Why You CAN’T Do Anything You Put Your Mind To

by Don Smith

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“You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Ahh, the sweet innocence of optimistic thinking. I love the intent behind the quote “You can do anything you put your mind to”; hard work, practice, and dedication make many things possible.

There's just one problem.

You CAN'T do anything you put your mind to.

Occasionally someone will post a question with a completely unrealistic goal like, “How can I become a billionaire in the next ten years?”

Well, figure out a way to consistently make $11,416 an hour, 24 hours a day for the next ten years, and you'll be there. You've got a 0.00003% chance of EVER becoming a billionaire, much less in the next ten years. You're 100,000 times more likely to get hit by lightning than to become a billionaire.

Become a millionaire in your lifetime?


A billionaire in the next ten years?

It's almost certainly not going to happen unless your last name is Buffett.

No matter how hard you train, you will not play in the NBA if you're 4 feet tall with a peg leg.

You will not get pregnant if you are a guy, barring some futuristic procedure.

You can do anything you put your mind to, except things like getting pregnant if you're a guy. Picture of a pregnant woman.
Sorry guys, if you were born a male, you aren't getting pregnant.
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

When I was younger, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I started looking into it and quickly learned that I needed to have 20/20 uncorrected vision. My vision is more like 20/blind as a bat without glasses. No amount of positive thinking was going to change that fact.

Stop beating yourself up over unrealistic goals!

The problem is that some people have been told that they can do anything they put their minds to for so long that they genuinely believe they can do anything if they are willing to put in enough effort. It's the growth mindset, and usually, that's a good thing.

But it can also be bad if you are beating yourself up for not achieving something you've put a ton of effort into that has little to no chance of succeeding due to external circumstances beyond your control. I've seen superstars spiral downward just because they didn't achieve an unrealistic goal. That's pretty sad because these people are truly superstars; they were just focused on the wrong things.

You CAN achieve many things by putting your mind to it!

Don't get me wrong, it takes effort to achieve many things, so don't give up just because you failed the first time. You CAN do nearly anything you put your mind to, just not everything. Dr. Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, introduced the concept of fixed versus growth mindsets in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”

People with fixed mindsets believe that they were born with a fixed level of intelligence that cannot be modified. In a growth mindset, however, people think they can develop their abilities and intelligence with effort, learning, and persistence. Their current skills are simply a starting point for their potential.

The reality is that both camps are partially correct. You can develop many things, but not everything. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that some people have natural gifts that others do not. You're not magically going to grow to a monstrous 7′ 1″ 325 lbs to dominate the court like Shaq if you don't have the right genes.

But you CAN get better at basketball by practicing.

Putting your mind to it won't make you Shaq. But you CAN get better at basketball by practicing.
Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Focus on Your Strengths

It's best to stop pursuing things that will never happen and focus on your strengths instead.

For example, I will never be the world's best salesman. I'm pretty sure I'd have a hard time selling a bottle of water to a man stranded in the middle of the desert dying of thirst with a wad of cash in his pocket.

Well, maybe I'm not quite that bad, but you get my drift. Selling is not an area of strength for me. My biggest strengths lie in strategy, seeing patterns, and solving problems. If I had focused on trying to sell things, I'd be starving. Instead, I focused on my strengths and have done pretty well. Interestingly enough, I became a better salesperson when I stopped trying to sell stuff!

Einstein is often quoted as saying: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Next time you're struggling because someone told you, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” stop trying to climb the tree if you're not getting very far! Figure out what you are good at and do that. You may find out that you have wings, and flying to the top of that tree is much easier than climbing it!

Stop clawing your way up the tree. Find your wings and soar.

About the Author 

Don Smith

Happily married with five kids, Smith owns a technology company, is the founder of this site, has served on the board of directors for multiple companies, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.

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