Why We Should Tell Ourselves “I Can If” and the Beauty of Positive Constraints

My plan was a good one. In theory at least.

After the baby came, I wouldn’t pursue a monthly challenge (obviously). I’d continue to publish an article every Thursday, but the topics would be varied. No restrictions, no guidelines, just the opportunity to pursue some of the many dozens of ideas I had floating in my head.

Easy peasy.

Well, if you’ve been following this blog in recent months, you’ll notice that I haven’t posted in quite some time.

I tried. I tried very hard. I wrote lists and drafts, and more lists and drafts, but without a specific topic guiding me, my thinking and my writing turned into one hot (unpublishable) mess.

I should have known better.

I’m well aware of how limited our supply of willpower is, where every decision we make (including eating, dressing, shopping etc.) degrades our ability to make future decisions.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits… I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” – Barack Obama

If you’ve ever wondered why Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and President Obama always wear the same thing every day, or why minimalism and small houses and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up are so popular, it’s for simplicity’s sake.

The fewer decisions we have to make every day, the more mental energy we have to spend on things that actually matter.

And herein lies the beauty of constraints.

It seems counterintuitive, but limited options are a good thing. Structure and constraints not only allow us to preserve our mental energy, but they drive creativity and innovation because fewer variables give us a greater ability to tap into our ingenuity (Dr. Seuss famously wrote Green Eggs and Ham after being challenged by a publisher that he could not write a great children’s book using only 50 words.)

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My approach to this blog is successful because I have to operate within a narrow and specific framework – aka my monthly challenge – and figure out a way to make it work.

So, when faced with a month free of constraints, it’s no surprise that I’d spent my energy on the wrong things (trying to figure out what to write about), leaving nothing for the important stuff (the writing).

I Can If

Adam Morgan, author of A Beautiful Constraint says that if you’re ever feeling stuck, overwhelmed or out of control, don’t tell yourself I can’t because. Say I can if. 

It’s an especially powerful tool if you’re in New Years resolution mode and pondering all of the things you want to change or do in the coming year. The if is your positive constraint. It’s your injection of optimism. A way to focus on the right questions, mindset and process.

  • I can lose 10 pounds if…
  • I can publish great blog posts twice a week if…
  • I can write a kids book using fewer than 50 words if…

Try it. You might surprise yourself.

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