Can’t Versus Won’t | Are you saying “no” to something or someone?

“The first agreement, Be Impeccable with Your Word, is the most important agreement and also the most difficult one to honor.”
—Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements


In the book The Four Agreements (find it on Amazon here), “impeccable” is said to come from the Latin im pecatus: im translates as without and pecatus means sin. Ruiz believes “a sin is anything you do which goes against yourself.” Therefore, to be impeccable with your word means to only say and do those things that convey love and respect for yourself.

It can be difficult to be truly impeccable with your words, yet Judith E. Glaser—author ofConversational Intelligence® (find on Amazon here) —says, “our words create our worlds.” For this reason, there is no better wisdom to follow than to be impeccable with your word.

What sort of world are you creating each day? Are your words working against you or are they co-creating a world that nurtures your highest self?

Monitoring your language is a good place to start when answering these questions. One particular area where most of us struggle is noticing how often we use the word “can’t” when the word “won’t” is truer.

Can’t implies we lack ability or capacity to do something. Won’t implies we have a choice—we are deciding to say “no” to something or someone.

Can't Versus Won'tThink about it. How often have you mindlessly said:

“I can’t talk right now.”

“I can’t meet up today.”

“I can’t make it to the party.”

It might be more truthful to say:

“My class is starting now. I won’t be able to speak any longer.”

“I have too much planned today. I won’t be able to meet up.”

“I won’t be coming to the party.”


If you want to stop working against yourself and start building a better world within and without, take a look at what you’re conveying. You might need to evaluate before you speak. You may even need to ask yourself—is it true that I can’t do this? Or is it truer that I’ve decided I won’t do this? One feels good, the other leaves a bad taste in your mouth.