World-class sales trainer, author, and speaker Jeffrey Gitomer often references the classic children’s book “The Little Engine that Could” by Watty Piper as one of the earliest and purest examples of sharing a philosophy of how having a YES! Attitude drives personal success.
The main character and focus of the story is, of course, The Little Engine. She (the author had the foresight to make the main character a female) is a steam locomotive that is challenged by a tall hill she needs to scale in order to reach her destination. She struggles with the hill, is pushed to her limit, but relying upon her positive attitude and her mantra of “I think I can” (which strengthens into “I know I can” and then “I knew I could“) eventually reaches the peak, pushes past the summit, and then speeds down the other side on her way to the station.
Based on Jeffrey’s use of the story, I’ve reread and studied the tale with a new perspective. I can hardly argue with Gitomer positioning the story as a powerful example of what a positive attitude can accomplish. I think I can/I know I can/I knew I could is a powerful phrase that lends strength to the plucky hero of the story, allowing her to build the momentum required to accomplish her goal. But, I’ve always felt there was an important piece missing and I could never quite put my finger on what it was. The best place to start when you’re stumped is to go back to the basics, and that means a brief lesson on how a steam locomotive operates.
A steam locomotive produces its power through a steam engine. The engine is fueled by burning combustible material (usually wood or coal) to create steam in a boiler which drives the engine. All the required supplies (both fuel and water) are carried by the locomotive, usually pulled in a car behind the engine.
And there it was.
The missing piece.
The Little Engine needed to burn fuel in order to build up that reserve of positive steam, and that fuel needed to be carried with the engine so that it was available when she had need of it. So, if the Little Engine is literally the textbook case study for what a positive attitude can accomplish, knowing exactly what pieces of wood or coal – the fuel – were burned in order to generate and maintain the force of steam driving the engine of positive attitude would be even more valuable.
Here then are five pieces of fuel that you can carry with you to keep your inner fire burning hottest when you need to generate the force of positive steam the most:
1. Know Why
Knowing the real reason behind what you’re trying to accomplish keeps you focused and on the right track. Your goal might be to lose weight, but the reason why might range from a need to improve your health to looking good in a swimsuit this summer. Call upon those true motivators when you feel you’re beginning to lose forward motion.
2. Keep Your Cheerleaders on Speed Dial
You will run into no shortage of people who would be happy to see you to fail (misery loves company.) They’ll beat you up and drag you down if you give them half a chance. If you begin to second guess yourself, be sure to call upon your friends and allies to help lift you out of the dumps (and away from the people dumping on you.) Your real friends and fans want to see you succeed, and will lend you the emotional support to keep you moving in the right direction when you are most in need.
3. Revisit Past Success
If you begin doubting your chances of success in this endeavor, think about times in the past when the odds were against you and you still managed to achieve your goal. Perhaps it was earning a college degree, or learning to ski, or winning a big promotion. We’ve all won battles in the past. Call upon those memories of overcoming obstacles on your way to past victories in order to help you emerge victorious from this new challenge.
4. Take a Page from History
Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller. All these individuals (and many more) are held in historical esteem for all they achieved, but each overcame many personal and professional obstacles on their way to success. Find celebrated individuals with something in common with your own goals, interests, industry, or upbringing and learn from their successes (and from their mistakes.) You may even be fortunate enough to find an example that specifically applies to your current situation.
5. Envision Your Happy Ending
Keep a clear picture in mind of what your end game looks like. Have an unwavering vision of what success will mean to you and those you love. How will your life be different once you’ve earned your goal? Who will you tell first? Where will you celebrate? What’s the first thing you’ll do with your new victory status? When you feel your self-confidence flagging, give yourself a peek at what the future looks like after you’ve crossed the finish line and they wave the checkered flag!
Collect fuel for your Little Engine and store it up.
You may not need it right now, and you may not need to use all of it, but at some point in the future you’ll need to keep that fire in your belly burning hot and generating enough steam to power your way to success.
I know you can.
Here is Jeffrey Gitomer sharing his interpretation of the Little Engine That Could as a sales philosophy.