I sat astride my banana seat bike in a parking lot and stared down a 30-foot strip of pavement. It was six inches wide and lined with rubber balls. I was 9 years old and participating in a bicycle rodeo. The objective was to ride the entire length without hitting a single ball. The slightest bump would send them rolling.
Nearly a hundred kids had entered, and so far no one had done this event perfectly. Each contestant got three tries. The best hit only five balls, most hit dozens. I didn’t see the difficulty. It looked easy, and as it turned out, for me, it was.
I did it on my first attempt. No one else was able to do it -- even with three tries. I was able to do it for the simple reason that I believed I could.
Decades later, riding my mountain bike, I attempted to ride a 20-foot length of six-inch board that was elevated 12 inches off the ground. I was lucky if I could complete the length one try in 20. That measly 12 inches of doubt shattered my belief system. As Henry Ford said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
We’ve seen sports stars whose belief system took them to the top of their game: Michael Jordan swooshing the net for a lifetime average of 30 points per game; Tiger Woods routinely sinking impossibly long putts of 50 feet or more; and Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield fence where he would hit a home run.
What is their secret? Other than the thousands of hours of practice, which many lesser players also have, each of these men visualized what they wanted to achieve then allowed themselves to do it. Their belief put them “in the zone.”
When our belief is strong enough, we will succeed. Or as Buddha put it, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
Is there something you believe you can do, but you’ve never tried? Many years ago I was president of my neighborhood association. Each month I had to give a brief speech that amounted to little more than giving announcements. Nevertheless, it made me extremely nervous and I clung to the lectern in a white-knuckle grip as I read my notes out loud.
During that time, I participated as a counselor to a group of teenagers attending a Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation leadership seminar. The Saturday night dinner keynote speaker was entertaining and informative; she was also relaxed and clearly having fun.
I remember thinking to myself, “I can do that. I want to do that!” In those two succinct sentences I made a belief statement and a desire statement, both of which are necessary for success.
I genuinely believed that I could speak professionally because I had told many a good story across a dinner table, but at the same time I remembered how I felt speaking to the neighborhood association with a stomach full of butterflies. To combat those feelings I joined a Toastmasters club and learned what I didn’t know about public speaking.
It took me a year before I could break free of the lectern and my notes. Two years after that I started speaking professionally. I gave presentations on advertising which is the industry I’ve worked in most of my life, but more than anything I wanted to speak on innovation and creativity.
During my first year or two of speaking, I met a nationally known professional speaker. He asked me what topic I spoke on and I replied, “Creativity.” He scoffed at that and said, “There’s hundreds of guys speaking on that -- you need to find your own niche.”