Who says you can’t do that?

~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” April 2009 ~
Who says you can’t do that?


Was it you?

Last time (Writing is for thinking)
I told you that I throw a lot of my journaling away. Once I’ve done the
writing of process writing I am focused on the result, and I don’t need
a lot of the deliberations that led up to it; I’ve moved on to
now-get-it-done mode.

However there are other kinds of journaling I do keep, and one kind is idea capture.
The ideas we come up with can turn out to work differently in various
contexts, and I like to read over my random ideas over and over again,
for I never know when I will be reading them from a fresh perspective.

That just happened to me again this past Tuesday afternoon.


I write my ideas down in a small notebook that I am always carrying
with me. Reason being that I’ve discovered my best re-read time comes
when I am standing in line somewhere, I’m waiting to catch a flight, or
I’m early for an appointment.

The ideas in my notebook are not always mine. They might come from
someone else, and often do. For instance, I love to flip to a clean page, hand my
notebook to someone in one of my workshops who has just had an aha!
moment, and ask them to write their idea down for me before they lose
the thought. When I read it later, their handwriting serves as a much
different trigger.

So Tuesday, I come to a page where a leader I’m coaching had written,

Who says you can’t do that?
Did someone really say
or was it a voice in your own head?

I talk to myself too much.
I really should learn to shut up more.”

Wow. I started wondering just how much I end up being my own censor,
talking myself out of doing things, and out of acting on other ideas.
How much starts out clearly black and white in their clarity and
brilliance, until my inner critic starts coloring over them with smoky grey?


So yesterday I conducted a little experiment. It was a day that I
had three different Skype calls scheduled, and I knew they would be
rich ones: One was with an executive coaching customer, another was
with a friend who’d be filling me in on her new business venture, and
the third was a conference call with a board of directors I sit on.
After each call I sat for about 20 minutes of quiet time to think back
to any time I “got grey” in my own self talk, or any time I spoke
offering an opinion or reason of some kind:

  • Was my reason truly sound and valid, or could it possibly been an excuse or justification in disguise?
  • Was there any way I was actually fooling myself?
  • Did I ever state as fact something I was actually guessing or supposing about?

What a fabulous exercise. I must admit, I did catch myself on a couple of things. I pride myself on being positive, and I work on it constantly, but I can begin to believe my own hype! Which is okay when it is encouragement, but not when “can’t” and “yeah, but” starts to creep into my language! Not when a once-valid reason has now turned into a no-longer reasonable excuse.

Try it.

  1. Rethink a conversation which has ended but is still fresh in mind
    for you. Did you make any statement which could very well be wrong? Who
    says you can’t change your mind? Who says you can’t try something
    different? Who says you can’t admit to something being right before, but wrong now? You might not need to apologize, but should you change your m.o.?
  2. Ask yourself honestly about something you’ve thrown a “yeah, but” at in your own head. Who really says you can’t do that?

A few posts back I wrote “Who gives you your second opinion?” and one of the questions there was “When do you listen, and when do you go your own way?” Might be something to think about again in this context.

Let’s talk story.
Any thoughts to share? No one says you can’t! Comment here, or via the tweet-conversation we have on Twitter @sayalakai.

Next time I see you:
Show me your notebook and I will happily share mine with you. We will have a delightful barrier-breaking conversation about one of your ideas and one of mine!

From the Talking Story Archives, a favorite of mine:
Believe in your Biology! Did you know —truly know and realize— that keeping a positive or negative thought in mind is a one or the other occurrence, and not a both at the same time?

Photo credits (In the order they appear): Writing by JKim1, Moleskine by Roshnii, and Sinking in the Grey by Rosa Say.

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  1. says

    I’ve been carrying a notebook with me for the last couple of months so I can keep track of interesting comments or ideas that I’d like to implement or do extra research on. It’s a great way to revisit previous thoughts. Just yesterday while I was in my dentist’s waiting room, I re-read some comments I took down at a seminar and found a wealth of productivity ideas that I would have never remembered otherwise. Now that they’re fresh in my mind I’m able to apply them in useful ways. Keeping a notebook on hand is a valuable way to capture all kinds of beneficial information that’s easy to forget with so many other things vying for our attention.

  2. says

    Aloha Laurie, I believe this is the first time we are meeting each other, welcome to Talking Story and the Ho‘ohana Community.
    I have flip-flopped between the notebook and carrying a binder clip of index cards with me. Each has its advantages. For instance, the index cards work great when I am taking notes at a seminar like you just mentioned, for speakers will come back to certain points and add to them, and the index cards make it easy to group their suggestions under one idea heading. Then later I will spread them out on a table and do some mind-mapping as I decide how to follow-up and take action with certain things – index cards are great for shuffling and prioritizing, re-ordering project steps as time goes by.
    I am a very visual person too, and so the process helps me a great deal. But as you mention, notebooks have other self-contained journaling type advantages.
    On a different subject, I just visited your blog, and you nail it with your Here to Listen posting; I quite agree.

  3. says

    I have added your blog to my feed reader Laurie. Seems to me that my ‘talking story’ and leadership coaching has a lot in common with your “express yourself to success” ”“ certainly in the communicative character of our objectives! We can learn much from each other I’m sure!

  4. says

    Ahhhhhh! I didn’t know you throw your journals away! Poor little abandoned babies out on the cold street all alone.
    You’ve backed me into a corner Rosa. I am forced to call DJS. (Department of Journal Services).
    Oh sure, you’ll show off your new idea journals. They get the nice clothes and probably ice cream too.
    I’m probably going to have nightmares tonight….

  5. says

    Dave! I wouldn’t abandon them out on the cold street all alone!!! Brace yourself now: I shred them.
    But don’t despair. They go to a very cheerful recycling bin I have (it is *not* one of those dreary black dark ones) enroute to Paper and Ink Heaven. Some shreds join the choir, and some go to your sleepy-time dreams which live in the land of singing words and dancing phrases.
    By the way, I heard your muse does a mean jitterbug there… (borrowed a hula skirt from my muse one wild weekend :)