“I cant do xyz” – is a racket

I have often heard myself saying “I cant do this, I cant do that”. For example

  • I cant stick to an exercise routine or diet
  • I cant deal with government office officials
  • I cant keep my wardrobe organized
  • I cant manage to find the right people for my team
  • I cant control my temper

It goes on, but I just wanted to list out only the less embarrassing ones. Over the past few days I realized “I CANT” is a racket.

And what is a “racket”, you might ask. It is a fixed way of being and a persistent complaint. It is a front-end behavior (the persistent complaint) to cover up a inner flaw. All rackets have a common structure. By running rackets we get some payoffs at the cost of love, affinity, well being, freedom and self-expression. The most common payoff is “being right and making someone wrong”. Other payoffs are “to dominate and avoid domination, to justify oneself and invalidate others, to win and cause the other person(s) to lose”.

Now coming back to the I CANT racket. Looking at my complaints list dispassionately I can safely say that most of my I cants are either “I choose not to” or “I am just too lazy to”. It is not that I cant, it is just that I am coming up with enough reasons to not do the task in question.

Let me explain how the I CANT racket manifests and establishes itself. Take for example the “I cant stick to an exercise routine” racket. What happened is – I started with an exercise routine, I did it for a little while and then for some reason or the other I stopped. This cycle repeated a bunch of times (gym, jogging, yoga and swimming). And then I made up this story – “I don’t stick to an exercise routine”. That’s where the “I CANT” racket began. One of the most powerful payoffs we get by running a racket is the ability to ‘be right and make others wrong’. So the next time my wife/father/brother/friends enrolled me to yet another exercise routine I somehow have to come up with a way to quit because I have to be right about I don’t stick to my exercise routine. If I somehow stick to the exercise routine then I don’t get to be right about my story. No matter how many times I tried to change this behavior, it never worked. The thing about change, as they say in the Landmark Forum, the more we try to change something, the more it persists.

Working on the other items in my I CANT list, I figured that I have made up a story about all of them. And then I started running rackets to ensure that I am right about my stories.

  • “I cant keep my wardrobe organized” – Every time I clean it up, I have to mess it up again. Because I have to be right about this.
  • “I cant control my temper” – If I do control, it somehow goes against my understanding of my temper. So I have to fire off. I have to be right about “I am an angry young man!”

There are so many people (friends, relatives etc…) that I am no longer in touch with because I have made a story about them. For example I am not in good touch with most of my friends from college. After we all got into our jobs it became difficult to keep in touch. I tried speaking to my friends over phone a couple of times but they were either unable to take the call or speak freely, due to whatever reasons. Then I made a story – “my friends don’t want to keep in touch with me”. That’s when the racket started. From then on I had to create situations that kept feeding my story and making me right about it. I would (unknowingly) call them at all the wrong hours. When they don’t pick up the call, I strengthen my story and hence the racket. When they do call or answer my call I run the racket with them again by speaking sarcastically or not appearing interested etc. Eventually they stop calling me and/or taking my calls. And when that happens I tell – “see, did I not tell ya.. my friends don’t want to keep in touch with me.”

The above examples are rather small and simple. I have applied this on a few more personal issues and figured my rackets there. Once the rackets are distinguished, I can clearly weigh the payoffs vs costs and then stop running them anymore. It has really resulted in freedom and self-expression.