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Wishful Thinking is for Wimps


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As a kid, my summer job was to pull fifty-pound bales of hay into piles so Dad could scoop them up easier with his loader tractor. Mom and my brother were on the haystack arranging the bales as dad dumped them. When I looked around, there was nothing but miles of bales all lined up for as far as I could see, waiting for me to move every single one of them.

At that time, Bewitched was my favorite TV show and I daydreamed about having magical powers to make all the bales of hay go away. I moved in a daze of wishful thinking, wanting enough magical power to zap myself to a place that was cool, clean, and fun . . .

My Grandmother spent the day in the hayfield as well. Her job was to set the irrigation after the hay bales had been picked up. Suddenly, I was buried in a cloud of thick dust when she abruptly put on the pickup brakes and stopped beside me. She had noticed that my mind was elsewhere and I wasn’t paying much attention to my job.

Grandmother was a realist and knew wishful thinking was a waste of time. She was a very practical person; she knew how to rebuild engines and her salad bowls all said Cool Whip on the side.

“Just remember,” she shouted out from the pickup. “Wishful thinking is for wimps. Now get those bales in piles like you’ve been told to do.”

She left me choking in the dust she stirred up when she spun the back tires getting back onto the road. I never argued with my Grandmother. Her favorite back scratcher was a toilet brush and she never hesitated using it to spank me, either.

I grew up believing that wishful thinking and positive thinking were much the same thing. Neither had much heft to them. I preferred to think of myself as a realist. But when I entered the FBI Academy and found myself surrounded by people who had survived shootouts and active combat, I learned that mental power is just as important as physical power.

Wishful thinking is watered down positive thinking.

When we focus on the future of our dreams, our minds enjoy and indulge in those images as if they were real. We don’t stop to think about the chances of them becoming real or the hurdles that will need to be overcome. Instead, we enjoy the fantasy.

Wishful thinking is believing the world is shaped by our wants and desires and that by focusing on the good, the bad ceases to exist.

This type of thinking is not only for wimps, it’s downright harmful. Unfortunately, much of what we think and understand about positive thinking is tainted by the triteness of wishful thinking. Instead of wimps, we need leaders with mental toughness who are strong thinkers. Read Secrets of A Strong Mind.

Strong thinking is a blend of positive thinking and mental toughness. Strong thinking requires a curious mind and a can-do attitude. It requires leaders to think intentionally about their circumstances in a way that equally and fairly measures both the pros and cons, and then move forward within that framework.

This type of thinking trains the mind to always be on your side, not sometimes helping you or sometimes working against you, which we all know it is quite capable of doing.

Mental toughness produces strong thinkers who are not intimidated by bad news and who do the following:

  • Develop the positive aspects
  • Look for opportunities
  • Create new goals
  • Gain strength from stress
  • Keep ego in check
  • Remain self-assured and confident
  • Believe their destiny is in their hands
  • Focus attention on their environment rather than on themselves
  • Discover new solutions
  • Immerse themselves in the activity of the solution
  • Continually assess and re-assess
  • Pay attention
  • Enjoy life in any circumstance
  • Feel gratitude
  • Forgive others
  • Develop self-strength
  • Censor their strengths, weaknesses, abilities, skills, and habits
  • Re-wire their brain for new patterns of behavior
  • Achieve mastery over life
  • Look at life as an adventure
  • Create adventurous responses to adversity

Wimps utilize wishful thinking so they don’t have to accept the fact that things are going in the wrong direction. Instead of wishing your life away to the future, use strong thinking to change how you experience your situation so it fits into your goals.

How do you describe mental toughness? How do you apply positive thinking to tough situations?

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