When “Can=Have To”

When “Can=Have To”

Whenever I’m nearing a big breakthrough, I can tell. As a belief that I don’t like begins to show up in my life, my energy drops, I withdraw and feel depressed. That makes sense before a breakthrough because at the moment, the belief feels very, very true, which can make it very, very real, and in this case, very, very sad…because I was looking at giving up.

Luckily, as a personal growth coach, I know the signs of an impending breakthrough and also know the value of working with a good coach when I feel stuck. So I brought it up when I was visiting my close friend Katherine Torrini who is a powerful Creativity Coach. She helped clear the way by listening to me through my tears and validating my feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion. When I said I felt like I had to give up on everything I’d ever worked for, Katherine didn’t try to push me to keep going, talk me out of it or fix me; she just lovingly understood. In that space of complete acceptance, a thought suddenly popped into my head:

“If you can do something, you have to.”

The second I heard it, I recognized it as a life lesson — an adaptive belief I’d learned in childhood. The fact that I hated it was a big clue that it was not true. I was on my way! I applied Language of Listening self-validation to it for the next hour or so. I kept telling myself, “You think if you can do something, you have to,” and getting the tell-tale nod of agreement from myself along with an occasional tear. I was releasing sadness that had been stifled way back in childhood when that life lesson was just “how it was.”

The self-validation was helping, but since I was anxious to break through, I ran straight to Master Coach Eva for her unique brand of Language of Listening extreme validation. I was not disappointed. I’ll never forget that moment in Eva’s kitchen. When I shared the life lesson with her, she laughed and said:

“Wish I had that one! If I can travel, then I have to! I want that!”

She made me right in the extreme! That was exactly what I needed to hear, because I already knew how this life lesson/belief didn’t work. She just flipped it and showed me how it could, so its nature as a perspective, not a truth, was revealed. Boom! It felt even less real than it had just minutes before.

The final touch was applying my transformational logic to it. I like this part because, for me, if I can unravel a belief to the point that it doesn’t make sense, it’s gone for good. Since I know life lessons are beliefs we learn in childhood, and childhood beliefs are based on associations, I write them as equations. That’s how they seem to children. One term is defined by the other, so to a child, they are the same. From that point forward, the thought of one fires off the other, so they are basically inseparable. They are also invisible and function as rules or definitions of how things really are.

Simply put, a breakthrough occurs when you can finally separate the two terms in your childhood association that are at the root of a belief.

So in my case the association at the root my belief was:

“can = have to”

You can probably see how that could actually be true for a child whose life was controlled by adults, especially if they said things like, “I don’t care if you want to or not. You can, so get over here and do it!” When children are forced, this shows up:

“have to = no choice”

While each association may make sense on it’s own, put them together and you get this:

“can = have to = no choice”

Then if that’s true, the laws of logic dictate that the opposite must also be true:

“can’t = don’t have to = choice”

Are you laughing yet? I did when I saw it because, while it was true for me as a child under adult control, for me as an autonomous adult “can = no choice” and “can’t = choice” is absurd!

But it explains so much! If that were my unconscious belief (mental programming), it would work like a hidden force that would stop me from accomplishing great things because the more I could do in life, the more I would feel I had to do. That would easily create feelings of overwhelm without any end in sight!

Add to that the associated feeling of being boxed in like I had no choice, and who wouldn’t run from it?!! No wonder I clung to my childhood get-out-of-trouble card, “I can’t” for relief, even though it meant giving up doing things I was really good at and even things I loved. It also explains the self-imposed glass ceiling I had “encountered” a number of times in my life the closer I came to mastering a skill. And this, too — the guilt that kept me doing things “just because I could” until I got ill and really couldn’t do anything but rest. There it was: “I can’t” to the rescue again!

You can probably see how this works, but there’s one more aspect that’s a bit harder to see. When you bring a childhood belief like this one with you into your adult life, you actually bring the childhood paradigm of external control with it, too. Every time the thought “I can” fires up the old association with “have to,” you basically affirm and recreate the world of “no choice” that you resisted as a child, and you actually feel like outside forces are at work. There’s no freedom in that and no way out except with a breakthrough.

So finally I’m free! Breakthrough achieved! And in this case, with the old association separated, I’ve been deliberately creating a new one. By validating the old belief when it comes back up and affirming a new one that says “can = choice” I’m experiencing the paradigm of adult self-direction that comes with it. Pretty amazing, right? And full of possibilities.

Now all I have to so is harness those elusive “wants,” and I will have the kind of unstoppable self-motivation machine that Eva and I concocted in her kitchen: “want + can = have to!” Hmm. Could be some travel in both of our futures!

Please let me know if this makes sense to you. And if you want to try breaking through a stuck place of your own, some of our authorized coaches offer private coaching which, as you can see, can really help.


  1. “want + can = have to!” Yes, I’m going to start making travel plans, too! : )

  2. Good for you, Carrie. Funny how so many of us still feel like we need external permission even as adults. This cuts through all of that. Happy travels!

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