If You Think You Can’t, You Probably Won’t.

Research has shown that if you don’t believe your actions can produce change, you probably won’t try. Those who think they can, often do. Some call this positive thinking. I call it faith. Without it you will not go far.

The Impossible 4-Minute Mile

It was considered humanly impossible to run a 4-minute mile. Everyone knew this. Those who tried failed, again and again. In the early 1940s two Swedish runners got close with a 4:01.4 time.

Nearly 10 years later, on May 6, 1954, Englishman Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3:59.4. He broke the “impossible” barrier that runners had been chasing for decades.

Now here’s the interesting part, only two months later two Australian runners broke four minutes. Within 10 years a least 6 other ran sub-four-minute miles, including a high school student.

What happened?

Humans are conditioned by what we see others do. When we see others succeed, something in us allows us to go after it too. Basically, if no one can do it, I probably can’t either. Or, if he can do it, I may be able to as well.

Albert Bandura, a Psychology Professor at Stanford University, calls this self-efficacy. It’s your belief in your ability to succeed in a given situation.

It turns out, if we don’t think we can, we often don’t. And if we do try, our results largely conform to our expectations.

Take dieting or exercise. If you don’t believe you can do it, then even if you get started, you probably won’t push through for very long. Your belief that you can’t change will win out. And that result further reinforces your belief that you can’t.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Our results are influenced by what we think we can or can’t do. We know this. We call this phenomenon self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you think “I can’t,” then you will see all the reasons why you cannot and give up easier, if you try at all.

But, if you think “I can,” then,

  • You will look for it.
  • You will see it.
  • You will try it.
  • You will do it.

Where does this thinking come from? It comes from our experience, says Professor Bandura, and from faith, says Jesus. We need to pay attention to both to be successful.

Questions That Build “I Can Do It” Faith

If we have experience doing something, then it is easy to believe we can do it again. Faith is believing what is yet unseen. Jesus said, “with faith you can move mountains.” Christians believe that because God can, if He wants me to do something, I can.

Yet, the reality for many is they believe God can and others can, but they cannot. They discount the experience of others and don’t have faith. They think they can’t. So they don’t.

Experience and faith work together to form your belief in your ability to succeed. As I coach Christian leaders, I explore both angles.

Questions to explore experience:

  • What have you done in past that was really difficult?
  • What did you feel before you attempted it? How about afterward?
  • What can you take from that experience and bring to your current situation?

Questions to explore faith:

  • How does this task align with God’s will?
  • In what ways have your confirmed this?
  • Do you believe God can do this?
  • How willing are you to act on that belief?

What “impossible” thing are you not achieving because of your mindset? It could just be that you cannot do it because you think you can’t.

Question: Can your recall a time in your life when you did something others thought was not impossible? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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