A clergyman in his fifties had written the manuscript for a book. Since he lived in New York where all the publishers were back in those days, he spent his spare time going into publishers’ offices and asking them to look at his manuscript. Nobody was interested.
It can, of course, be disheartening to get rejection after rejection. With enough setbacks (and poor explanations of them) something happens that is worse than feeling discouraged. The accumulating failures drain away your motivation. Get disheartened enough and your goal starts to seem undesirable.
Even if you know how to motivate yourself, if you don’t know how to undemoralize yourself, you’re sunk. Why? Because you can be so thoroughly demoralized you lose your desire to even try to motivate yourself, making your ability to motivate yourself essentially worthless.
Thinking up goals is easy. Ideas about what you want come easily to mind — maybe even too easily. And feeling motivated to take action (to accomplish a goal you want) comes naturally to most healthy people. You want your goal to happen, so of course you’re motivated.
But if setting goals is easy and motivation comes naturally, why don’t you accomplish every goal you set? Because setbacks demoralize you if you don’t explain them well.
It happened to the clergyman. One day, while he was talking to his wife, he decided he had experienced one setback too many and his goal to get his book published became undesirable. He threw his manuscript in the trash, saying he’d had enough.
Remember this, please: When you make mistakes in your explanations, it not only nudges you toward failure and giving up and depression, it leads to selling out.
The clergyman’s wife knew how much the manuscript meant to him, so she reached into the trash can to pull it out. “No,” he said, “I’ve wasted enough time on it. I forbid you to take it out of there.” And she never did.
But the next day, she was thinking about it and got an idea. She took the manuscript (still inside the wastebasket) to another publisher. The publisher, intrigued by this unusual way to bring in a manuscript, read it and loved it. He published it, and boy is he glad he did! The book became one of the bestselling books of all time!
The irony is that the book is The Power of Positive Thinking.
The story seemed too ironic to be true, so I wrote to the Peales and asked if it was really true. I heard back from Mrs. Peale, who said yes, that’s the way it happened.
Positive thinking is different than explanatory style. With positive thinking, I’m sure Norman Vincent Peale would have felt good about throwing that manuscript in the trash. He would have kept his cheerful disposition.
With an unthwartable explanatory style, he would have simply tried again, perhaps in a different way.
We’re talking about the ability to try again after a setback — the ability to encounter a setback without giving up in defeat or feeling the goal is hopeless.
What kind of hopeless explanation would make someone throw away their life’s work? Norman must have thought something like, “My book is unpublishable.” Or “Nobody wants it.”
Mrs. Peale must have explained it differently. Perhaps, “It hasn’t been seen by the right publisher.” Or maybe even, “It hasn’t been delivered the right way yet. Perhaps in a trash can would get someone’s attention!”
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.