There’s a difference between saying “I can’t” and “I won’t”—between being un-able to do something and being un-willing to do it.

Using “I can’t” shifts the responsibility away from us. We’re saying the decision is essentially out of our control—it’s something we “can’t” do, regardless of whether we want to or not. But saying “I won’t” is different. We retain responsibility for the decision. Our choice is not due to a lack of ability. We “could” if we chose to, but we’re choosing not to.

Using “can’t” when we really mean “won’t” seems innocent enough. And sometimes it may not be a big deal. The problem, though, lies when our use of “can’t” blinds us to our own agency in the situation. We think there’s nothing we can do, forgetting that we’re the ones actually making that choice.

Perhaps we tell ourselves we “can’t” do this or that, but the truth is, we could if we chose to. We just don’t want to, for whatever reason. Or we find ourselves in a difficult situation with few good options, and we tell ourselves there’s nothing we “can” do.

In those moments, when you find yourself saying you “can’t” do something, check and see if your choice is really based on a lack of ability. Are you really unable to do it? Or is it more about being unwilling to?

There will be many times where being unwilling to go down certain paths is your best option. But it’s still a choice—your choice. You still have agency, and responsibility, for what you choose to do.