“Whether you believe that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”
– Henry Ford
At Rice University in Houston, Texas on 12 September 1962, John F Kennedy stood in front of the assembled audience and declared that “We choose to go to the Moon”; and on 20th July 1969, just under 7 years later, mankind did exactly that with Neil Armstrong’s famous “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. I think we can all acknowledge that this was a huge achievement for all concerned. It is also certain that when Kennedy announced the USA’s intention to go to the moon before the end of the 1960s, nobody knew quite how they would do it; Kennedy said as much himself in his speech at Rice University (and in his announcement to Congress the year before on the same subject). They knew not how they would get there, but they know exactly what they wanted to do, namely land a man on the Moon and return him home within that decade, and they were going to succeed whatever it took, no matter what the obstacles they encountered along the way.
Naturally, they succeeded.
But instead of expressing the committed belief that they would set man on the Moon, suppose Kennedy had stood up before the assembled audience and announced “Well, we’d quite like to go to the Moon sometime, maybe in the next 10 years, but to be honest I don’t think we can do it. We’ll give it a bash, but you know, it’s terribly hard and so many things can go wrong and we don’t even have the technology, so we’ll probably fail.”.
Just how successful do you think their attempts to land on the Moon would have been? You can pretty much guarantee that they would have failed. Everyone working on it would have been expecting failure, and as soon as they hit a problem (which they would hit anyway), that would be evidence that this task was impossible after all, and soon enough people would give up on the whole thing as a bad idea and the Moon would have remained out of reach of mankind’s boots.
It’s a large scale illustration of a truth which faces us all more or less every day. We tend to find what we are looking for.
I got a very clear illustration of this myself a few years ago when I bought my car. It was a nice yellow sports car, a 2-seater, nothing outrageous, but great fun to drive. And, as far as I was aware, sufficiently rare on the local roads. Except, within a month of my car arriving, I had seen 3 other cars of the same make and colour on the local roads! To compound this, they were all registered before mine, so they had already been on the roads locally before I bought mine, but they had never really registered upon my conscious until I had one. You’ve probably had similar experiences in life, where you acquire something and suddenly you see them everywhere, be it your car, a particular breed of dog, a particular brand of trainers, or you start dating someone new and suddenly everyone seems to have their name. It happens because our brain, which filters out most of what we sense each day (otherwise we would become to overwhelmed with information overload that we would cease to be able to think), now realises that this item is of relevance to you and so it doesn’t filter it out anymore, so you see it where previously would would not have noticed.
And so it is when we undertake a task. We encounter what we are looking for, what we are focusing on.
So if we think that we can’t succeed and we expect to hit lots of big problems, then we will do just that – every issue we encounter, no matter how small is might actually be we will see as yet another huge problem in a long line of problems, convincing us that we are right, this task is impossible and if we give up now we’ll save ourselves a lot of hassle.
On the other hand, if we know in our hearts and minds that we can and will succeed, and that any problems we encounter will be opportunities to grow and learn more about the task and to develop new useful skills which will propel us towards its completion, then guess what? Every problem we encounter we will see as a new opportunity, something bringing us closer to completion, and evidence that we were right all along and we can succeed!
The very act of thinking that we can do it or that we can’t do it drives toward a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Next time you encounter a task you need to do but you are not sure if you can, stop for a few moments and consider the situation.
Think about what would be the outcome if you did succeed. Picture what that would mean for you. Imagine hearing what you would say to yourself upon its completion, how you would feel having achieved whatever it is you would get as a result of completing that task. Really think carefully about that, getting that picture bright and clear in your mind, turning the sounds up and really feeling those feelings.
Then with that in mind, consider the task itself. What would be the first steps someone would need to take to start down the path of undertaking that task? What would they need to know, what resources would they need to have, who would they need to talk to? And how might they go about it? What problems might they encounter, how could they go about avoiding or solving that problem, and what would they learn from so doing which would help them to get closer to successfully completing the task?
As you ponder these questions, just let your mind relax and allow the answers to flow and to form – what would you tell someone undertaking that task?
Would you tell them that they can’t do it? If so, why would you suggest they even start?
Or would you tell them that they can do it, that the success you pictured can and will be theirs, and that they can and will overcome any obstacles which might arise on the journey?
Because remember, whether you tell them that they can or that they can’t do it, you’ll be right either way.
And that’s just as true if the person you are telling is you, isn’t it.
So, will you choose to go to the moon, or will you wallow around complaining that you could have gone but it was too hard whilst those who believed that they could are already walking around on the moon and thinking about their next great adventure?