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Your Own Worst Enemy: Thinking “I Can’t!”

By Noelle Nelson June 24, 2023 Mindset

You applaud your friend Mary Jane’s exuberance as she describes her delight with her new-found hobby, tap-dancing. OK, she’ll never be Fred Astaire, but she’s thrilled at what she and her fellow tap students, not a one under 60, are accomplishing.

You listen appreciatively as your sister-in-law waxes enthusiastic over the writing class she’s joined. How wonderful. Your neighbor proudly displays the maneuvers her dog has learned on the agility training they started together but a year ago. They are both 70: your neighbor in people years, her pup in dog years. Still, at 70?

You promptly get depressed. You’re thinking of embarking on a new project: square dancing. Right on cue, your 68-year-old self runs through your usual litany: I’m too old, out of shape, too uncoordinated, too clumsy, directionally challenged, tire easily…

The list goes on and on. The result? You don’t join the “Square Dancing for Seniors” that looked so fun on the YouTube video. Sigh.

Your Confirmation Bias

What’s wrong with you? Nothing, really. You just have a bad case of “confirmation bias,” which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.

Namely, your belief that you are too old, out of shape, too uncoordinated, too clumsy, directionally challenged, tire easily, and all the rest. You haven’t even set one foot in the square dance class to see if maybe, just maybe, you aren’t too old, out of shape, etc., to join in the fun.

Challenge Your Prior Beliefs

But here’s the thing. When we don’t challenge prior beliefs or ingrained thoughts about ourselves, we can’t move forward. We stop exploring or discovering potential joy before we even start the process. We get stuck on all our previous “I can’ts,” not realizing how powerful it would be to shift our words to “I won’t.” Which opens a whole new world of possibilities.

“I can’t because I’m too old,” when switched to “I won’t because I’m too old,” changes everything. “I won’t” implies a choice. It’s not set in concrete, whereas “I can’t” is. “I won’t” begs the question, “Well, why not?” Now the answer will be more along the lines of “Because I’m scared I won’t do well. I’ll embarrass myself in front of others.” Now you are truly at choice.

These are emotional responses, true ones for you, but which can be soothed, whereas “I can’t” is almost impossible to budge. Whereas “I’m scared” leads to “So is everyone else trying out something new, especially the older we get. Oh, these are all seniors in the class. Hmm.”

“I’ll embarrass myself in front of others” becomes “I’ll make mistakes and stumble and look like – oh, I’ll look like what I am. A beginner. Which is what everyone else in the class was, or is.”

The Impossible Becomes Doable

Just like for Trudy Smith, at 102, whose paintings were featured at a local seniors community center in Eaton, Western Australia. All her life, Trudy wanted to be a painter, but her father wouldn’t hear of such “nonsense,” and her husband was so critical that she didn’t dare pick up a brush.

Trudy began painting at 85, far later than most people would think possible, yet that was unimportant to her. Trudy’s passion, supported with diligent practice and patience as she learned her art, paid off with a marvelous exhibit of her works.

What if Trudy had let “I can’t” rule her passion? What if she’d absorbed her father’s interdiction, and her husband’s criticalness, such that she came to believe them – something that happens all too often for far too many of us?

Your “I can’t” on whatever subject, comes for the most part out of what people have said of you or the opinions you’ve generated of yourself based on what the media – social or otherwise – proclaims. Look at babies. They don’t have a clue what they supposedly can or can’t do, so they go at life with gusto.

Be like Trudy. Let “I will” rule your heartfelt desires, and let the “I can’ts” dissolve into a past that no longer exists.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What new hobby or project have you started in your 60s or beyond? What are the ideas or beliefs that are keeping you from trying new things? Do you often hear “I can’t” in your thoughts? Where does that stem from and are you willing to change it?

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I am held back by all of those feelings, also my husband, who works a very part time retirement job, comes home and reclines! What is the saying “you become the person that you surround yourself with”
It’s very hard to break that cycle. I am a reader, but always hear the voice in my head thinking “I wish I could……

Shaggy Maggie

Wow Sue…you have it figured out. I’m starting a spanish class today, with other seniors at the community college. What will be your first step??


Writing. Again! Dancing is the truly new one and I struggle constantly with being too old feelings. I can really beat myself up because I was raised to believe only young people do things like this. I have my eye on a real, old-fashioned camera now too. Photography looks like a lot of fun!


I hope you take a chance Jennifer and do whatever it is your heart desires….I think you’ll be glad you did.
I’m writing out lyrics to 60’s songs (Rock and Roll) from my phone and singing them with a small group of 5 ladies ….it’s joyous!

The Author

Dr. Noelle Nelson is a psychologist, consultant and speaker. She is passionate about personal growth and happiness. She’s authored over a dozen books including The Longevity Secret: How to Live Happy, Healthy & Vibrant Into Your 70s, 80s, 90s and Beyond and Phoenix Rising: Surviving Catastrophic Loss: Fires, Floods, Hurricanes and Tornadoes. Visit her at

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