I Think I Can, I Think I Can – Or Can I?

When you were a little child, your parents probably read you the classic children’s story, “The Little Engine that Could” written way back in 1930 by Watty Piper. I was read this story when I was a child and I read it to my children. But just in case you never had the opportunity to either read the story or have it read to you, or you are having a “senior moment” and can’t remember exactly what the book was about, I will share with you the abridged version of the story.  A large train has a cargo of toys and goodies that must be brought to the other side of a mountain to the children who live there. The engine breaks down, and other engines that pass the broken train are unwilling to help move the train for various reasons.  Finally, a small engine, unsure if it has the strength to do it, succeeds against the odds in pulling the train over the mountain while repeating its motto: I think I can, I think I can. (Trust me the story is a classic, and the book is much better than the movie!)

The moral of the story is that if you put your mind to a task, you work very hard, and you believe in yourself, then you will be triumphant and ultimately succeed. Most of us were told this message over and over again, in one form or another, as children, and we believed it. We could grow wings and fly if we wanted to, we could swim, play ball, jump off the diving board, and sled down a big hill on a snowy day. We were usually not terribly afraid of failing or falling down, of making new friends, or of trying new things – well maybe not all new things; even as babies we weren’t always willing to eat that green stuff out of the baby food jar, but that was the exception. Then, however, something happened. Sometime in elementary school, we start developing self-doubt: “I can’t draw, I am not good at math, I can’t run fast; I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”

This ”I can’t” message which we start to feel as older children often continues to haunt us through adolescence and into adulthood. Many of the things that we feel we “can’t” do, we just avoid altogether and it does not pose a significant problem. For instance, I personally cannot draw if my life depended on it, but this is not a problem because I decided not to go to art school and the need to draw simply does not come up often in the adult life which I have fashioned for myself. (On the rare occasion where it may, I just call one of my daughters who was a studio art major – I went through labor and delivery, managed to get her through school, fed and clothed her, and I occasionally babysit for her children, so she can draw for me if I need her to).  Nonetheless, there are many situations in our lives where the feeling that “I can’t” does in fact get in the way and hampers things like our personal life and health goals.

In my current role as a nurse and health coach, I have the exciting opportunity to coach people and help them make healthy life choices.  When I meet with my clients for the first time, I often hear one or more of the following: “I can’t give up cake, or diet soda, or pizza, or ice-cream (that one I can really relate to), or chulent, or kugel, or challah or bagels. I can’t get to bed early, I can’t get out of bed early, I can’t eat breakfast, I can’t drink water, I can’t give up smoking, I can’t walk because my knees hurt, I can’t exercise because my back hurts, I can’t run because I get short of breath, I can’t do yoga because I am not flexible, I can’t meditate because I don’t have the patience, I can’t get together with friends, I can’t ________________ (fill in your own I can’t).” We are filled with so many “I cant’s that we believe that we don’t have the ability to change.  I am not minimizing the fact that changing a life habit can be very difficult and challenging, but in order to make a change one must believe that it is possible.

The first step towards wanting to change a health habit is to identify the health habit that you would like to change and determine how this is habit affecting you. For instance, if you acknowledge that you are addicted to sugar, think about how the sugar is affecting you. Do you feel fatigued in the middle of the day? Are your pants too tight on the waist?  We all know that movement and exercise are extremely important to overall health and yet most of us move very little. The average person in America is in bed for approximately 7 hours; let’s add one hour of television or computer time prior to sleeping (I am not advocating either for people who suffer from insomnia; that will be the topic of another article), another hour for bathing, showering, and various morning and evening rituals, and one more for eating, and the average “up and about” time is 91 hours per week. Now calculate: how many of those hours are spent sitting? standing? moving?  How can you add more movement into your day?

When you wake up tomorrow morning, think about one good health habit which you would like to take on or one negative habit that you would like to give up. Start the day by looking in the mirror and telling yourself “I know I can, I know I can” – just make sure no one is watching you! Wishing you all a 2017 filled with good health and a lot of “I can”s. If you need help finding your “I can,” please reach out to me for guidance and coaching.

By Beth S. Taubes, RN, OCN, CBCN, Certified Health Coach