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“I think I can, I think I can”
Little Engine That Could

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right”
Henry Ford

The Little Engine That Could is one of my favorite short stories of all time. I remember the first time my dad read me the story and thinking about how amazing it was that the littlest engine was able to do what all the big, strong engines could not. In case you are unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick synopsis. There is a long and heavy train that needs to be pulled over a big mountain. The bigger engines are asked to pull the heavy train over the mountain, and they all give excuses and refuse for different reasons. Finally, after all the big engines have refused, the heavy train asks the little engine if it can help.

“’I think I can,’ puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, ‘I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.’ As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying,’I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can.’ It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, ‘I thought I could, I thought I could.’”

What I love about this story is how it demonstrates the power of attitude. The Little Engine was clearly not the biggest, fastest, or strongest. It was supposed to be the least likely engine to pull the train over the mountain. All the big engines gave excuses for why they couldn’t do it: I can’t, it’s too heavy, it’s too much work, etc. The Little Engine believed in himself and told himself over and over “I think I can,” and sure enough, he did it!

This is because attitude and thoughts are performative. As Henry Ford says in the quote above, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Either you can do something or you can’t, and the difference is almost always your thoughts. The Little Engine had no business carrying the big train, but he thought he could. The big engines who were created for tasks like this were unable to do the work because they didn’t believe in themselves.

It is amazing what happens when you start to believe in yourself. As I wrote in a previous article baseball players get into a slump, and the more they worry about the slump and think about and reflect on the slump, the more it continues. The players are consumed with negative thoughts, and it’s no wonder that the slump continues! It doesn’t have to only be negative; it works for the positive as well. If you think you can, you can! Robert Collier states that “Your chances of success in any undertaking can always be measured by your belief in yourself.” Do you think Michael Jordan would have become the greatest basketball player if he thought he couldn’t make shots or make it to the NBA? Do you think Sir Edmund Hillary would have made to the top of Mt. Everest if he thought it would be too hard or too cold? The answer to both is a resounding NO! Both of these men, and many more, were able to achieve amazing feats with hard work and most importantly, an unwavering belief in themselves. So follow their example and the Little Engine That Could and go out and be the Person That Could.


Image courtesy of cliff1066™

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