I Can’t and Other Stories We Tell Ourselves | Lisa Steingold

I Can’t and Other Stories We Tell Ourselves

I Can't
The stories we tell ourselves become the narratives for our lives. So the key is to choose good stories!

There may not be a magic pill for getting through life. But cutting through our own BS stories is pretty close. 

Let me explain.

I can’t run. Really. I’ve always been one of those elephant runners. 

You know? The type that others can feel the ground shake when their foot hits the ground.

Not because I’m overweight but because running has never really been my thing. My body doesn’t love it like it loves cycling. 

But the other day I went for a run and it felt easy. Effortless even. I loved it! 

It made me think about all those times I’ve been telling myself I can’t run. What other lies have I been telling myself?

All the stories we tell ourselves  

I mean it makes sense right. Something happens and from that day we begin to believe something about the situation.

Like we have a relationship that goes South and then we decide “All men/women are assholes” or we decide “Relationships suck”. 

Or we seem to always have battled in work and then we decide “Success isn’t meant for me”.

Here is a list of stories we tell ourselves;

Relationship stories

  • I’m not good at relationships
  • I’m not good at communicating
  • I am the way I am
  • Relationships never work out for me
  • I’m not sociable
  • People don’t like me generally 

Weight stories

  • I’m fat
  • I don’t lose weight easily

Money / Success stories

  • I never have money
  • Things just never work out for me
  • I’m just not destined for success
  • Nothing I do makes any difference
  • I don’t deserve what I want

Self / Life stories

  • I’m too old
  • This is pointless and nothing will come out of it
  • I’m just not good at XXX
  • I was never very clever
  • Life is hard

According to Harris III, the lies we tell ourselves fall into 3 main ones;

  • I can’t (Something wrong with me that I can’t change)
  • I’m Not Enough / I’m not worthy (I don’t deserve whatever it is I want)
  • It’s impossible (That thing is impossible)

You don’t need something outside of yourself

Here’s the interesting thing I learnt. You can actually shift these beliefs. 

We often think that to change something in our lives, we have to become someone entirely different. But it isn’t true. 

The problem is that humans, yup you and me, misuse our intelligence. We predict the future by the past. 

So if we’ve struggled with something, we label it as our struggle. It becomes our story. 

Add just a little inkling of emotional attachment or childhood trauma to that and you’ve got a whole movie playing out. 

Trust me I have my fair share of movies playing out, so I know! The first day I bought my motorbike and fell twice, I decided I was useless and couldn’t ride a bike. 

The biggest problem with the stories is that we’re usually looking for a way for the external to change when the real secret lies in ourselves and shifting our perspective. 

The only way out is in! 

5 Steps to Changing Your Story

One of my all-time favourite life hackers is James Clear. If you haven’t read Anatomic Habits, do yourself a favour and get yourself a copy!

Long story short. It’s easier to change than you think. It’s a matter of habits. 

  • Awareness is the first step

Many of the lies we tell ourselves operate on a subconscious level. We don’t even realize their presence, much less that they strongly influence our behaviour. The most difficult, and important thing is to acknowledge their existence in the first place. Awareness is the first step.


  • Create and DO new habits (Optimize for the starting line, not the finish)

We’ve talked about neuroplasticity before but basically your brain is more adaptable than you think (excuse the pun). And as a result so are you and so is your life. 

The problem with being human is that we think outcome only. E.g. I want to weigh X, or earn this much. I want to run or ride a race in X time. This is outcome-based thinking. 

Makes sense. As humans we’re driven by outcomes. 

But the power is in the journey. It’s in the habits. It’s what James Clear means when he says optimize for the starting line, not the finish line. 

In other words what small things/habits do you need to do each day to get to the starting line? Forget about winning. Forget about when you’ve lost 10kgs. Forget about standing on the top of the mountain. What do you need in order to get there?

Want to run or ride a race? You need to train. How many times a week do you need to train? And yes you can apply this to work or relationships or success or any aspect of your life. 

Think about what new habits you need. 

Put them in your calendar. 

Do them. 


See how your perception of yourself changes and watch where you end up a year from now.


  • Create a new environment

If you’re prone to negative stories, shift your environment. For example, want to exercise but every morning you hit snooze and then tell yourself “You’re lazy”. 

You’re not necessarily lazy, you’re just letting your environment affect you. 

Train with a friend. Put your alarm clock in another room. Go to bed earlier. Put your training gear out. These are all environmental solutions.

I know I’ve just told you that you need to change your story through you but changing your environment helps too. 

That’s why it’s important who you surround yourself with. Spend a week with the wrong crowd and you’ll see it in yourself. The same can be said for spending a week with the right people. 

There are a million ways to shift your environment to be the person you want to be.

  • Have the story you don’t like water? Get a water bottle you love, put stickers on it and a few pieces of lemon or strawberries in it and watch how you begin to drink water. 
  • Think you’re addicted to your phone. Try an automatic switch off 2 hours before you go to bed.
  • Think you can’t run fast. Buy those leggings that make you feel fast and watch your lap time on your local 5k decrease. 


  • Write down your new story 

This step is super important!

You can change behaviour I.e. habits but if you don’t change the story you’re going to keep getting what you get. 

Don’t hate the player, change the game. (Steve Harvey)

It doesn’t help getting pissed off at yourself for what you’ve believed. It also doesn’t help to hate yourself for what’s happened. You are where you are because you needed to go through what you’ve been through. And someday you’ll be able to help someone else because of it. 

But now it’s time to create a new story. So what’s your new story? 

Maybe success can be easy? Maybe you ARE good in relationships? Maybe you CAN run a marathon?

I have posted on my fridge “Believe in yourself and everything is possible”. And you know what? I believe that. 

Mr Wonderful

Other new beliefs are harder for me but that’s ok. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The thing is you can’t write down something you don’t believe. You can’t replace one lie with another, create something believable for yourself. 

Here are a few examples of my favorites;

  • Magic is happening for me.
  • My work is a blessing.
  • I can do anything I put my mind to. 
  • Life is beautiful.


  • Track the progress of habits. NOT outcome!

The thing in creating a new story for yourself is that you’re going to need evidence to prove to your mind that the new story is true.

So as, in my case, each time I run, I go “Look! I’m a runner” even though just one year ago I was in such knee pain that I could barely sleep or walk. 

Recently I thought back to all the doors that have closed in my life; job applications, book submissions, relationships. As I had this thought I began to feel depressed. Instantly I thought “But wait, Lisa. There have been lots of open doors too.”

I made myself write them down in my journal. And as I did so, I began to feel more grateful and happier. 

You’ve got to keep giving yourself evidence that you’re on the right track, not continuous evidence that you’re not.

  • Gone to the gym 3 times this week? Log it in a calendar or on Strava. 
  • Saved money this month? 
  • Climbed a hill you never thought you could?
  • Spoke to someone new even though it made you nervous?
  • Had a conversation in the new language you’re learning?

Look at you! You’re living your new story! Now it’s just a matter of practice.

But what about truth?

There are certain life truths. And sometimes, just sometimes, something is true. For instance, chickpeas don’t agree with me. I’m talking me personally. 

That isn’t a lie, I can tell you that this body does NOT like chickpeas. We don’t get on well. 

That’s the truth. But you know what? That’s ok. I’m not phased by that. Chickpeas and I can live happily in co-existence as long as we don’t have to engage with each other intimately. 

So how do you know if something is true? 

You know it’s true if it’s true for you and it doesn’t cause you pain. 

If something is true for you, you won’t have to defend it. It’ll just be and that’s that. You won’t worry about it. It won’t cause any pain or obstacles.

It’s only the lies that cause us pain. 

But a tip here, you’ve got to be brutally honest with yourself. 


Compassion is your biggest friend

Change is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes a second, like people who give up smoking and then never smoke again.

And sometimes it takes years. 

Self-forgiveness and self-compassion is and will be your biggest friend.

Be kind to yourself.

Also know

Negative thinking as we call it, is part of being human. It’s part of life. Doesn’t mean you have to listen to all the nonsense that fills your head on a daily basis but just know it’s normal. 

It’s not really the content of the thought that matters; it’s your relationship to the thought and your response to it that makes all the difference. “ (Barking up the Wrong Tree)

I really loved this by Frances Klein;

A parting note

Take out a diary or piece of paper. Write down the date. 

Write down all your current and old stories that are keeping you stuck. All the “I can’t” and other lies. 

Now thank yourself silently for those stories because they helped you get to where you are. 

Now write down some of your new stories. 

Now take out your diary and plot a couple of new weekly habits.

Put the piece of paper in an envelope marked with today’s date but one year from now. 

Next year open the envelope, or that diary, and tell me what happened. I’d love to know!

I bet a whole lot of magic!

Here’s to new stories!

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