“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 January 21, 2020
Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)
Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.
This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.
The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.
Table of Contents
The Keys to Learning Anything Easily
Learning comes easily to people who have developed:
Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.
People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.
Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.
When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.
Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.
A Feeling for Connectedness
This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.
A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).
The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.
How to Self-Taught Effectively
With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:
Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:
Learning the Basics
Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.
Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.
What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.
Hitting the Books
Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.
Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.
While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.
My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.
Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.
A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.
Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.
Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice
One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.
These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.
Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.
For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.
Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.
In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.
If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.
At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.
More About Self-Learning
- 6 Effective Learning Techniques that are Backed by Research
- 7 Steps to Make Self-Learning Effective for You
- 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself
Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com