Punchinello’s Chronicles

October 19, 2008

When to Hold ’em, When to Fold ’em

Filed under: The Great Adventure! — Punchinello @ 2:55 am
Tags: , , , ,

There’s a famous story in Napoleon HIll’s book, “Think and Grow Rich,” about a guy who owns a potential gold mine. In the story, the guy digs and digs, spending his efforts, time, and resources to find gold. At last, tired and frustrated, discouraged and giving up, he sells the empty mine. The new owner digs another foot or so, and finds gold.

This book is one of the orginal inspirational self-help books, based on Dale Carnegie’s principles of positive thinking. The lesson intended is that you should never give up on your dream. But there’s a problem. We also all know that there’s a time when you’re following a losing proposition. If you don’t cut your losses and walk away, you’ll end up bankrupt.

Positive thinking is a fine thing, and I’m for it. When I run for President some day, part of my platform will be positive thinking. Unfortunately, positive thinking alone really doesn’t have much to do with anything. It has little to do with the universe or reality, when all you have is “think positively.”

As the story goes, the one fella turns to his friend and says, “Oh man, I’m gonna die!”

The friend says, “No, you have to think positively!”

The first guy thinks about that for a second, then says, “Jeez, I’m positive I’m gonna die!”

When we set our mind to something, there’s an incredible amount of energy we initiate, and we do indeed begin to bend the universe toward our desires, hopes, and dreams. But there’s also a caveat in all this. If you positively wish to fly, then indeed, you may eventually fly. One option is that you fly out a window. Another is that eons pass, you reincarnate thousands of times, and end up in a world where people have wings.

All things are possible. But NOT all things are probable. We live in a particular framework, whether designed or accidental, but it has laws and principles. In our probability, magic isn’t the ordinary state of affairs. Physics is an expression of the way things work in this version of reality. Even so, we can set our mind to something, and in an extraordinary number of instances, have that thing take place.

The problem isn’t to think positively, and that’s the end of it. Instead, we have to pick something that could potentially happen in the real world. We also have to be prepared for what we want. We have to know how to recognize what we’re looking for. Suppose our gold miner had no clue what gold actually looks like in raw form? How would he know he’d found it.

Better yet: Suppose our gold miner was getting dirtier and dirtier, finding himself covered with sludge and slime, and eventually giving up due to all that nasty stuff. And suppose it was crude oil leaking into his mine?

A friend of mine set his goal to have a fine little cabin in the country where he could retire. He wanted a nice place, with some land and a lake for fishing. He began saving his money, time passed, and he saved more money. After about ten years, he realized he had to keep working, didn’t have much money, and gave up.

He decided that it was never going to happen, so he blew it off. He gave up maybe about four years ago. He had no idea that the real estate market would collapse. Now, seeing the prices of all types of property, he just kicks himself, wondering why he didn’t keep the money he’d saved. That money today, would have easily bought just what he wanted.

The difference between the gold miner and my friend isn’t positive thinking. Nor is it quitting too soon, really. It’s the difference between circumstances we have an active part in changing versus taking a hopeful leap of faith. The gold miner had no real idea that there would actually be gold in the mine.

My friend knew completely that many people buy a small cabin in the woods, and it was only a matter of money. But he was so sure that he’d never accumulate the amount of money, he completely forgot that money is only relatively valuable. What’s a lot of money today, may not be much money at all tomorrow, in terms of what it can buy.

This isn’t about “attainable goals,” either. Nor is it about “realistic” goals. Who would have imagined such a change in the real estate market? No, it’s about following through on a goal that’s clearly possible AND probable.

How many stories have we heard about the person who positively concentrates on getting rich. They dream of it, work on it, hold it in mind, and want it with everything they have. Then one day, the person’s parents are killed in a plane crash, leaving behind a multi-million-dollar insurance policy. They’re rich!

Then there are the stories about the djinn, who upon being freed from a bottle, offers the rescuer three wishes. But each of those wishes comes unexpectedly, carrying with it pain and heartache.

Know what you want. Develop the capabilities to recognize your treasure when you see it. Understand that if you’re too specific, all you do is blind yourself to alternate prizes that would accomplish the same thing.

Then stick with your process. Live your life, and know that although you may not be at all where you want to be in life, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be! All things have a reason, and although we don’t know the underlying plot, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any plot!

Y’know what’s really ironic about this? All those people who are in to positive thinking, must assume a universe of energy, organization, and benevolence. In other words, a universe much greater than we are as individual human beings. And yet, at the same time they’re so sure that they control this vast universe, and can set a time limit for things. It’s not enough to want something, that something has to arrive on schedule.



  1. Kind of interesting observations. When I think of wants and desires in the “real world”, I tend to think of it in terms of what the average person is capable of and what current forces are at work to either undermine or support the status quo. I’ll use your friend’s example since in many ways it has continuity with my own plans. As I’ve mentioned a few times, me and my Wife live in California. Admittedly, we make an excellent income. But coming from rural TN where 150k buys a nice home in a nice area, I cannot fathom paying 600k for a small home in California when doing so would simply mean I’d be another one of the rats in the race just trying to pay my mortgage.

    Our plan has been to save, save, and save our income, then move to another area that is more affordable. This would mean we would probably change our careers and lifestyles. But not having the pressure to work our rears off just for a starter home would be worth it.

    All during the housing boom, I looked at numbers showing what the avg median income was and how much the house median price was. The two were grossly mismatched. Common sense said that this scenario would fail, Logic suggests that others would’ve also recognized this. But humans are often not entirely different from lemmings, and even if common sense is readily available, will bankrupt themselves trying to procure what American society has brainwashed into their heads, which is that a house provides stability. The connection between a paid off house as being stable versus a woefully overpriced house with a steep entrance fee actually creating instability was not made by many people.

    Thus for me and my Wife, the “positive” thinking we partook in was that by the mere fact that economics were being violated, the ultimate crash we knew was coming would create opportunities for us. As it stands now, we have enough saved to buy a house outright, have enough for retirement, and some leftover for other stuff. It took almost 7 years to accomplish this, plus we had to wait and grit out teeth watching people act like idiots for a few years, but the “payoff” is now here.

    Using my example is no different than any other example. The key to gaining success is through patience. If you’re willing to think objectively, look for weakness in the general population and seek ways to leverage gains from it, then that is the path to future wealth. This might sound cruel, but so too is capitalism and politics, which both seek to profit from perceived or real weaknesses.

    Comment by bob — October 20, 2008 @ 10:36 am | Reply

  2. The difference between blank-check “positive thinking” and reality is exactly that: patience. It’s only that “rational thought” may not be as large a proportion of the overall acquisition of what we want. The second component to acquisition is the perception of opportunity. That’s where rational analysis can very definitely come in to play, as with your economic analysis.

    Comment by Punchinello — October 20, 2008 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

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