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Whether You Think You Can or Think You Can’t — You’re Probably Right
Henry Ford’s famous quote was spot-on: Self-belief is an essential ingredient for success
Let’s be honest, you have to be a little self-deluding to believe you can succeed in life.
Unless you’re born into wealth, all the odds are against you. With pretty much every important thing we try to achieve, the chances of failure outweigh the chances of success.
Take building a successful career. In any given field, there are only a handful of people at the top. Now, you don’t necessarily have to reach the top to be successful. But in most fields, success of any sort is a hard needle to thread, and only a minority of people truly achieve it. In sports, the odds are even worse. Out of all the players and teams, there’s only one winner.
So if you’re a realistic person, you might look at your odds of winning and feel discouraged. Here’s the thing: You can’t let that hold you back.
Too often, we set out to achieve something but don’t believe we can do it. As a result, we don’t even start. And we all know what happens if we don’t start: There will be no success whatsoever.
To be clear, when I talk about success, I’m not talking about monetary success. Doing a meaningful job, surrounded by the people you love, and satisfied with the quality of your life in general. That’s success .
Belief + effort
Albert-László Barabási, a professor at Northeastern University and the author of The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success, found that self-belief plays a major role in succeeding in life.
Often, we assume that people who went to a university like Harvard become high achievers because of their education. We think that Ivy League graduates somehow get different training, or use their brand-name education to open doors, and that’s what makes them successful in the long-term.
Turns out that self-belief, the confidence to apply to a great school, matters more than the school you went to.
But Barabási’s research suggests that students don’t excel because of the school they attend. “The single determinant of long-term success was derived from the best college a kid merely applied to, even if she didn’t get in,” Barabási wrote. “Meaning that if she applied to Harvard, got rejected, and went to Northeastern, her success was on a par with that of Harvard graduates who matched her SATs and high school grades.”
Isn’t that weird? Turns out that self-belief, the confidence to apply to a great school, matters more than the school you went to. Barabási’s research backs up what the American industrialist Henry Ford said decades ago:
Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.
You and I both know that we don’t automatically become successful if we believe we will. Belief by itself is not enough. Your performance needs to back up your beliefs. And of course, privilege and luck play a role — and class, race, gender, marginalization, and other factors play into one’s ability to feel confident. Also, success remains complex. There are no blueprints or roadmaps that guarantee anything.
Be the person who thinks you can
But belief in yourself is a key element. That’s my point. When I started believing that I could make something out of my life, I worked on making that happen. As Ford pointed out, the people who believe they can achieve their goals are often the ones that actually do.
So why not make that your default mode of thinking? When you set a big goal for yourself, don’t automatically think, “there’s no way I can do that.” In that case, what’s the purpose of trying?
Regardless of the outcome, self-belief will help you to be better at work, and better at learning. That’s the true value of believing in yourself. It’s the belief you can get it that motivates you to go after what your truly want — not some watered-down version of it. And it’s self-belief that allows you to open your mind and truly learn.
Just look back on anything you’ve achieved in your life. Remember the beginning of each school year? Your first day at a job? If you’re anything like me, you knew nothing. You had to learn everything — with the help of others.
That’s why there’s nothing foolish about self-belief, no matter the odds against your success. In fact, you can learn an enormous amount, even in a short amount of time. You start at zero, and make progress every day.