There are some books that you read, put on a shelf and never touch again. And then there are books like The Right Words at the Right Time. Edited by Marlo Thomas, this is a powerful collection of essays from notable people.
Whenever I flip it back open and review one or more of its 111 short stories, I am inspired by the likes of Walter Cronkite, Hillary Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Paul McCartney.
The unifying principle that links this collection is that each individual shares a story of someone whose words helped shape their lives, in ways big and small. It’s a tremendous reminder of the power of the words we speak, as well as the words that others speak into us.
Interestingly, the “right words” that left their mark on these famous people were not always words of encouragement and belief. Instead, in many instances, they recall words that were intended to deflate and discourage.
In his essay, boxing champion Muhammad Ali tells how he and some of his high school classmates in Louisville were “always talking about being the next champion” and the reaction of one particular teacher.
“She kept putting us down and acting like she was disgusted with all these puffed-up boxers…She came up to us one day while we were sparring in the hallway, looked right at me, and said, ‘You ain’t never gonna be nuthin’.’”
Rather than embrace her harsh assessment, Ali believed in himself more than ever, converting the encounter into fuel to prove her—and any other naysayers he encountered—wrong.
A few years later, after he won an Olympic Gold medal, the first thing Ali did when he got home was head straight to the teacher’s classroom, dangle his Gold medal in front of her and ask her if she remembered what she had said.
“I am the greatest in the world,” Ali said, then repeated it, before walking out of the classroom.
It would not be the last time Ali made that declaration. He became a master in wielding the spoken word as a powerful force. He understood the potency of self-talk long before most had heard of the term, and that insight helped make him one of the most recognized and beloved figures in the world.
As his essay reveals, Ali is also an example of someone who was “negatively motivated.” He rejected others’ negative comments and replaced it with his own positive spoken word to forge ahead. For anyone seeking to achieve anything of significance, it’s an absolutely indispensable characteristic.
I first learned self-talk and how to implement it in my own life from Amway Diamonds working with World Wide DreamBuilders (WWDB). Through audios and books, I became equipped to combat the negative that came not only from others, but my own internal voice of doubt and criticism.
If there is a Diamond in the Amway business who has not had to deal with negative critics in their pursuit of success, then I haven’t come across their story. Time after time, especially when hearing the experiences of WWDB leaders, there is a point in every story when they relate how they bore the brunt of at least one individual’s negativity.
Although their external reactions varied, all share the same determination: to succeed.