I think I can! I think I can! – The little engine that had performance statements!

Villager Cheryl, from ReadWriteTechnology.com writes about performance statements from a sports perspective that can be applied to business as well.

Thanks for sharing Cheryl!

Most everyone has heard of the children’s story called The Little Engine that Could. An early version tells it like this:

A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill. “I can’t; that is too much a pull for me,” said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused.

The Little Engine that Could book cover

In desperation, the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. “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.”

We can learn many lessons from this story. The little train’s dialogue of “I think I can” versus the other trains’ “I can’t” statement proved to be a pivotal difference in what was accomplished. It was a mental tool to improve confidence and focus.

“I think I can” is an example of a performance statement.

What are performance statements?

“Performance statements help athletes stay focused and perform at their best when it counts the most.” (Selk, 35)

Creating these statements will help us to stay positive and most importantly, push aside negative thinking.

In creating performance statements, “the key is to identify the single most fundamental idea of what it takes for you to be successful to allow you to simplify the game.” (Selk, 34) Identifying this idea will allow you to snap your attention to what will allow you to perform your best. For example, a gymnast wanting to improve their bar routine might have the performance statement, “Elbows locked!” A person wanting to improve their communication in marriage might emphasize being calm in a disagreement by thinking, “Be the cue ball–don’t react!”

The second key is to “replace negative thoughts with thoughts that are centered on performance cues or that contribute to improved self-confidence.” (Selk, 35) Many times, we tell ourselves what not to do. We sometimes say like some of the trains in the story, “I can’t,” or we direct our minds to things that we are not supposed to do. If I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, what do you think of? A pink elephant! Directing our thoughts to what we shouldn’t do will emphasize them and be more prone to actually do it.

Creating your performance statement is best before you actually face your problems or competition. Answer the following questions to help you to identify your own:
1 – Imagine that you are leaving your family or closest friend and won’t be back in a long time. What advice would they give you to be successful before you leave?
2 – Imagine again that you are leaving your your family or closest friend and won’t be back in a long time. This time, you are both the family/friend and the one going away. What advice would you give as the family/friend to be successful and what advice would you give as the one going away? Your answer may be the same as in number one, but there could be a difference.
Some of us make one general performance statement like “remember who you are” while others like athletes make several statements depending on what aspect they’d like to focus on in their game.
Whatever you decide, it’s up to you!

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