The Difference Between I Can’t & I Don’t Want To

Published by alvinauh on

The difference between ‘I can’t’ and ‘I don’t want to’ is something that I see my students wrestle with in class and different areas of life. I feel that a lot of younger students these days are too quick to jump to the wrong conclusion. I find that it is an issue with the mindset. This is because they do not necessarily reflect on their situation before blaming their school work or their circumstances.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is not that I am not understanding. However, I do think that more of them would take a step back, and ask themselves if they really could not or they are just not willing to. Here are a few examples:

The Overworked Teacher Trainee

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I remember giving a teacher trainee an earful once. He was not able to complete his research paper. The reason, he claimed was he had no time due to his internship. After working through his daily schedule, he realized that it was actually how he managed his time.

Apparently, he was spending a good 8 hours on naps and sports. Now, I get it, we all need time to relax. However, I think he should have been wise in not spending a good 33% of his day relaxing while neglecting his work. After digging a bit deeper, I found out that all the relaxing was just a way to not deal with his research paper.

There are many students I know who love teaching but absolutely hate conducting research as part of their academic work. It’s common, but I don’t think running away was the solution. After some guidance on how to write his paper and better manage his time, I gave him an extra week to complete his work. Surprisingly (or not) he was able to get it all done.

The Fear of Water

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I find that the fear of water is something that no swimming coach can help cure. The truth is, we can only guide and comfort a student to take the leap of faith, but it is up to the student to do so.

I remember many 5-year-olds, including my own daughter who tells me that they can’t put their head in the water or swim a meter to me. After some coercing and assurance, they eventually make the first leap. It is through this first experience they learn that they are able. Once that confidence is built up, they start learning the techniques really quickly.

However, it boils down to the initial fear of the unknown and it is up to them to convince themselves. They have to convince themselves that it is not that they are not able to, but that they don’t want to.


I believe the issue of whether we want to do something or whether we can is a mindset issue that many of us deal with. It could be a book that we wanted to write or a musical instrument that we want to pick up. It could be a weight loss programme that we wanted to complete or just getting into the habit of waking up early.

Regardless of what the goal or dream that you are trying to achieve, you will be tempted to feel that you can’t do it. However, as a former state athlete, trust me, there are days where you just don’t want to train. There are also days that you feel like you just can’t do it.

If you keep telling yourself that you can’t, you will never get it done. But once you acknowledge that you are trying to tell yourself that and force yourself to start, you will be amazed by the results. So whatever you are procrastinating on today, ask yourself this, are you not able to do it? or do you just not want to do it?