How ‘The Little Train That Could’ Got it Wrong

Short and sweet take away: Telling yourself “You can do it!” doesn’t cut the mustard long-term.

Did you know that those ‘pep talks’ where people say to themselves: “I can do it!” is actually less effective than if they were sit themselves down and ask: “Can I do it?”

According to author Dan Pink, people who ask themselves if they can do something opens the door for some serious cognitive engagement. They get the ball rolling in terms of arguing to themselves all the reasons why they can do it. (As well as a few arguments why they can’t.)

For example, say you want to become a popular, best-selling author.

Saying to yourself: “Yeah! I can do it! I can become a bestselling author, woot!” is great. You probably feel pumped up for at least two minutes afterwards. Maybe you even get the courage to stand up in front of a group of high school kids on career day to explain why being an author is the best job ever. But then what?

How about you say to yourself: “Can I become a bestselling author?” Hmmm. Well. That opens the discussion with yourself, doesn’t it? So, can you? You might then list all the reasons to yourself why you this is within your reach by reminding yourself of such positive traits and abilities such as having a wonderful work ethic, the ability to create build characters readers fall in love with, your background in sales, etc. But then you might also identify the reasons why you might not make it. You might identify that you always get caught up on grammar and it takes you too long to get a book out and you can’t seem to get on top of the rollercoaster you need to take to bestsellerdom because of it. And then you realize you need to get yourself a grammar editor or to take a serious grammar course.


Because you identified what you are good at, you can hone it and cherish it–meaning you are less likely to inadvertently destroy it. BUT, you also now realize what some of your pitfalls and hurdles are. By identifying them you can form a plan to overcome them.

The lesson here–Be the skeptic not The Little Train that Could. <– Tweet that.


Go play mind games on yourself and report back on how it worked out. I betcha you get further channeling that inner kiddo by asking yourself all those pesky ‘why’ questions. Good luck! I’m right here rooting for you!

Note: This is a repost from one of my old blogs.

Posted in tips for authors Tagged with: , , success quotes
4 comments on “How ‘The Little Train That Could’ Got it Wrong
  1. Kate Curran says:

    Jean I’ve read some of his stuff and find it very helpful. Thanks for the great blog.

  2. Jemi Fraser says:

    Love this!! Questions and plans are a great way to go!

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