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    If you think you can, or you think you can’t… who cares what you think!

    Get this image in your mind: a small, framed, slightly yellowing needlepoint, hanging near the front door of a farm house, and stitched into it, among the flowers and butterflies is the phrase “Home Sweet Home.”

    It’s supposed to evoke calmness and happiness and appreciation and warmth. Very Norman Rockwell.

    I like to use the phrase “Needlepoint Wall Hangings” for all those New Age and religious sayings that, with best intentions of helping us through difficult times, or with the hopes of being reminders of our highest possibility, are really empty, meaningless, Pollyana-ish, saccharine, wastes of wall space.

    While these sayings don’t need to be hung on a wall, there’s a multi-million dollar business of selling posters, fridge magnets, cards, and the like, emblazoned with these trite sayings. Add a picture from nature — puppies, kittens, dolphins, whales — and you’ve got a blockbuster on your hands.

    Hang in there, baby!

    Did you automatically get the image of the adorable kitten, hanging on to a tree branch?

    Millions of those posters plaster walls around the world.

    But, seriously, do you know ANYONE who has ever been struggling through difficult times who has looked at that poster and thought, “Yeah! Thanks, adorable kitty! I will hang in there, just like you’re clinging to the tree branch that the photographer put you on so he could take this shot and sell millions of posters!” And then later, after making it to the other side of the issue, returned to the poster with, “PHEW! I don’t think I would have gotten tha 2nd round of venture financing without the inspiration I drew from your tireless hanging in there, kitty! I thank you, and our stockholders thank you!”

    Enjoy the journey, not the goal

    Here’s a wall hanging we look at when we’re neither enjoying the journey nor anywhere near our goal. Has tossing that tired aphorism ever stopped you in your tracks with, “Wow! I’m $200,000 in debt and about to be thrown out of my house, but what a grand and glorious journey I’m on (seemingly to the street).”

    Aside from my dislike of these sayings because they’re, well, useless, most of them are simply wrong.

    “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” This quote is attributed to Henry Ford. I find it somewhat ironic that the guy who built the US auto industry is so well known for summing up in a sentence the book, The Little Engine that Could. This quote is just a pithier version of “I think I can, I think I can…”

    So, Henry’s quote — tossed around the Manifestation/Power of Positive Thinking/The Secret/You Create Your Own Reality camp like a Frisbee — suggests (and those who repeat it seem to agree) that you must believe you can do something in order for it to happen… if you don’t believe in something, well then it can’t happen to/for you.

    Sounds reasonable, right?

    Well, the reasonableness is the the exact problem with sayings like this.

    Because it SOUNDS reasonable, we rarely take the time to reflect on our own experience, let alone the experiences of others, to see if, in fact, it’s true.

    It’s a cognitive bias that once we find a belief we like, or one that supports our existing beliefs, we simply don’t look for evidence that might contradict it. In fact, worse, we’ll take contradictory evidence as FURTHER proof for the original belief.

    Let’s look at Henry’s homily more closely.

    Can you find examples of things you have NOT gotten or achieved where you DID think “I can”? If you’re like every other human being on the planet, you can probably list those all day long. Find any one of the 80% of new business owners who went out of business in their 1st year. I assure you that until they realized they couldn’t (often for reasons out of their direct control), they thought they could.

    Can you find examples of things you’ve gotten or achieved where you DIDN’T think “I can,” or where you thought, “I can’t”? Find just ONE example from your life… then once you do, I’ll bet you can find another. And another, and another.

    Just to prime the pump, here’s one of mine: I met a wonderful woman online. We had a great time chatting and decided to go out for dinner. Dinner was fun, the conversation was enjoyable. And I was 100% totally convinced that she would definitely not date me. Why? She was 6′. I’m 5’6″ on a tall day. I didn’t believe that someone that tall would be interested in someone my size. After all, I had heard that from dozens of women in the past. So, at the end of the evening, I said good-bye and started to leave… and she interrupted me with, “Why are you going?” I think the glib answer I came back with was, “Uhhh…. well…. ummm…. hmmm, interesting question.”

    Can you find examples of things you’ve gotten or achieved where it didn’t even occur to you to think “I can” or “I can’t”? You may want to get simple, or metaphoric here — food, water, air to breath, the ability to stand up, walk, sit, lie down. Got a list?

    I collect interviews with famous people talking about their success… the vast majority say they did NOT believe they would or even could achieve what they’ve accomplished. I have a great example where Charlie Rose is interviewing Lance Armstrong. Throughout the entire hour, Lance had to repeatedly respond to Charlie’s questions about “Did you think you’d be able to win again?” with, “No! Anything can happen in a race. I hadn’t won a race in a year. Even when I had the Yellow jersey I did not have the thought, ‘I can win.'”

    Recently I listened to interviews on NPR with Woody Allen and Steve Carrell… who both talked about the amount of luck, fate and chance that has given them much more than they ever thought they could achieve. These guys aren’t being humble, just honest.

    Want to know the only thought you may need to get you from “here” to “there”?

    “It could be possible”

    It’s simple. And, actually, it’s optional. Because, guaranteed, along the way, you’ll think you can, you’ll think you can’t, you’ll think everything in between… and guaranteed, no matter what you think, it’ll either happen or not.

    And, frankly, if you stop spending weekends putting Needlepoint Wall Hangings in your house and memorizing every one of their sayings and, instead, you may have some extra time and energy to take some ACTION that could lead toward what you actually want.

    9 Responses to “If you think you can, or you think you can’t… who cares what you think!”

    1. Ed Says:

      I assume you’ve seen the posters that make fun of this, that are entitled “Failure” and “Discouragement” and so on, but with the same sweeping inspirational pictures. Sometimes I think they deserve more wall space than the originals.

    2. sashen Says:

      OH! Thanks for reminding me… I forgot to mention http://www.despair.com which is where you can find those posters.

      And, of course, my T-shirts that make fun of inspirational sayings as well — http://www.delightenment.com

    3. Jeanne Says:

      I think that in place of the thought, “it could be possible”, I’d rather use “it’ll never happen”. That way I’ve taken all pressure off myself.

      Actually I often aced tests in school after repeatedly thinking, “Oh God, I am going to fail this test.”

      Ya know, there’s a book out there called “The Positive Power of Negative Thinking”. :-)

    4. sashen Says:

      LOL… I love “it’ll never happen”

      There’s a bunch of research showing how “pessimists” are more accurate in their assessment of outcomes and, therefore LESS likely to be depressed when things don’t work out.

      Too bad they left the word “Positive” in “The Positive Power of Negative Thinking”… it would have been better without it 😉

    5. Gee Says:

      Given the choice of can or can’t, I’ll take can everytime. I’ve been a consultant for 25 years who has received most of my jobs by thinking ‘can’ when logic (no previous experience, no previous skill, etc) would suggest I think ‘can’t’. I got these jobs and (very quickly I might add) learned what I needed to do a good job. In most cases, the company hiring me for the contract would try to hire me as an employee within a few months.

      Sorry to disagree with you guys :)

    6. sashen Says:

      Hi Gee… the problem with your disagreement is that it’s based on flawed evidence.

      What I mean is that while we believe the ONLY thing we can truly trust is our own experience (or our memory of experiences), what cognitive research has shown, over and over, is that this is the LEAST reliable data we have. We cherry pick our memories (and often CHANGE our very memories) to support our theories about how life works… and we have NO IDEA that we’re doing this.

      I won’t go into the details about how the SKILL of misrepresenting our own experience was a valuable thing to have… 100,000+ years ago (think about how coming up with superstitious ideas about cause-and-effect could have kept you alive).

      But in the present, it leads to all manner of unnecessary beliefs about what’s required for achieving things we want, or things we *think* will make us happy.

      I’ve got an upcoming blog post about this: When we see optical illusions, we think, “Wow, that’s weird.” But they should send is SCREAMING FROM THE ROOM! They’re telling us that our primary mechanism for interfacing with the world is fundamentally flawed and often wrong. They should engender something akin to terror that we can’t even trust our PERCEPTION, let alone our interpretations of perception.

      Anyway, continue to enjoy the belief that “I can” somehow leads to things you want, even though you’ve probably never tested the opposite (nor could you do a REAL controlled test, since you don’t have a clone with which you could compare). But, if you find, one day, that “I can” isn’t cutting it for you, give me a call 😉

    7. CJ Says:

      Gee, I am with you. Happened upon this page when looking up the source for “If you think you can ..” quote. Little did Henry Ford realize that his postive attitude had nothing to do with his success.

      Amazed and amused by the contrarian voices. Norman Vincent Peale would spin in his grave! We are all free to live our life with as much positive or negative energy that we care to extend, after all, Attitude is a Decision to quote yet another postive affirmation.

    8. ML Says:

      Thanks for the food for thought. I too was doing a web search on the quote from Ford. I am thinking now, maybe in the end that is what is important.

    9. Mariann Grace Says:

      Guess what? YOU are ALL CORRECT!!!!!! Let’s talk pure science. Research has shown that human beings tend to perceive things within their–let’s call it “Knowledge base”. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce from this that every individual’s perception will be skewed toward what they believe. Great article!!! And I’m 100% positive that within the author’s life, it is absolutely true!!!!!!




     

     

     

     

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