Nothing Can Stop a Person with the Right Mental Attitude from Achieving His or Her Goal

Thomas Jefferson? W. W. Ziege? Elbert Hubbard? Orison Swett Marden? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Several spiritual traditions assert that thoughts and beliefs can directly alter the world. Maintaining a positive outlook is highly desirable as indicated in the following proposition:

Nothing can stop a person with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help a person with the wrong mental attitude.

These words are often attributed to U.S. statesman Thomas Jefferson, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Researcher Anna Berkes of Monticello.org states that the quotation has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson, and the ascription is deemed spurious. 1

The earliest strong match located by QI occurred in “Forbes” magazine in January 1948 within a section called “Thoughts on the Business of Life”. The statement was credited to W. W. Ziege who was a high-level member of AMORC (Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis). Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. — W. W. Ziege.

No precise citation was given in “Forbes” magazine, and QI has not yet found a closely matching statement within the writings of Ziege, but he did craft a semantically similar remark in a 1945 piece published in “The Rosicrucian Digest”. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1904 the popular speaker and writer Elbert Hubbard published an article titled “Success” in his magazine “The Philistine”. Hubbard employed the phrase “right mental attitude”, and he made a point comparable to the one in the target quotation: 3

Success is a result of a mental attitude, and the right mental attitude will bring success in everything you undertake.

In fact, there is no such thing as failure, excepting to those who accept and believe in failure. Failure! There is no such word in all the bright lexicon of speech unless you yourself have written it there.

In 1906 Elbert Hubbard published “Love, Life & Work” which included a chapter titled “Mental Attitude”. He referred to the biblical figure Job, and he discussed the dangers of a “wrong mental attitude”. This sentiment was similar to that in the target quotation: 4

Like old Job, that which we fear will surely come upon us. By a wrong mental attitude we have set in motion a train of events that ends in disaster. People who die in middle life from disease, almost without exception, are those who have been preparing for death. The acute tragic condition is simply the result of a chronic state of mind—a culmination of a series of events.

In 1910 the influential self-help author Orison Swett Marden published “The Miracle of Right Thought” which included the following remark about the “right mental attitude” and the “wrong mental attitude”: 5

… when we shall have learned the mighty life-giving power in the holding of the right mental attitude and the awful tragedy and suffering which come from holding the wrong mental attitude, then will civilization go forward by leaps and bounds.

In December 1945 the article “The Magic Word” by W. W. Ziege appeared in “The Rosicrucian Digest”. Ziege described a secret society that seemed to have knowledge of a mysterious and powerful word that could be used to obtain success and happiness. He joined the organization and rose through its multiple levels of activities and rituals. At last, he had ascended to a sufficiently advanced level to learn about the magical world. He was told, sadly, that the word had been lost, and now it was his duty to help in the search to rediscover it.

Retrospectively, Ziege recognized that the members of the group were rather ordinary in their success; hence, it was unlikely that they knew of a magic word. Ziege finished the tale by stating that words were still very important: 6

Good words indicated right thinking; evil words indicated wrong thinking. Right thinking was the foundation of right living; wrong thinking was the stumbling block that hurtled one into the depths of hell and misfortune.

Ziege also made a statement about “mental attitude” that was comparable to the target quotation:

Changing the mental attitude from the wrong to the right is all that most people need to do to enjoy all that life has to offer.

In 1948 “Forbes” magazine credited W. W. Ziege with the quotation as mentioned previously in this article: 7

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. — W. W. Ziege.

In 1958 a newspaper in Freeport, Illinois printed an advertisement for an automobile company that contained the quotation although no attribution was given. 8

In 1961 a newspaper in Kerrville, Texas printed the quotation as a filler item with an attribution to W. W. Ziege. 9

In 1968 the saying appeared in “The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life” with the same attribution. 10

In 1988 the U.S. Department of Navy published a periodical aimed at potential recruits titled “Profile: A Guide to Military Careers”, and the saying appeared on the back cover with an implausible ascription to one of the American founding fathers: 11

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.
Thomas Jefferson

In 1996 the prominent propagator of adages H. Jackson Brown Jr. and coauthor Robyn Spizman published “A Hero in Every Heart: Champions from all walks of life share powerful messages to inspire the hero in each of us” which included the saying with an ascription to Jefferson. 12

In conclusion, W. W. Ziege is the leading candidate for creator of this statement based on the 1948 appearance in “Forbes” magazine. The phrases “right mental attitude” and “wrong mental attitude” were used decades earlier to express a similar idea. The ascription to Thomas Jefferson is unsupported.

Image Notes: Illustration of red and black arrows from Clker-Free-Vector-Images at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Jim O’Shaughnessy and Jeff Rudy whose twitter exchange led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to the researchers at monticello.org who identified the 1945 and 1988 citations.)

Notes:

  1. Website: Thomas Jefferson: Monticello, Article title: Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude… (Spurious Quotation), Article author: Anna Berkes, Creation date on website: April 20, 2010, Revision date on website: April 25, 2018, Website description: Monticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson. It has been maintained and kept open to the public by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. (Accessed monticello.org on January 19, 2019) link
  2. 1948 January 15, Forbes, Thoughts on the Business of Life, Quote Page 42, Column 3, Forbes Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  3. 1904 May, The Philistine, Volume 18, Number 6, Success by Elbert Hubbard, Start Page 171, Quote Page 176, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1906, Love, Life & Work: Being a Book of Opinions, Reasonably Good-Natured, Concerning How to Attain the Highest Happiness for One’s Self with the Least Possible Harm to Others by Elbert Hubbard, Mental Attitude, Start Page 43, Quote Page 46, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1910, The Miracle of Right Thought by Orison Swett Marden, Chapter 15: Mental Self-Thought Poisoning, Start Page 307, Quote Page 339, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York. (Google Boks Full View) link
  6. 1945 December, The Rosicrucian Digest, The Magic Word by W. W. Ziege (F.R.C), Start Page 362, Quote Page 363 and 364, Published by the Supreme Council of The Rosicrucian Order—AMORC, San Jose, California. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1948 January 15, Forbes, Thoughts on the Business of Life, Quote Page 42, Column 3, Forbes Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  8. 1958 April 18, Freeport Journal-Standard, (Advertisement for Myers Ford Sales Inc.), Quote Page 7, Column 8, Freeport, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1961 January 19, Kerrville Mountain Sun, (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 6, Kerrville, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1968, The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life by Forbes Magazine, Quote Page 55, Published by Forbes, Inc., New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  11. 1988 December, Profile: A Guide to Military Careers, Volume 32, Number 2, (Back cover), Published by U.S.A. Department of the Navy, DOD High School News Service, Norfolk, Virginia. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  12. 1996, A Hero in Every Heart: Champions from all walks of life share powerful messages to inspire the hero in each of us by H. Jackson Brown Jr. and Robyn Spizman, Quote Page 52, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with scans)