You Can If You Believe You Can

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Some 2,000 years ago the Roman poet Virgil, in his epic poem “The Aeneid”, tells the story of the struggles the mighty Roman army was having in defeating a rag-tag group of men defending their principality. The Roman Generals were puzzled as they had a combat seasoned army, possessed superior weaponry and their commanders were well versed in strategy and tactics. Turning to an advisor for guidance, he responded with one of the most often quoted insights: ‘For they can conquer who believe they can.’

Fast forward to 100 years ago and the iconic Henry Ford made a similar statement in response to a complaint from a young admirer who was lamenting his inability to be successful like Ford. Ford said: ‘Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.’

Expanding Ford’s statement into its essential message we have: If you believe you can do a thing, you can. If you believe you cannot do a thing, you cannot.

Virgil and Ford were both addressing the power of our self-beliefs in achieving success. For Virgil, the rag-tag group of defenders had the unshakeable belief – steel like will and self-confidence – that they could defeat the Romans. And they did. For Ford, he was suggesting to the questioner that his lack of success was due to his lack of confidence in himself. Nothing else.

Ford also had sage advice with respect to failure. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Failure was not an ending but a learning opportunity on the path to success. In fact, Ford’s first automobile venture in 1901 went bankrupt.  He added,

“You must never, even for a second, let yourself think that you can fail,” said Ford. “Our first principal is that failure is impossible. You may not get what you’re trying to do right the first time or the second time or the tenth time or the 100th time, but if you shut out of your mind the possibility of being licked, then you are bound to win.”

It is rightly said that ‘success comes to those who will and dare’. A man who believes that he can succeed can succeed even after failing a lot of times. The most important thing is self-confidence.

Our own self-imposed limitations are nicely illustrated in the story of the elephant tied with a thin rope around one leg secured to a small stake in the ground. Though the elephant wants to escape, it never does. It easily has the strength to pull out the stake and run away but does not. The reason lies in its beliefs. It has been tied with that rope around its leg since it was young, when it did not have the physical power to pull out the stake however hard it tried. And after some time it gave up and grew up believing that it could not. Now that it is a grown up elephant with full power and strength, it believes it can’t pull out that stake. And it never tries.

The two great roadblocks to achieving our greatest dreams and ambitions are lack of self-confidence and fear of failure – both of these beliefs feed each other.

Here’s a simple but effective way to strengthen your self-confidence. Before you go to bed at night, make a list of what you want to accomplish the next day. These can be simple things – such as work-out for an hour, get a haircut, call your brother, and complete a task at work. The following day, before you go to bed, strike off the tasks completed and make your next day’s list.

The simple task of setting intentions of what you want to accomplish and then achieving them and striking them off your list is establishing the self-belief in your ability to be successful. You are hard wiring the habit of setting objectives and accomplishing them with this daily routine. You are strengthening your belief in yourself to be successful, and giving foundation for self-confidence. 

Another method to build self-confidence is to speak or write using only words which enhance your self-belief as a successful, capable person who makes confident choices. Avoid words like ‘can’t, should, could, doubt, try’ which are self-depreciating words reeking with failure. Instead, use words which reflect your power to be successful and your exercise of choice – such as ‘do or don’t, will or won’t, can’. Monitor your own choice of words to gain insight to your level of self-confidence – they reveal much about your true state of mind.

How to deal with fear of failure can be dealt with by changing your perspective. Rather than focusing on the fear of failure, focus on the joy of success. Recall past experiences where you were successful and relive the emotion and feelings of success you felt. Apply those same feelings to the task at hand. Fear casts doubt, and feelings of ‘can’t’, so avoid straying into that thinking. Never, ever use the word ‘try’.

Like Ford, who’s first venture ended in bankruptcy, failure is part of the path for many successful entrepreneurs. Failure isn’t failure but an opportunity to make course corrections. Research the bios of any successful person and you will find instances of failure. But rather than being deterred, they persevered and strengthened their resolve and made the necessary adjustments. The fear of failing is unwarranted – it’s almost a right of passage to success so consider it in this light.

You can do anything you set your intentions on, simply never falter in the belief in yourself. You can if you believe you can.

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