Friday

Predictors of Doom Are Notoriously Wrong

IN AN ARTICLE in Newsweek, Nick Summers and Jessica Ramirez survey the American economy's rapid recovery and explain some of the elements that caused it. They don't try to explain why so many experts (and people who should know better) seem so hell-bent on scaring us with dire predictions of the future. But they don't really have to, because I've already explained it so eloquently here: Media's Negative Bias.

But they do a beautiful job of highlighting the kind of pessimism we're out to crush. Here's an excerpt from the article:

The current pessimism is part of a historical economic inferiority complex. To hear some critics tell it, things have been going south in this country since the cruel winter in Jamestown, Va., in 1609, when most of the settlers died.

And for most of the 19th century, America was the immature, uncouth cousin that required huge infusions of European capital to build its railroads. The U.S. emerged from World War II as the globe's industrial, financial, and technological leader by default—the rest of the developed world had destroyed much of its industrial capacity. Yet Americans were insecure about their rising status.

In the 1920s, many Progressives returned from Mussolini's Italy convinced that Il Duce had a superior economic model. During the New Deal, bankers and industrialists earnestly fretted that Franklin Roosevelt would ruin the nation's prospects for growth by establishing a new safety net. The U.S.S.R.'s launch of the sputnik satellite in 1957 inspired fears that the Soviet Union's presumed technological lead would allow it to triumph in the Cold War.

And in the 1980s, Japan threatened the U.S. with exports of electronics and cars and by buying trophy properties like Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf resort. "The Cold War is over, and Japan won," as Sen. Paul Tsongas put it in 1992.

Pessimism fixates attention better, so those are the predictions that get published. Find out why: The Normal Course of Events Will Almost Inevitably Lead to a Pessimistic View of the World.

The Newsweek article is worth reading. Check it out: The Comeback Country.

Sunday

Give Yourself Some Fortitude

IN 1982 STEVEN CALLAHAN was crossing the Atlantic alone in his sailboat when it struck something and sank. He was out of the shipping lanes and floating in a life raft, alone. His supplies were few. His chances were small. Yet when three fishermen found him seventy-six days later (the longest anyone has survived a shipwreck on a life raft alone), he was alive — much skinnier than he was when he started, but alive. His account of how he survived is fascinating. His ingenuity — how he managed to catch fish, how he fixed his solar still (evaporates sea water to make fresh) — is very interesting. But the thing that caught my eye was how he managed to keep himself going when all hope seemed lost, when there seemed no point in continuing the struggle, when he was suffering greatly, when his life raft was punctured and after more than a week struggling with his weak body to fix it, it was still leaking air and wearing him out to keep pumping it up. He was starved. He was desperately dehydrated. He was thoroughly exhausted. Giving up would have seemed the only sane option.

When people survive these kinds of circumstances, they do something with their minds that gives them the courage to keep going. Many people in similarly desperate circumstances give in or go mad. Something the survivors do with their thoughts helps them find the guts to carry on in spite of overwhelming odds.


“I tell myself I can handle it,” wrote Callahan in his narrative. “Compared to what others have been through, I’m fortunate. I tell myself these things over and over, building up fortitude....”
I wrote that down after I read it. It struck me as something important. And I’ve told myself the same thing when my own goals seemed far off or when my problems seemed too overwhelming. And every time I’ve said it, I have always come back to my senses.

The truth is, our circumstances are only bad compared to something better. But others have been through much worse. I’ve read enough history to know you and I are lucky to be where we are, when we are, no matter how bad it seems to us compared to our fantasies. It’s a sane thought and worth thinking.


So here, coming to us from the extreme edge of survival, are words that can give us strength. Whatever you’re going through, tell yourself you can handle it. Compared to what others have been through, you’re fortunate. Tell this to yourself over and over, and it will help you get through the rough spots with a little more fortitude.

This is a chapter from the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.