Are You Focused on the Pony or its Aftermath?

What one of Reagan’s favorite jokes tells you about your attitude

by Colter Reed
Your perception of your experience creates your reality.
by Colter Reed
Your perception of your experience creates your reality.

What we experience in life is largely illustrated by our mindset, how we view it.

If we expect the worst, that’s pretty much what we’re going to experience. Any success is illusory and short-lived. Pretty soon, reality—dull and dismal—will set back in.

If we expect the best, things won’t be perfect, but we can handle a lot more. Mistakes are just learning experiences. Bad things happen, but we learn and move on.

Consider the following memory of Ronald Reagan, captured in a journal entry by one of his speechwriters, Peter Robinson:

Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.”

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, “There must be a pony in here somewhere.”

(Peter Robinson, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life)

There’s always a pony, but we often have to train ourselves to focus on finding the pony instead of wallowing in the manure.

So many of the things that will ruin our day are temporary. Do a quick 10–10–10. Will this make a difference 10 days, 10 weeks, or 10 months from now? If not, let it go.

Your attitude makes the difference between a great day and a horrible day.

If you decide you’re going to have a bad day, you will.

If you decide you’re going to have a good day, you will.

Keep focused on finding the pony. You will see more of what you look for. Do you want to focus on the piles of manure? Or on the evidence trail for the pony?

Question: Where will you find a pony today? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.