This past week, I repeatedly noticed an article being passed around by my parent friends. The column is from the New York Times and titled, “When Children Say ‘I Can’t,’ but They Can, and Adults Know It.”
It’s good, short, and helpful—I recommend it. The article offers ideas for parents to identify “faked incompetence” in their children and provides strategies to overcome it.
Faked incompetence is one of those pesky little behaviors in children that can become significant drawbacks in their potential as adults. I’ve always worked hard to push against it in my children’s lives (particularly for my daughter). So I was anxious to read the column and pass it along.
One day after reading the parenting article, I received an email from a woman I had never meant. Specifically, she was asking for advice on how to get out of debt.
In her email, she made this telling statement, “My husband thinks debt is inevitable and not a choice. He thinks it is the only way to survive and he can’t see a way out.”
I assured her, “There are millions of families who live without massive consumer debt. We are one of them. It is entirely possible and you can absolutely do it.”
As I typed out the words, I recalled the article I had read the previous day. False incompetence is not just a child-problem, it is an adult-problem. And we see it all around us in the statements we hear from others and tell ourselves:
- I can’t live debt-free.
- I can’t quit smoking.
- I can’t cook.
- I wish I could spend more time with my kids, but I just can’t.
- I can’t find a different job.
- I can’t save for retirement.
- I can’t declutter my home.
- I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…
If you think you can’t, you won’t. If you’ve already resigned yourself to defeat, you’ll never experience victory.
But this false incompetence can be defeated as quickly as it can be learned. The first and most important step in making any positive change in your life is to believe it is possible. Because without that belief, there is no first step.
Every positive change you desire for your life starts with two words.
Replace “I can’t,” with “I can.”
You can live debt-free. You can quit smoking. You can learn to cook. You can become a better parent. You can, you can, you can!
Consider as an example, living clutter-free.
Most of us know it is entirely possible to live in a clutter-free environment. We see others live a simpler, clutter-free life and desire it for ourselves. Some have even taken significant steps to realize it.
But others of you are not so sure. Your house has been cluttered for so long, you have almost given up all hope of ever living any other way.
For you, the first step to living in a clutter-free home is to take heart and simply believe it is possible. Realize you will never get there if you do not resolve in your mind that you can accomplish it. Find hope in the example of others. And then, take one small step forward. Replace “I can’t” with ” I can.”
Often times in our world, people search for quick-fixes or hidden knowledge. As if those who have accomplished something have more information than they are sharing. And while this may be the case in some highly-competitive industries, I have not seen this to be true in the simplicity movement. Most of us genuinely desire others to find the same freedom and joy living simply that we have experienced. And we don’t hold anything back.
But if there is one secret formula to living simple and clutter-free that I have noticed, it is this: we all believed it was possible. We knew the path might be difficult and time-consuming at times. But we knew victory could be found and clutter could be conquered. It was true for me. And it can be true for you.
I’ll say that again, it can be true of you.
Faked and/or false incompetence is not just a childhood behavior that parents need to identify and address. It is a people-problem that keeps many of us from implementing the positive life changes we desire.
As adults, we need to identify and overcome it ourselves.