This article is part of a series called
Antivirus For Your Mind.
GRAMPA BILL lived near Kitty Hawk when he was a kid, and used
to go watch the Wright brothers testing their aircraft. One time,
because the Wright brothers wanted to shut the mouths of the
doubters and improve the accuracy of some of the crazy stuff
newspapers were printing about their work, the brothers invited
reporters out to Kitty Hawk for a demonstration.
Everything went wrong. It was raining pretty
hard and they were having trouble with the engine, so they didnt
get a chance to do anything until late afternoon. They made one
attempt that day, and although the aircraft got up some speed,
it never got off the ground.
The rain didnt let up, so they had
to wait two more days before they tried it again. This time they
got about seven feet off the ground before the plane crashed.
The next day, a New York Times headline
said, FALL WRECKS AIRSHIP. (The negative bias of the newsmedia was in
full swing even way back then.) It was more than a year before
any reporters came out to visit.
But the Wright brothers continued their
work, as determined as ever. Why? What kept them working when
they had so many failures? It all boils down to how they explained
the setback to themselves. If they told themselves their goal
was impossible, or that they werent capable, or some other
explanation that took the wind out of their sails, they would
not have pursued their goal, and they would have disappeared
into oblivion. Anybody who explains their own setbacks that way
gives up in defeat.
But the explanations the Wright brothers
made of their many setbacks must have been more sensible. They
must have thought the problems were fixable. They must have believed
the cause of the setbacks could be changed. Explanations like
these keep people from feeling demoralized in the face of setbacks.
Its not willpower. Its the
way setbacks are explained. Remember that.
Most people think you can force yourself
to keep going even when you believe it is hopeless. But when
you know its hopeless, you wont force
yourself. When you are sure you are defeated, it is irrational
If you really want a drink of water, and
you have an empty glass in your hand, and you can see it is empty,
you wont bother to try to take a drink from it. You know
it is hopeless.
Willpower wont help you. When you
feel demoralized, finding a mistake in your explanations is the
only thing that can save you.
Through some strange and powerful
principle of mental chemistry which she has never
divulged, wrote Napoleon Hill in 1937, Nature wraps
up in the impulse of STRONG DESIRE that something
which recognizes no such word as impossible, and accepts no such
reality as failure.
Nobody knew what that something
was back then. In a chapter on persistence, Napoleon Hill recommended
willpower for persisting after a failure. We now know better.
Nature has divulged her secret to the unremitting
efforts of cognitive scientists. It isnt willpower. It
is sensible explanations of setbacks that makes people determined
and persistent. Good explanations are Natures secret something
that gives people strength in the face of obstacles. Those who
explain setbacks in the least demoralizing way have the most
In other words, the way to become more
persistent is to make sure you dont jump to demoralizing
conclusions about the cause of the setback.
Instead of gritting your teeth and forcing
yourself to try again even though you feel its hopeless,
try eliminating the feeling of defeat to begin with and then
persist naturally, driven by your desire which remains
undiminished by feelings of defeat.
Read the next chapter: An
Aspiring Writer With a Sensible Wife