Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

I think I can, I think I can……….

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Remember the little engine that used the power of the phrase “I think I can, I think I can” to pull a line of trains over the mountain? You don’t? OK, here are the cliff notes of one of my favorite bedtime stories:

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. 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.”

Who knew how prescient the theme of this story was? The inspiration for it was taken from a sermon in 1902, then found its way into a story by Watty Piper (pen name of Albert Munk) that was published in 1920. Decades later in the 1950’s, Albert Ellis help people overcome problems through a therapeutic process called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. Aaron Beck expanded on this theme in the 1960’s with his Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which examines one’s self talk. The premise of these types of therapeutic programs is simple; by identifying an activating event, the negative self-talk or beliefs that are associated with it, then using an affirming phrase to combat the negative self-talk, people could change their perspective and overcome some problems that they themselves have created.

That story of the little engine that could has a new resonance today with some hot off the press research.  The deliberate messages we give ourselves aid our ability to get through all kinds of things, including a tough workout!  A recent article in the WELLBLOG of the New York Times speaks to the power of this simple concept- the fact that self talk likely has a huge influence on what we can and can’t do. Bottom line is, when we deliver the message to ourselves that we”re feeling good, we can get through much harder workouts with more results, calorie burn and better endurance. When our muscles are ready to sign off, our minds can override that temptation to stop.

Here’s an example:

Activating Event:  You are not in the mood to do your intervals that are part of your cardio program, feel tired due to lack of sleep and some poor eating choices and want to cut your workout short.

Belief: I will never be able to do more than 20 minutes on the elliptical, or treadmill or stationery bike, or on my walk (fill in cardio of choice).

Consequence: you cut your program short, feel a little logy and tired the rest of the day, and don’t get the benefit of any endorphins because you didn’t push yourself to finish

Now, change the belief to: I’m tired, but I can still push through this workout, do my intervals, and I bet I’ll feel better afterwards (I think I can, or I’m feeling good right now, (even if you aren’t)

The consequence: You finish your program, feel a bit virtuous as a result, and remind yourself that you can do things, even when they’re challenging and you’d rather quit.

Read the full article, at

The conclusion in a nutshell: This study is the first to demonstrate that ST (self talk) significantly reduces RPE (rate of perceived exertion)  and enhances endurance performance.

Here’s to your power of positive self-talk!

One thought on “I think I can, I think I can……….

  1. Pingback: I think I can, I think I can………. | Be Fit For Life

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