‘We cannot make time stand still, nor can we prevent the unexpected happening, but what we can do is accept what is going on in our lives and consciously take steps in the direction of where we want to go.’
Mark Pollack, Making It Happen
I meet people often who feel there are things they cannot do. It gets them down at times, sometimes very down because telling yourself you can’t and believing that you really can’t do stuff means your choices and options are limited and everyone likes to feel they have choice. We do have choices about most things, more than we often realise, and we make lots of choices, sometimes choices that we are not even conscious of making. One of the choices we make is in relation to what we choose to believe we can and cannot do and here is (one of) the reasons why I believe we sometimes choose to believe ‘I can’t’….
Imagine being in a cage and beginning to realise that you are in one. This could be a cage of your own creation, one that exists in a very real way in your mind, a cage where despite your needs being met, you having food and shelter, you being in charge and you having things to occupy your time,it’s a cage all the same and it makes you feel ‘caged in’. It can feel like the things you wish to do are being done outside of the cage are therefore for you, these things are not possible. You believe there are things you absolutely cannot do, decisions you cannot make. You tell yourself ‘I want to but I can’t’.
An experiment was done on the process known as institutionalisation and the research subject was a lion. After years of living in a cage, this cage (which was real) was opened and the lion was presented with the opportunity to leave and be free. You can guess what happened next…. The lion stayed in the cage with the door wide open. And while I have no idea why, I would imagine that the researchers were right in their conclusion that the lion had become institutionalised. Existing so long in the cage, the lion found it impossible to even imagine living anywhere else, even a place he may possibly have longed to go. He stayed in the cage, a place where he felt safe, where he continued to exist never knowing what it was like to live free.
Imagine that cage has been created in your mind. And while there are things you may wish you could do, choosing to believe that you can’t keeps you psychologically ‘safe’ but also stuck. Choosing not to imagine that it’s possible to walk away from the place where the bars surround you means you don’t have to take the risk as to what might happen if you choose to be bold and do the things you really want to do. Staying safe and stuck means no-one can threaten you with judgement or opinion and that prospect can give people a sense of security which can be hard to give up. All of the things that have made us feel ‘safe’ are put at risk if we start to rattle the bars but this in no way means that it can’t be done. If the cage for us is only real in our minds then it is within our power to dismantle it. If you really, really want to do it, it can be done, no matter what ‘it’ is. It, anything can be done. There is no shame in becoming institutionalised or in feeling stuck but recognising that it is possible for this institutionalisation or stuckness to happen to any one of us can shed light on the question of why we may say and believe ‘I can’t’. Uncovering some of what might be going on for us at an unconscious level is often the first step in moving from a position of ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’t just yet’…. it is often the choices we make at an unconscious level that have the most bearing on how we live out our lives and as these choices are unconscious, it can feel like we didn’t make a choice at all. But we do choose, a lot of what happens, a lot of the time. Someone once said that life is either a daring adventure or nothing…. make your choice….. What do you believe?