“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” – 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.Advertising
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.Advertising
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.”Advertising
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.Advertising
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.
Last Updated on July 8, 2020
3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively
It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.
This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.
Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?
When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.
This is why setting priorities is so important.
3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities
There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:
1. Eat a Frog
There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!
Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.
When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.
2. Move Big Rocks
Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.
You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.
If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.
For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.
To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.
In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.
3. Covey Quadrants
If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.
Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:
- Important and Urgent
- Important and Not Urgent
- Not Important but Urgent
- Not Important and Not Urgent
The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.
Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.
You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).
Getting to Know You
Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.
In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.
These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.
More Tips for Effective Prioritization
- How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster
- How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1
- The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life
Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com