I Can’t Do Anything Right

I can’t do anything right!

These were the first words that came out of a recent client’s mouth at the start of a life coaching session.

You can’t do what right, specifically? I was relying on my NLP training (the good ole meta-model).

Well, he started a list, counting on his fingers and needing to recycle the process a few times. Like I said, I can’t do anything right. I can’t make my wife happy. Hell, I can’t even make myself happy. I don’t eat right. My appetite is out of control and no matter how I resolve to fix it, my gut has a mind of its own. 

I can’t do anything right. I can’t sleep. I can’t get up on time. I do make a lot of money, but I’m not satisfied, even though I’m in the top 5% of income earners. I tried practicing gratitude, but I can’t stick with it. I can’t do anything right! I can’t be consistent in anything…it’s like I can’t grow up. I’m a classic self-sabotager!

i cant do anything right

What would happen if you could do anything right?

The meta-model was still serving me well. If you can’t do anything right, then you must be – consciously or subconsciously – avoiding the outcomes with doing stuff right. Right?

I don’t know. My client sat back for the first time, contemplating.

If I could do things right, I guess I’d have to stop making excuses. I’d have to buck up and make some sacrifices. And stop complaining about things I don’t want to do.

And if you did that?

Well, I’d be much happier. Hm. I guess part of me doesn’t want to be very happy. I can’t do that right, either. 

He was stuck in a quandary. Give up self-indulgence, impatience, and doing whatever he felt like vs. growing up and exercising some self-discipline. And what about the claim: I can’t do anything right? It was starting to sound like a lie. You know, an excuse – playing the helpless card so that he’d be able to continue being as helpless as a child.

Are you willing to do things right?

You know, give up the helpless child story and make sacrifices. Eat disciplined. Exercise. Get up early and doing everything you can do sleep well. Start paying attention to your wife. Be a man. You see, even though you say – I can’t do anything right – you can. You’re just not willing. You have not decided to take that level of responsibility.

Instead of saying I can’t do anything right, start saying: I am not willing to do anything right. 

He sat back again, tilted his head back, and stared at me. He was trying to decide whether or not to get defensive and annoyed, writing me off as another life coach who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. I waited. He caved.

You’re on. I’ll just tell myself the truth from now on. What can it hurt? 

I never saw the man again, but I’ve often wondered if he kept it up, telling himself the truth about his little helplessness game. And if he did, what were the results? Did he step up and start putting in his best efforts? Or did he cave into self-indulgence and continue through life bitching about how incompetent he is?