Story Power: Purposeful, Not Wishful, Thinking

Psychologists claim that some of us spend up to 75% of our waking life day dreaming or immersed in a fantasy world. Fantasies typically fall into two categories: unhappy catastrophizing, or expecting the worst: We lose our job, our home, our mate, our life, dying alll sad, alone and eaten by German Shepherds (to recall Bridget Jones). The other fantasies are pleasant pipe dreams. We are a rock star, a Victoria’s Secret Model, a Bernie Madoff client before he made off with everyone’s dosh.

Anyway, what are these fantasies if not stories that we tell either to scare or gratify ourselves? Apparently we all know how to fantasize, so why not turn that wishful thinking into purposeful thinking. A brain workout is easier than a workout at the gym.

Purposeful thinking is really the act of taking those creative ideas, those stories you tell yourself about the things that you would like to happen, and making them happen. First step, write them down. Second step, identify one or more concrete steps you can take to make it happen. Dreaming about a new job in a new field? Find a mentor in that field to advise you, to help you gain entry and make your old skills relevant in the new setting. Turn idea into action.  No matter how seemingly inconsequential, do it.

Step three: protect your thinking from negativity. Purposeful thinking is not magical thinking–a childlike defense against harsh reality. Look at any great entrepreneur from Thomas Edison to Howard Hughes to Steve Jobs. Each of them took their wishful thinking and turned it into a purpose, putting action and energy around it, remaining resolutely immune to the naysayers inside and outside their heads.

And so we come to “The American Dream”.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is captured, initially, in the act of dreaming.  Dreaming is free.  And in America, it is permissible to pursue our dreams.  Dreaming is the engine that drives survival, innovation, prosperity, creative destruction, economic rebirth, and new generations of American strivers.

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Story Power: Muhammad Ali’s Work Boots

A story about the importance of struggle and perserverence comes from Allen Bailey, founder and manager of the Harlem Gospel Choir, as we collaborate on his  upcoming memoir: Singing God’s Work: The Inspirational Music, People and Stories of the Harlem Gospel Choir, York House Press, September, 2009.  One of Allen’s favorite recollections is of his involvement in coordinating world-class entertainment for the 1974 Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight in Zaire, the so-called “Rumble in the Jungle”.

Allen recalls his trips out to Ali’s training camp in Pennsylvania. The discipline and determination of the young boxing champ made a strong impression on Bailey. “No matter if it was snow, sleet or shine,” Allen recalls, “Ali was up every morning at the crack of dawn for his daily run. Those of us hanging at the camp had two choices come dawn: accompany Ali on the run, or stay behind to chop wood and fetch well water. Running with Ali was an exercise in humility. We all ran in lightweight sneakers, but Ali outran us in heavy work boots.”

Ali’s strategy was clear: after months of struggle, running in work boots, he would feel fleet-footed in the boxing ring when he faced his opponent; able to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Which of us really embraces struggle and sees it as money in the bank paid toward future success? Struggle now can bring reward later. In tough economic or personal times, we are forced to develop fortitude, patience, discipline and vigilance, but these are qualities that pay off down the road. Building up strength and determination now means we can soar past a future winning post. This idea helps us to reframe any current struggle and see it for what it really is: a gift that we get to open later. And speaking of gifts, check out The Painter’s Gift . And look for spring publication of Allen’s Bailey’s memoir “Singing God’s Work” from York House Press.