By Andrew Leigh


In part 1 I explained how negative language and thoughts are like invasive weeds that choke the life, beauty and fruitfulness out of a garden. If we want a positive mind and attitude it’s vital that we recognise these weeds and replace them with the seeds of positive thinking. So here’s the second of three instalments about gardening your mind – dealing with – the ‘Can’t/Should/Have To’ plant.

The ‘Can’t/Should/Have To’ plant

This plant is one of the smallest – just the odd word slipped in here and there makes it almost invisible to most gardeners. And that makes it all the more dangerous, because left alone it smothers two of the most empowering parts of our mind garden – our sense of choice and our sense of responsibility.

How can such seemingly insignificant words have such a devastating effect? Well, one way is by offering us an easy way ‘forward’. For instance, when we’re faced with saying no to a friend it can feel more comfortable to explain that we can’t help because we’ve have to do something else. It shifts the blame – saying, ‘hey, it’s not my fault.’

The trouble is that we begin to believe it – and then we become brilliant at applying it to ourselves – ‘I can’t take this wonderful opportunity because my mum wouldn’t like it’ or ‘I should/have to do this because it’s expected of me.’

In gardening terms it’s like some nondescript ground cover that looks half decent but stops us from ever seeing the fantastic potential in front of us.

It offers an illusion that can actually feel comforting but in reality is a damaging enemy of achievement and empowerment. How so? Because we’ve always got an excuse for doing nothing, for following the herd, for missing those life-changing opportunities.

What to plant

It can seem pretty frightening at first to know we always have choices. But once you accept it you’ll begin gain control of your life. Replacing ‘can’t’ with ‘I choose to’ or ‘I choose not to’ helps you understand the reasons behind your decisions – and helps you recognise they are indeed YOUR DECISIONS.

If you find yourself right now thinking that this is ridiculous – that there are lots of times when you truly can’t do things and have no choice – then you are probably well in the grip of the ‘Can’t/Should/Have To’ plant.

Let me give you a stark example. It’s true that a blind person can’t see. But that doesn’t mean they have no choices. Yet look at how being disempowered by the ‘Can’t/Should/Have To’ plant changes things – it narrows down the opportunities, it closes off the world by giving a convincing sounding reason – that it’s all the fault of the blindness – it’s just the way things are! This person is truly blind.

Now look at the thousands of examples of why this isn’t the truth. The groundbreaking musicians who learned their instrument without ever seeing it; the blind athletes – there are even blind soccer teams that have a bell inside the ball! And don’t forget the students, academics, politicians, entrepreneurs… These amazing people have one thing in common. They recognise their choices and take responsibility for their lives.

Now – what are the reasons that you aren’t doing the things you want?

Back to gardening – the way to treat the ‘Can’t/Should/Have To’ plant is by vigilance and replacement. Monitor your usage of these words and replace them whenever you can. Begin looking at the world as a world of choices – even when the choices are stark they are still choices. Listen for when others use these words too, and use this to understand them and yourself more.

As Jean Nidetch said: it’s choice – not chance – that determines your destiny.

So begin planting the seeds of your destiny today.

See part three for the final instalment of Gardening Your Mind.

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Andrew Leigh helps people achieve better work and business performance, whole-life wellbeing, achievement and change, and fulfilling new life directions.

To find out more about how life coaching can transform your life visit

Copyright 2006 – Andrew Leigh. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Reprint Rights: You may reprint this article as long as you leave all of the links active, do not edit the article in any way and give author name credit.