Can? vs. How Can?

If you haven’t listened to On Being with Krista Tippett before, I highly recommend that you do.  It is a brilliant podcast that consistently delivers intriguing guests and interesting topics of conversation.

A recent interview was with Ellen Langer, a social psychologist, author, and professor at Harvard University.  Langer is also known as the “Mother of Mindfulness.”  Check out her interview to learn more about her and her decades of research on mindfulness.

As a former student and forever lover of semantics, her discussion in this interview of “Can?” versus “How can?” caught my attention.  Langer says that in life when we ask ourselves “can” we do something, we are only appealing to the past and what we’ve been able to do or not do previously.  However, if we instead ask “how can” we do something, we are appealing to our potential.

For example if I ask myself in this moment, “Can I run a mile in under 8 minutes?” the answer is no.  If I instead ask, “How can I run a mile in under 8 minutes?” now I get to look at all the ways I can make that a reality.  I can run every day until I get under 8 minutes.  I can hire a trainer.  I can buy better shoes.  I can choose to run in ideal weather.  I can enlist the support of a running partner.  The list of possibilities is endless when we ask the right question.

If I’m suffering from a broken heart, it’s easy for me to say I’ll never heal from it.  I could ask the question, “Can I heal from this heartache?” and the possible answers are “yes” and “no.”  However, if I ask “How can I heal from this heartache?” the question first implies that yes I can heal, and then opens the door to countless possibilities of how that healing can become a reality.

Other questions we may ask ourselves are:

  • Can I find a job I love? vs. How can I find a job I love?
  • Can I have financial stability? vs. How can I have financial stability?
  • Can I be healthy? vs. How can I create health in my life?
  • Can I find purpose/meaning in this life? vs. How can I find my purpose/meaning in this life?
  • Can I have a connection to God/Source/the Universe? vs. How can I have a connection to God/Source/the Universe?
  • Can I achieve my goals/dreams? vs. How can I achieve my goals/dreams?
Try out these questions in your own mind and create others that have meaning in your current experiences.  See if you feel a difference when you ask yourself “Can?” and when you ask “How can?”.  See how changing the question can open up the possibilities.

I’d love to hear what other kinds of questions you come up with, and how you experience the difference between “Can?” and “How Can?”.  Please share your thoughts and comments by clicking “Leave on Comment” on the left.

Peace,

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