Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Can't

I Can’t: The Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

By Dave Beakley



How many times as a personal trainer or strength coach have you heard the words “I can’t”? Personally, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times, and it’s something I refuse to stand for.

I’ve never been one to set limits for myself, and I’ve done my best to surround myself with likeminded people. I find the words “I can’t” so self-deprecating, and I don’t understand how anyone can have such low self-worth. I find myself looking at the way people carry themselves in a gym, and I develop an opinion of what they may be like outside of it. The funny thing is it can be a very accurate depiction of one’s character.

The “I can’t” people tend to be late, often coming from a job that doesn’t satisfy them, hop into routines and weights that they know they can complete or are comfortable doing, and don’t want to risk failing when attempting anymore. As trainers, you and I both understand that it’s our job to challenge clients to push for more and attempt more, but there are days when the frustration that comes with hearing “I can’t” multiple times can get to me. Yes, I do have to become a better motivator, but lately, I’ve been trying more and more to understand the theory behind telling one’s self “I can’t.” 

Although you may have already attempted and failed, with the right frame of mind, you can still tell yourself, I couldn’t get it that time but will work toward that weight as my new goal. What irks me is the non-attempt. To let a dumbbell sit there and defeat you without ever picking it up would never cross my own or any of my training partners’ minds. It seems that people have a need to be right and prepare themselves for failure by saying “I can’t.” Once they’ve told you and themselves that they can’t do it, more often than not, they end up convincing themselves that they can’t, and in the end, can’t do the exercise. Then they finish with an almost “I told you so,” which really boils my urine.

The other end of the spectrum is the “I’ll try” group. These are the clients who will attempt whatever you throw at them, and if you’re an attentive coach, will often succeed. It’s so gratifying to see someone who has worked hard for weeks or sometimes months achieve something that they never attempted before. Again, these seem to be the people who own their own business, are very high up in their places of employment, and are willing to take that jump from the nest and try to fly.

When thinking of this topic, which I do frequently enough to write about it, two people come to mind. First is the owner of my facility, Chris McDole of McDole.Performance.Systems. What if Chris had succumbed to not only his own doubt but the negativity of outsiders when trying to open what has become a highly successful private facility? Who knows where he would be today if he hadn’t taken a risk, and I often question where I would have ended up. Opening this place was the ultimate leap of faith in his own abilities and talents as a coach and showed his willingness to expose himself and his weaknesses to grow as a business person. All it would’ve taken was one “I can’t” and there would not be McDole.Performance.Systems.

Dave Tate is the other person who comes to mind. Most of us reading this are familiar with his struggles getting EliteFTS off the ground. Look where it is today. The information, knowledge, training logs, and equipment from EliteFTS have effected all of us reading this whether we’re aware of it or not. Years of struggle could have gotten to Dave, and he could have very easily played the ugly “I can’t” card when it took years to pay himself or even run the business out of somewhere other than his basement.

The list of examples could go on forever of the people who didn’t want to shortchange themselves or venture down the “I can’t” road. I often tell clients the worst that can happen in the gym by trying is that you don’t get it…yet. But at least you tried, and that’s something to be proud of. We all likely know someone who’s beaten cancer. I know a handful, and I’m so grateful these people were in my life and didn’t “know” that they couldn’t. There are so many battles in life we’ve won that it just doesn’t make sense to not attempt something more difficult in the gym. I’ve always told myself I’ve already won the biggest battle of my life and that was being born. I beat out millions of other semen on the venture to the egg. I deserve to be here and not getting a new PR won’t change that. You only get one chance at birth. You live to lift another day!

My final thought is a poem I had to memorize for high school football. We had to recite it all in front of the team before we could play, and the coaches held us to it. The team bought in, and in my junior season, we played in the provincial championship with only 27 players. The poem was always very powerful for me, and I can still recite the entire thing when I need to convince myself to do something.  


You Can if You Think You Can!

If you think you are beaten, you are. 
If you think you dare not, you don’t. 
If you like to win, but you think you can’t, 
It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost, 
For out in the world we find, 
Success begins with a fellow’s will. 
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are. 
You’ve got to think high to rise. 
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before 
You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go 
To the stronger or faster man. 
But sooner or later the man who wins, 
Is the man who thinks he can.

—C. W. Longenecker 

That’s my rant. Now, get out there and reach for new heights. Join the few who choose

“I CAN!!”

Dave Beakley is a former collegiate football player, who, for the last three years, has been in the strength and conditioning field and has worked with athletes ranging from high school up to the NHL, CFL, and UFC. He can be contacted at

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at


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