I was infatuated with trains when I was a child, so it’s no surprise that “The Little Engine That Could,” the classic children’s story told since 1930 and published in several book editions by Watty Piper, was one of my favorites – and one that I now love to read to my child.
As a child, I loved that it was about a train. As an adult and researcher of organizational behavior, I love the message of the story. You might recall its most famous quote: “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can.”
This line occurs as the little blue engine is pulling the train full of necessities (and goodies) for the children of a town over a mountain. She volunteered to do this after several other powerful locomotives refused to help. However, the little blue engine was less experienced than the others that refused – she had never been over the mountain! Yet, she believed in herself, that she would be successful in delivering the supplies to the children (and kept repeating to herself that she could). Ultimately, she was successful and the children received their food, toys and candies that the engine was pulling.
In the field of organizational behavior, a belief in oneself to accomplish a specific task is known as self-efficacy. This concept is important because it is a strong predictor of task accomplishment, which makes a lot of sense. If you don’t believe you can do a task, you won’t try! And, if you don’t try, you will obviously fail at the task.
It is true that people won’t have self-efficacy about every task and should be honest with themselves regarding the knowledge, skills and abilities that they possess or not that might be necessary to perform a job. However, we also must be confident in the gifts that we do possess to be able achieve a result, even if we haven’t done it before. In the case of the little blue engine, she had never been over the mountain but knew that she had the ability to accomplish this task.
So, the moral is, believe in yourself. This is the first step to accomplishing great things in your community, your school, your work and beyond.
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Dr. Mike Urick
Piper, W. (2005). The Little Engine That Could. Penguin.