The Little Engine That Can

The Power of Positive Thinking

by Julie Ann Allender

We live in a world where “I can’t” rules. “I can’t…” is the beginning of a statement in a time when a person feels powerless. It is a means to a lose-lose situation. “I can’t lose weight. I can’t stop drinking. I can’t stop gambling.” This phrase is on the total opposite end of the spectrum from the positive, “I can.”

The classic children’s story, The Little Engine That Could, most famously penned by Watty Piper, truly speaks to the concept of “I can’t” thinking. It is a very useful tool in therapy to get a person to begin changing their negative thinking to one of empowerment. If one thinks about what they “can” do, the world begins to have a brighter hue.

“I can’t” thinking is debilitating. It stops people in their tracks. It is de-motivating, takes away the power to move forward and gives people the excuse to not do things they may want or need to do. It gives excuses to avoid conflict or things they may fear or deem too difficult to accomplish.

People who live in an “I can’t” world tend to create a detour in their life’s path. Other people, who they befriend, marry or care for will often walk away—not because they don’t care, but because they don’t want to be in the negative scenario. It can create a self-fulfilling prophecy where the “I can’t” person blames others when they have really created it themselves.

An important lesson is to learn to take the “I can’t” thinking and replace the words with others, such as, “I am afraid, I don’t know how, I don’t want to, I am too angry,” etc. Once one learns to say words that give a choice, things begin to turn around. Learning that there is a choice is part of the growth process. If someone says, “I don’t want to stop drinking,” or, “I am afraid to stop drinking,” then they have a way to explore the issues that are blocking them from moving forward.

When a person begins to feel empowered and learns to think positively—“I can”—they become more successful, highly motivated, less defensive, more empathic and genuinely happier.


Julie Ann Allender, EDD, is a licensed psychologist practicing in Sellersville. Connect with her at 215-799-2220, DrJAAllender@gmail.com and PetTherapyParadisePark.com. November 2014.


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