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Why Henry Ford Knew More Than “The Secret”

Why Henry Ford Knew More Than “The Secret”

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Henry Ford

This famous quote from quintessential American success story Henry Ford encapsulates the very core of why positive thinking works, and why it is one of the most often touted tool of personal development literature. It also highlights, by contrast, what is wrong with the (in)famous book and DVD “The Secret”, cited recently by another blogger as one of the most successful infomercials ever.

Positive thinking works not because of any cosmic or pseudo-scientific forces at work, but because our thinking can be one of the most crucial limits on our capabilities.

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Let’s first take a closer look at what Henry Ford said, and how that wisdom can work for us, before looking at what’s wrong with “The Secret”.

Apply Ford’s wisdom to achieve your dreams
Ford told us that if we think we can do something, we’re right — and if we think we can’t do something, we’re also right. The surprising conclusion of that quote highlights the fact that if we tell ourselves we cannot do something, we’re restricting ourselves. There is no way we can succeed if we believe that we will fail. It’s just shooting ourselves in the foot.

But by believing in our own success, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Does that mean that I will be able to fly just by thinking that I can? Of course not. It is only by hard work, by finding creative solutions, by persistence even with repeated failures, that we will be able to fly. Ask the Wright brothers.

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Sure, you say, this stuff is obvious. But if it’s so obvious, are you applying it to your daily life? Have you taken the time to define your dreams, and the steps that it will take to get there? Have you asked yourself if you believe in yourself, and if you believe you can achieve those dreams? And what steps are you taking today — not tomorrow or next year — to make those dreams a reality.

If you are doing all of these things already, I congratulate you. You’ve taken the steps necessary to be a success. But if you aren’t, ask yourself why not? What is holding you back? Too much stuff going on in your life? Or maybe your dreams are something that you’ll get to “someday”, but not today? Or maybe you don’t really believe you can do it. You need to analyze that and make some changes.

Btw, Ford was great when it comes to success quotes. Here’s just one more of many: “It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.”

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The Problem with “The Secret”
Now let’s take a (brief) look at the very popular movie and book, “The Secret”. First, let me say that there are some very good concepts in the Law of Attraction, which is highlighted in “The Secret” — basically, the Law of Attraction is just new packaging of some older, but successful, concepts, namely the power of positive thinking and visualization.

Positive thinking, as discussed above, can be a powerful force in making your dreams a reality. And the method of visualizing your dreams has been proven repeatedly to be a great way to making them come true — in athletics and business and everywhere in between. By seeing something, in your mind, in vivid detail, you are making it more likely that you will find a way to turn that picture into reality. Again, it will still take hard work and creative thinking and problem-solving, but this is one method for getting there.

But “The Secret” takes these concepts and turns them into pseudo-scientific concepts, shrouded in a conspiracy theory. Which cheapens the whole deal, IMO. The movie uses “electromagnetic waves” and concepts of quantum physics to explain why the Law of Attraction works.

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The problem is that it takes real scientific phenomena and twists them in ways that have not been proven. There is no scientific evidence that the electromagnetic waves that we actually do send out into the universe have any effect in changing the world around us in the way that we want the world to change (or have any discernible effect on these things at all).

Why Positive Thinking Works
The thing is, none of these pseudo-scientific facts are necessary to explain why positive thinking and visualization work. The explanation is very simple, and it’s encapsulated in Ford’s quote:

  • First, if you think you can’t do something, you won’t. It’s that simple.
  • Second, if you think you can, you’re more likely to do the things necessary to make it happen.
  • Third, if you have a very clear picture of what you want, you are more likely to find the path necessary to get there than if you don’t really know what you want. It’s simply defining your target, as opposed to not knowing where your target is.

That’s all. Nothing fancy, nothing pseudo-scientific, no conspiracies — just simple, powerful concepts that actually work. Concepts that you can, and should, apply to your every day life right now.

Leo Babauta blogs regularly about achieving goals and becoming productive through daily habits on Zen Habits. Read his articles on the Top 50 Productivity Blogs, doubling your productivity, keeping your inbox empty, becoming an early riser, and the Top 20 Motivation Hacks.

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Leo Babauta

Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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