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You Can If You Think You Can

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[P]roblems constitute a sign of life. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that the more problems you have, the more alive you are. The person who has, let us say, ten good old tough, man-sized problems is, on this basis, twice as alive as the poor, miserable, apathetic character who has only five problems. And if you have no problems at all, I warn you: You are in great jeopardy. You are on the way out and don’t know it. Perhaps what you had better do is immediately go to your room and shut the door and get down on your knees and pray to the Lord, “Lord, please; look don’t you trust me anymore? Give me some problems!”

One wonders what has come over this great, free country. We are the descendants of a once great breed of men who had problems and had them aplenty. But did they whine and whimper and crawl through life on their hands and knees piteously demanding of some so-called benevolent government that they be taken care of? Not on your life! They stood solidly on their feet and they took care of themselves. And they built the greatest economy in the history of the world — one that has made available more goods and services to more people than any other in the long life of mankind on earth.

Could it be that the breed has run out? Have we come to a time when we are so superficial in our thinking as actually to believe that we are being mistreated by some cruel fate in having to deal with problems?

Our forefathers were philosophers. They knew that problems are inherent in the structure of the universe. That is the way it is made. They realized that the purpose of the Creator is to make men, strong men, tall men who have what it takes to stand up to the vicissitudes of human existence, to the harsh facts of life on earth, and not to back away and instead to deal with all of it creatively and forthrightly.

Our forefathers knew, because they were philosophical thinkers, that the only way to make strong people is through struggle. One grows tough mentally and spiritually by putting up a strong resistance to hardship, to obstacles, to suffering. This is the disciplinary value of a problem in the development of a person. It enhances his insights, his strengths and his general capability to live constructively. The late Charles F. (“Boss”) Kettering, famed research scientist, recognized these facts when he placed a sign on his laboratory wall at General Motors worded for the benefit of his aides as well as for himself — “Do not bring me your successes; they weaken me. Bring me your problems; they strengthen me.”

Actually, one may learn a great deal about the state of his normal mental health by noting his reaction to problems. If it is to whine and turn bitter and complain of his “unfair” treatment a “Why me?” attitude, maybe the need for help is evident. However, if he calmly accepts a problem as part of the pattern of life and thinks that possibly it might be turned to his advantage; and if at the same time he confidently believes he is equal to it, then a healthy mental condition would seem indicated. Hence our emphasis on the principle — you can if you think you can….

Sometimes motivation comes in the form of hard knocks, hard blows. You face roadblocks and some really tough experiences. This causes some to fold up and give up. But to others trouble is an incentive that motivates to harder thinking and harder working. William A. Ward says it well: “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” Perhaps that is why the wise Shakespeare told us that “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” because he knew it to be a motivational force that lifts strong people to higher levels. I once asked J.C. Penney the secret of his success. Without hesitation he replied, “Adversity,” adding, “I would never have amounted to anything had I not been forced to come up the hard way”. . . .

“Men are born to succeed, not to fail,” said Henry Thoreau. “Self-trust is the first secret of success,” declared Ralph Waldo Emerson….

Remember that self-trust is the first secret of success. So trust yourself. Having learned to believe in yourself … [g]o at life with abandon; give it all you’ve got. And life will give all it has to you. Practice creative anticipation, the power of positive expectation. Have confidence that you can draw the best, not the worst to yourself. Be sure to image right, for we tend to become as we see ourselves. So see yourself confidently. Never let any mistake cause you to stop believing in yourself. Learn from it and go on. If you’ve never really found yourself, do so. Then you’ll start liking yourself, and with good reason. You can if you think you can. Engrave those seven words deeply in consciousness. They are packed with power and with truth.

This piece is taken from You Can If You Think You Can by Norman Vincent Peale. Copyright 1974 by Norman Vincent Peale. Reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall Press/Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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    Norman Vincent Peale is the author of "The Power of Positive Thinking" and many other works.