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Two Powerful Words

By October 20, 2010October 8th, 2014Best of Withisms, Communication, Storytelling

I believe it is one thing, and one thing only, that causes success in life. Communication.

In addition to the actions we take each day to raise funds, recruit board members, make thank you calls to donors, and so on, the words we choose when we speak have a significant effect on the outcome.

Most of us have heard this definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

When I really, truly heard that statement it was like a thunderbolt. It dawned on me: I actually have to think and speak differently in order to get different results.

Here’s a tip: Old patterns are powerful. They have strong grip on you. In order to shift outcomes, identify bite-sized opportunities for shifting behavior. You make communication choices all day long. And I find most people’s choices are less than inspiring. Here’s an example:

Utilitarian:We need your help. Please give us money.
Inspiring: It took just $80 to help Tony, age 19, get his GED this year because of supporters like you. Our goal is to serve 100 more Tonys this year from our waiting list of 500. Will you invest in a few more Tonys this year?

To change your story and your outcomes you have to change the words you use. That’s how better results show up. There are two words, I believe that can be destructive and stop progress.

“Can’t” is a destructive little word

cant20Oct10How many times a day do you say or hear the word “can’t”? Pay attention for a day and see what you find – in yourself and in those around you. You may be surprised at the power this little word is wielding over your life.

When I’m giving training strategy sessions or meeting with a client, I often count how many times I hear the word “can’t” coming from the team. They don’t know why I’m putting those marks on the whiteboard, but when I tell them I’ve captured the number of times they used the word “can’t” they’re usually shocked at the reality right in front of them. Sometimes I hear “can’t” so often I’m unable to keep up with the tally.

I invite you to take a look at how many times you can use words OTHER than “can’t”. Looking at the day or the situation without negatives – allows it to be a pure, unfettered opportunity.

“Try” avoids commitment to success

Yoda20Oct10Quote from Jedi Master Yoda, from StarWars: Do, or do not. There is no try.

“Try” is a cop out. If you want to limit your responsibility & waffle on a commitment use “try”. Here are some examples:

  • I’ll “try” to get that done (But if I don’t finish at least I tried).
  • I’ll “try” to make the deadline (When I miss it you can’t be mad, I tried).
  • I’ll “try” to change my behavior (I may not, but I’ll tell you I’m trying in order to buy time and make myself feel better).

“Try” avoids a commitment to success.

I’ve noticed for some, commitments have become something we keep if they are convenient for us. We’ll try – but do we feel anything close to failure if we don’t deliver on that commitment?

NEWS FLASH: People will pay good money for the secret to getting things done. I’ll give you the secret for free. Want to get things done? Do them! Don’t just try.

I share the Yoda quote often when I speak and recently I shared it at a conference in Wisconsin. The conference host sat in on my session. She runs a statewide organization and is very accomplished and successful.
Deborah sent me a thank you email after the conference and said:

“The most powerful changes are taking place here in our office since we adopted the Do or Do not strategy.” She said, “TRY is outlawed here and we are having so much more fun and accomplishing so much more! It’s an invaluable lesson. Thank you!”

My recommendation? Take these changes on in bite-sized pieces that work for you. You’re not going to feel happy or at peace by trying to adhere to a strict new set of goals or ideals – mine or anyone else’s.

Fun fact: At 211 degrees water is hot. Very hot. But at 212 degrees it boils! And with boiling water comes steam and steam can power a locomotive…big things can happen with a tiny difference. Make a tiny difference today and create big results.


This post was included in Withism’s from Lori: Boldness, Clarity & Wisdom for Fundraising Professionals Making a Difference (Volume 1), now available in paperback, on Kindle, and Nook.




  • Sandy Rees says:

    Love the Yoda quote! I use that one myself. “Try” is such a motivation killer. I’ve outlawed it from my own vocabulary.

    Sandy Rees

  • Bunnie Riede says:

    Queen Victoria “I am not interested in the possibilities of defeat” or something like that. Great blog. Inspiring.

  • Language is so powerful. Thank you Bunnie & Sandy for the read!

  • Julie says:

    Loved this post, Lori. Positive language is to the mind as exercise is to the body…no matter how hard it is to do, you feel so good once you’ve done it.

  • I heard a speaker years ago talk about how the messages we teach boys is different than those we teach girls. You’re hitting on it.

    Here was her point.

    The Boy Scout pledge says this:
    “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God …” etc

    The Girl Scout pledge says this:
    “On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country … ” etc.

    Boys are taught and conditioned “to do.”
    Girls are taught and conditioned “to try.”

    That’s not good. And how many other ways are we conditioning ourselves in this way?

    It’s especially telling if the non-profit sector has more women than men. (I don’t know if that’s true, but within my realm of benefit auctions it *is* true.)

  • Jule and Sherry, thank you so much for the inspiring and thoughtful comments. I’m going to add them to the keynote message I deliver tonight! Your words will help a room full of women today.

  • I’m a very big fan of Peter Block’s The Answer to How is yes. The book talks about much of what you are saying, Lori, starting with the need for us to examine exactly what we are willing to commit to. If you believe deeply enough in something, you’ll figure out the how to get over your discomfort. But if you really don’t want to do it, words like try and can’t camouflage the real source of our resistance.

  • Gayle, Thanks for the suggestion and referral to Peter Block’s book. It’s so true that if we are not truly committed to doing something we often camouflage that with our language.

  • Roger Carr says:

    When I present at Toastmasters, someone counts the number of times I use fillers such as ah and um. What a terrific technique to count the number of times the word can’t is used! Toastmasters helped me to cut down on my use of fillers in my speeches, I am sure you are having an impact on your team’s use of the word can’t. Great post!

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