Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Or maybe he didn’t. It’s apocryphal, but it’s poignant and it’s punchy and millions of people draw inspiration and resolve from it.
Why does it matter?
Floyd Patterson wasn’t the greatest boxer of his day because he was the strongest or the fastest. He decided ahead of time that when he got knocked down, he was going to get back up. He got back up more than anybody else.
Think about it. If you believe great boxers don’t get knocked down and you get knocked down, what are you going to do? You’re going to think, “Huh. I got knocked down. I must not be a great boxer. I’d better not get back up—I’ll just get knocked down again.”
Now if your belief window has great boxers get back up when they’re knocked down, what’s going to happen? You get knocked down, you get back up. It might take you a minute, but you’re gonna get back up. You’re a great boxer, that’s what you do. You get back up.
You’ve already decided whether you can or you can’t. Your mind had a thought. Now you’re acting on it. You’re making good on that can/can’t decision.
You’re not the only one affected by this decision, either. What’s going to happen if you treat your spouse, kids, or coworkers like they’re someone who screws everything up and can never do anything right? Eventually, they’re going to start believing it.
What happens if you treat them like a rock star? Like they’re highly skilled and they’re capable of doing hard things and you’re sure glad you know them. Eventually, they’ll start believing that, too.
What happens if you believe the world is a terrible, unfair place where the game is always rigged against you and no matter what you do, you’ll never get ahead? You’ll justify and excuse every failure as fate. You’re going to give up. You’re going to stop dreaming because dreams hurt when you wake up because it just reminds you you’re not living the life you could be living.
What happens if you believe the world is a wonderful place, full of incredible opportunities and amazing experiences? You’re going to climb and scramble and hustle because—I’m sorry, Cinderella—dreams are not some wish your heart makes, they are to be lived and life is too short for some feckless gatekeeper to stand in your way.
Your mind has an idea. That idea shapes your actions. One action at a time, you start influencing the world around you. You start shaping your reality to match your idea of what reality should be.
That’s a powerful concept. Whatever you believe about your potential, your ability to steer your ship, or your ability to stand up more times than you’re knocked down, you’re right.
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. It doesn’t matter if Ford said it or not. Virgil said it: possunt quia posse videntur. “They can because they think they can.” Or, if you prefer John Dryden’s more epic translation, “For they can conquer who believe they can.”
Whether you believe you can conquer or you will be conquered, you’re right.
So stand up and conquer.