"Can't" or "Won't"

by Sean St. Onge

“Can’t” or “Won’t”. Own it. Don’t say one and mean the other.

“I can’t”
“I can not”
“I can not even…” 


The above phrase makes me vomit just a little bit. 

There is an old quote from a 1994 movie named “PCU” which predicted all too much of our current state of ridiculousness some 25 years ago. 

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A younger Jon Faverau playing collegiate degenerate, “Gutter”, was being hounded by a younger, yet older than everyone in the film, Jeremy Piven playing college wiseman, James“Droz” Andrews. Andrews asks Gutter, “can’t or won’t” in reference to acquiring beer for a big party in the film’s finale. 

It was a simple question but it raises a good point and, sadly, comes up often in our lives.

“Can’t or Won’t?”

Well, not to this extent…NSFW (Not Safe For Work, aka DON’T EXPECT GOOD LANGUAGE HERE)

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Warrior, he was a bit more mellowed later in life. Yet, what he says here isn’t entirely wrong. Despite his lack of what I would call “good motivation skills,” he isn’t wrong. “Can’t” and “won’t” are two entirely different entities. 

You cannot do something or you will not do something are two completely different questions with even bigger answers. This spells out a big internal question- do I actually not complete a task because I do not wish to, or do I feel I actually cannot mentally or physically complete said task?

I mention mentally because emulation and self visualization of an action can help in the process of achieving such things. For instance, I believed, I and have said aloud “I can’t do that” in reference to anything physically related to “Parkour”.

Ok I actually mean “Parkour” which is the act of vaulting, flipping, leaping and all things avoiding contact with concrete at varying speeds and distances of height. 

Now I say I “can’t” do these things, yet I have never honestly tried them. However, I say I can’t. If I self visualize, study, and emulate others that can perform amazing and spectacular feats, maybe that seems to work out for me.


1: Self Visualization: I’m not asking for much here. Just assume you are a Jedi and can use the force to literally force dream and see you own future. No big whoop. When it comes to performing a task, we can usually see how it is done by others and we envision ourselves in their stead performing said act. “Seeing is believing”- if we can see what is desired to be accomplished, then it becomes a reality. 

2: Practice: Yea we talking about Practice. Not a game, but practice. Yes the dreaded act of actually honing the skills necessary in order to elicit the desired goal. No one nails it on the first try, not even the Fonze. There is a lot to be said about preparation and practice. We have talked about it before:


and here…


and here’s one…


But I digress. Practice is important. If you think you are practicing enough doing something you love and wish to excel at, just remember this tidbit…Malcolm Gladwell, world renown author, once stated that in order to become a master of something you need to practice doing it for north of 10,000 hours. 

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3: Want. Need. Have.

Again more words I have spewed for a number of years. What do you WANT? What do you NEED? What do you HAVE to get it? It always boils down to these three things AFTER you have come to the conclusion of deciding whether or not to “Can’t or Won’t” do whatever is asked of you.

“I can’t pick this up today, it hurts my body.”

“I won’t pick this up today, there is just no way, my body hurts too much.”

Pain is relative to the individual. Pain receptors work differently for everyone and the perceived notion that I am lotting and lumping every person into a “Can’t” or “Won’t” section. Yet there is something to be said about what the individual will do when it comes to specific situations. 

I will say that there are no exercises we choose here at 212 that are frivolous or worthless. We build programs for each individual specific to their goals. 

(Let’s take it from an exercise and training perspective for the context of this blog)

Maybe they are as trivial as performing an exercise task that may or may not make or break your day yet will act as a foundation moment building to the bigger end result? 

So when questioned if you will do something asked of you, remind yourself of “Can’t” or “Won’t” if the answer is No. And then allot yourselves the time to visualize performing the act, reassess and think if this is something you want, need, or have to do for the betterment of yourself and your end goals.