There is a phrase that I see sometimes that really gets under my skin. I’ve been guilty of saying this at times, too so I’m not blameless.
It's a four-word phrase that gets tossed around casually but I think it’s one of the most self-destructive phrases we can ever say. I would propose that we eliminate it from our vocabularies right now. So what are these four words?
"I can’t help it."
We often say this as a defense mechanism, to put up a wall to protect ourselves against criticism. It’s uses to shut down arguments and put a stop to self-reflection. I know why we say it, but it's a terrible excuse and it needs to stop.
I'm not a big fan of excuses in general but one of the phrases I hate the most is "I can't help it." To me, this implies a lack of recognition that you are making a choice. It's a cop-out. It labels you as a willing victim of your own bad habits.
I see it a lot in business.
"I know I need to generate more sales but I can’t help it… I hate prospecting!"
"I know I’m micromanaging my team but I just can’t help it!"
"I know I’m late to every meeting but I can’t help it! I’m not good at being on time."
I also see it in my personal life.
"I know I should live on a written budget but I hate math… I can’t help it!"
"I know I should exercise more but I hate going to the gym. I can’t help it!"
"I know I should stay in touch with friends and family more but I can’t help it… I’m just too busy."
"I know that my personality offends some people but I can’t help it."
This phrase is the ultimate in surrender. It’s the verbal equivalent of waving a big white flag and saying "I give up!" It implies that you are not in control, that you are incapable of being taught, and that you don’t care. It’s disrespectful to those that it affects.
It’s not so much about making the sales calls or doing your budget or going to the gym. That missed the point. It’s about taking responsibility. When you say you can’t help it, you’re programming yourself to accept defeat. You’re avoiding all responsibility to change. You’re robbing yourself of the ability to choose.
Maybe you decide you’re not going to stay in touch with friend and family as much. But you can help it. You’re just making a choice. Maybe you’re not going to be on time to meetings but at least admit that you’re making a choice and then own it. Maybe you decide that you are totally comfortable with your personality and that you’re ok with offending people. But you can help it. It’s your choice.
I would bet that if you take this approach, you will be surprised at how much in your life you CAN change. Once you start taking ownership of your choices your perspective changes. It shifts in a more positive direction and you start to make tangible improvements. Why? Because you are no longer offloading your responsibility. You’re owning your choices.
I've been guilty of saying "I can’t help it", too and I am making an effort to stop saying it. If you're doing something that has a negative impact on yourself, someone else or on the world around you, you CAN help it. You're just choosing not to. Admit it that and be comfortable with it but don't pretend that it's not your choice.