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The Annoyance of ‘You Can Do It!’

catexercisYou’ve certainly heard it before: You can do it! It’s usually meant as an encouragement, but just because it’s meant that way doesn’t mean you will really feel encouraged and find that last ounce of strength, the one even you were unaware of, and accomplish the deed.

On the contrary. It’s perfectly possible that You can do it! will only annoy you.

Several years ago, I tried doing Pilates. I did it for a few months (maybe just two?), but gave up after that, and never returned to it (fencing is way more fun, anyway). The instructor was a nice, optimistic girl who would sometimes crouch next to me and tell me something along the lines of You can do it, I know you can!

The thing is, I couldn’t.

Encouragement is nice, but I expect an instructor to know what he or she is talking about. If they tell me I can do it, I expect their assessment — an assessment of an experienced professional — to be more accurate than mine. In other words, if they tell me I can do it, they better be right. Because, if they’re not, if I truly can’t do it, no matter how hard I tried, I will no longer trust them. And I’m not really motivated to follow instructions of a person I don’t trust to know what they’re talking about.

Our fencing teacher never says You can do it. He tells us how to do something. He corrects us. He reminds us to look at the opponent’s sword and legs, not the face. He shows us how to do it. If I don’t do it right the first time, he’ll correct me, and show me again if necessary. We’ll repeat it until we make it. Or, if I still can’t make it, we will try it some other time, and I’ll keep practicing other stuff.

He doesn’t tell us that we can do it. He keeps teaching us until we can. His assistants are the same. They’ll show us, correct us, tell us It’s okay, we’re learning, let’s try again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that telling someone You can do it! is as bad as kicking puppies. It may not be bad at all, it can be encouraging, but it is a promise. It can be a very important promise, too, so the one giving it should keep it. Or not promise in the first place.

How about you? Am I the only one who sometimes finds You can do it! annoying, or does it annoy you as well?


A writer, a reader, a dreamer. Dreaming myself into existence.

4 thoughts on “The Annoyance of ‘You Can Do It!’

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