Can I do This?: A Question to Improve Performance on Everything

motivation questions self-talk strategy

Recruit Your Brain

Our brains love questions, and they can't resist answering them. So when they hear a question, they automatically provide an answer, even if it's not spoken out loud.

When you ask yourself, "Can I do this?" your brain will not only answer the question, but it will also come up with reasons to support that answer. Those reasons are the specific things you need to do to succeed. Having them tied to their purpose, and being reminded in the moment, will help you actually utilize them.

This works really well when you are attempting something you are actually well-prepared for, but perhaps aren't that confidence about.

For example, let's say you are launching an ebook for the first time. You might sit down to do the planning as ask yourself, "Can I do this?"

Honestly, the answer is simply "Yes, I can." However, that "Yes" is probably contingent on some specific things you need to do in order to make it legit.

Or maybe you're asking for a date.

The point here is to be honest with yourself, not to make up reasons, but the reasons don't have to be earth-shattering.

Side note: The reason this is has to do with another psychology study in which people asking to cut in line were denied if they didn't provide a reason and allowed if they did. The reason was often something as simple as, "I'm late." As long as you provide yourself with a reason, any reason, you are more likely to believe in your own success.

This works even when the answer is "No"

This strategy isn't just for those well-prepared and self-assured. It works equally well - or even better - for those who aren't in a position to succeed.

If the answer is, "No, I can't do it...right now," you still have to provide reasons for why you can't do something. That will actually spell out exactly what needs to happen for you to give a "Yes" next time.

If you are unprepared, finding that out now will help you identify what you need to do in order to succeed.

This in turn gives you a specific game plan.

If you are going into something that cannot be avoided - a meeting that cannot be rescheduled - being aware of your weaknesses can allow you to work around them, minimize them, or hand off the performance to someone else at those key moments.

Examples in Practice

I encourage my SAT/ACT students to use this strategy when they are going into each section of the test. Many of them are extremely intimidated by the testing environment, even though they know the material. They ask themselves, "Can I do this?" and their answer is supported by the fact that I've shown them various tactics, they know the material itself, and they've done several practice tests, so they know how to manage their time.

It gets them to think calmly and rationally about their strategy. It forces them to engage with the problem itself, not just their mental state, which can simply be distracting.

I use this strategy in everything from hitting my monthly income goals to getting through my weightlifting routine.

Staring at a fully loaded barbell is kind of intimidating, and just opposing gravity with sheer motivation isn't always enough, but when I ask, "Can I do this?" I naturally remind myself that, "Yes, I can, because I've done this weight before, and I just need to remember to keep my weight back, stay tight in the core, and drive through my hips instead of my knees."

I also use it when I'm prepping for a scary phone call, meeting, or pitch. I tend to be quite shy when asking for things, and I have a long history of chickening out or letting people take advantage of me. So, now, when I'm getting ready for a big ask - perhaps I need to bill a client or report a hiccup in the process - I ask, "Can I do this?"

Since I know my stumbling blocks - I talk too much, give ground without even being asked, and try to anticipate concerns - I remind myself that, "Yes, I can, as long as I don't make assumptions about my client's finances, let them do the talking, and stick to my plan."

Give this strategy a shot. It isn't about wearing rose-colored glasses, but neither is it about being cynical. It's about realistic optimism, and it can empower you to do things you never though you could.

I learned about this idea from Daniel H. Pink, in his book To Sell is Human.