasize their skilled agency and authority, and then we use that to rewrite the perception of worthlessness. I agree with Paul Hanstedt. It’s so essential to develop wickedly competent young people. This not only helps them feel better, but it also has their eyes focused on solving the wicked problems of the world (which desperately need our attention).
I hope you’re starting to notice that, in the series, when you learn more about yourself and what makes you tick, that understanding demystifies our problems in ways that empower you. When you understand the mechanisms of the problem, you stop blaming yourself for causing it. And you know how to fix it! Knowing why anxiety says you can’t gives it a different meaning. Instead of, “Yeah, ‘I can’t,’ that makes sense because I always mess up; it’s not worth it; what’s wrong with me?” You say, “Oh, I get it, anxiety; I knew you’d say that. 5-4-3-2-1-go!” Problems feel different in our bodies after that.
Take a moment right now to feel into this understanding of why anxiety says you can’t and how you now know that it is BS…
A psychology study from Kobe College in Japan divided 175 college students into two groups. One group did nothing but follow their usual lifestyles for a week, while the other group was given the task of counting their acts of kindness. They weren’t asked to try to do things for others; they just had to write down the things they did. Anyway, after a week, the second group reported higher happiness levels. We are doing things all day, every day. We are doing things; we just don’t notice what we’re doing them. But when (and if) we see them, it completely changes our happiness level.
Here’s a similar exercise that I’ve been teaching people for years. When I was younger, and I did it, it totally changed how I saw myself. And it changed my daily life. You’ve heard of a gratitude journal, yes? It’s when you write down three things that you’re grateful for every night/There’s been tons of research in the last couple of decades about the benefits of gratitude journals, revealing that this small practice improves emotional wellness and happiness.
Well, I like to add to this practice. Add writing down three accomplishments that you did that day. So three things that you’re grateful for and three things that you accomplished that day. When you’re thankful for something, you could be a passive recipient of it. Like, the sunset. However, when you write down three things that you accomplished, you’re noticing the things that you had to use your agency for, something that you did. The actions could be minimal, like helping your friend find something that they lost, or it could be emptying the dishwasher, or it could be a little bit bigger, like finishing a school project.
Build Your Skills
Every night, write down three things that you did that day. Our individualistic culture teaches us to see our deficits. Deficits seem to constantly be in your face, pointing out your inadequacies. You have to override that process by practicing seeing your skills. You have them, and you’re doing these things daily, but you’re not noticing them. And you’re probably not celebrating them. This practice of writing down three things every night that you did that day could change that. After a while, you start to notice things all through the day that you did. You’ll begin to see yourself as empowered and able, and you’ll connect with the skills that you have. You’ll grow confidence, and this confidence will have you engaging in things that have been outside your comfort zone in the past. This trust in yourself will build more and more confidence and belief in yourself so that there is no room for anxiety to convince you otherwise!
I’m going to leave it here for this episode because I gave you a lot, and I cannot wait to start Chapter 3 next. I am chomping at the bit, trying not to get ahead of myself, but Chapter 3 will continue to show you how to step into your agency and authority and feel amazing in the process.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode
Thank you so much for listening to “Anxiety…I am So Done with You!” with me, Dr. Jodi. Remember to check out the blog post that goes along with this episode because I have more videos and resources that go along with what I share today. The link is in the show notes. Today we covered anxiety’s evasively saying, “You can’t,” and we proved it to be untrue. I talked about imposter syndrome, wicked competencies, and personal authority. And I shared the five-second rule for how to start something when you feel like you can’t. Speaking of “five,” I would love a five-star review on Apple Podcasts if time is on your side today. Next is Chapter 3, Section 1, Activate Your Power. Read or listen, and I’ll see you there.