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How to Focus on What You Can Do Rather Than What You Can’t

If your life is everything you dreamed it would be or is giving you more than you could hope for, then congratulations. There’s no point in reading any further, although I might tell you to dream bigger.

However, I’d be willing to bet there’s at least one part of your life you’d like to change or improve, but you might not know how. Maybe you know what to do but don’t have the energy or motivation to even start. Or perhaps you say to yourself, “Well, it’s not really that bad so I can live with it. Others are worse off, so it’s OK.”

What’s preventing you from living the life you dream of living? For most people, it’s fear. Fear of changing, fear of giving up things, fear of failure. As a result, the first obstacle they encounter stops them in their tracks.

But the biggest reason so few of us are not “living the dream” is simply the result of how we see the world. That is the single biggest determinant of how we live our lives.

Think back to the birth of your child or of some family member. That little person comes into this world with a completely clean slate, having knowledge of nothing except, perhaps, their mother’s voice. When they become old enough to listen, you, their parents, and their teachers will encourage them to believe they can become just about anything they want to be. As they grow older and life gets more complicated, that conversation will change to include boundaries and rules and the need to ask for permission.

Don’t believe me? Then look back at how many times today your actions were based on perceived conditions or limits or because you needed someone’s approval. You can’t plan that trip because you don’t have enough money. You can’t take that training course because you didn’t get your boss’ approval. How did your life go from having no constraints at birth to a world governed by them?

Little by little, our language becomes filled with the things we can’t do or won’t be able to do or are not allowed to do. Our lives become dictated by what others believe we need to know or who we need to be. Little by little, the lens through which we see the world (let’s call this our life lens) limits what we actually see. Over time, this increases our awareness of what’s lacking in our lives, and that becomes all we see.

Let’s look at it another way, through a different lens (pardon the pun). With every action you performed today, did it take you closer to living the life you always dreamed of living? Do you even know what that life looks like?

None of us can pause or rewind our lives. They will continue without our permission. In other words, we don’t get a choice about living our lives. What we do get to choose is determining what matters most to each of us. If you’re going to put your energy into living a certain way, isn’t it better to be on what truly matters to you?


You will be thrown all kinds of ideas of how to live your life, what you should do and what you should learn. You can always default to living a life based on your current habits and patterns, but I can tell you that if you feel the least bit inhibited or restricted living this way, then this is a life you are not meant to be living.

When my son, Ben, came into the world, his so-called completely clean slate was instantly marred with phrases like, “never walk, talk or go to school” and “has no potential.” Seemingly impenetrable barriers were placed in his way from the outset with a singular focus on all the things he wouldn’t be able to do. At the time, we let these limiting views shape our life lens, which didn’t allow us to see a world beyond these constraints. Over the years, Ben’s ability to never give up helped us become aware that our habits and patterns were restricting his growth and ours.

We slowly began to alter our life lens to envision a different world:

     So, what if Ben could use a computer to speak instead of his lips?

     What if he could be physically supported enough to allow him to use his legs to move?

     What if schools truly included him and he was given the right environment to learn?

If we could envision all of these things happening, how would we be living our lives? Answer: A world of never walking, talking or going to school would be history.

I believe the physicists who tell us that subatomic particles like protons and electrons exist even though I can’t see them. Put another way, just because I can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But if I assume these things do exist, then my awareness of a world beyond what I can see is greatly heightened and improved.

So, what does particle physics have to do with living a life you always dreamed of living? Well, that’s precisely the first step – start believing that all you see (or are told to see) is not all there is. How you see the world determines how you will live your life.

If you’re a parent of a child with a disability (like me), taking this first step will allow you to shift your focus to the things your child can do.

If you’re a healthcare professional helping to heal your patients, taking this first step will start to show you a world that’s more than just pathology and deficits.

If you’re an educator, taking this first step will help you broaden your reach to include and support all students.

Change your world view and your life will change. I guarantee it.

This post originally appeared on Third Time Lucky.

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