• Karla Robertson

Free Will and Free Won't; Beyond Can or Can't



You’ve heard it before. You may have even been the one saying these words: I can’t do that.

Well, this is actually an interesting phenomenon that I like to focus on in my dialogues with my clients.

So let’s look at my favorite: I can’t. Which prompts me to often ask: “You can’t or you won’t?”. Silence. This is a very powerful question because won’t comes from a different place than can’t.


Can or Can’t is about ability. Will or Won’t is a choice that flows from our desire and commitment to do or be something…or not…for what we believe are compelling enough reasons.


I can’t jump 6 feet vertically on my own power. No matter how much I want to jump that high, it’s not going to happen and you won’t see me as a forward for any basketball teams…ever. Consider, though, if someone commits a wrong toward you. They lied, didn’t follow through on something important, let you down somehow. They ask for forgiveness and you say: “I can’t forgive you.” Of course, you can. You just won’t. You are choosing to withhold forgiveness for whatever reasons. You don’t want to forgive.


How many times do you find yourself saying can or can’t when you really mean will or won’t? How does making that distinction in your mind shift what you end up saying or doing? How does that change your dialog with this person or decisions you make? ‘Can’ also has its limitations. While you can do something, it remains to be seen if you’ll actually follow through and do it. Will you do what you can do? Can I trust that? When you say, “I can do that.” It’s just a statement of ability not commitment. “I will do that”, it feels like it’s almost done, doesn’t it? Not only does the other person feel that you can do it or find someone who can but you made a commitment to make sure it is done because you said you will do it.


Pay attention this week to receiving and giving the “can/can’t and will/won’t”. See if you don’t feel the difference. Let me know.

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