YOU RUN INTO obstacles on the way to an important goal, and you
feel your motivation starting to fade, or if people have been
telling you youre foolish to keep trying, I urge you to
watch Lorenzo's Oil. Its a true story of
a husband and wife (Augusto and Michaela Odone) and their five
year-old boy, Lorenzo.
They were a happy family who moved to the
U.S. after living for awhile in the Comoros Islands. Lorenzo
began having behavioral problems, so they took him to one doctor
after another, trying to get a diagnosis. Nobody seemed to know
what was wrong with him.
Finally they found a doctor who did the
right kind of tests. The doctor sat the parents down in a quiet
room and gravely told them the diagnosis: Your son has
a fatal disease. He might live another two years, but during
that time, the white matter of his brain will slowly liquefy,
and then he will die. There is no treatment for this disease.
Nothing can be done about it.
They were at the best facility they could
find. The tests were thorough and extensive, and there was no
mistake: Lorenzo has a disease called adrenoleukodystrophy (known
simply as ALD).
What would YOU do if it happened to you?
They were, of course, devastated by the news. No matter how well-schooled
you are in the science
of determination, news like that will knock you down, at
least at first.
Very little was known about the disease,
but Augusto (Lorenzos father) started reading about it.
He found the progression of the disease unthinkably horrible.
Kids go blind and deaf, become autistic, lose their ability to
speak, become paraplegic, have seizures, and so on over a period
of two years. And then they die.
And nobody knew how to stop it.
Augusto and Michaela were plunged into
a black despair that would be hard to imagine. When anyone hits
a setback, demoralization is almost always the first response.
The only question is, How quickly will you recover your
fighting spirit? How soon, if ever, will you regain your
The answer depends entirely on how you
explain the setback to yourself. If the Odones believed the doctors,
they would have given up on their son. They would have felt helpless
But they decided there must be a way.
In other words, the setback was: Lorenzo
The explanation the doctors gave was: It
is a fatal disease without a cure. Thats a demoralizing
belief, and makes four thought-mistakes: overcertainty, negative guessing, self-defeating conclusions, and false hopelessness. Many people felt sorry
for the Odones because the couple were obviously living on false
hope. But if you look at the the doctors conclusion
(there is no cure for ALD) you can easily see it was a premature
conclusion. It was not a certainty that a cure was impossible.
And it was unnecessarily demoralizing to say it with any certainty.
The Odones explanation of the setback
was not demoralizing. They believed the cure had not been found
And they decided to help find the cure. Their explanation was
the opposite of demoralizing it was powerfully motivating.
Even if they wanted to do something about
it, most people would not because of another set of demoralizing
beliefs: Who am I to think I could help? Im an ordinary
person. How could I find a cure if all these doctors and researchers
havent found one? These thought-mistakes would prevent most people
from trying. They would give up.
But the Odones knew better. Augusto said
to Michaela, What did we do when we first arrived in Comoros?
We read about it. We read about their culture, their history,
their laws. Thats what we need to do now. We dont
know enough about this disease.
So they went to libraries and started reading
as if their sons life depended on it. They stayed up late
and got up early. They read books on biochemistry, biology, neurology.
They read microfiche, pursued references, talked to researchers,
and followed every clue they could find. They shared with each
other what they were learning and what ideas they came up with,
they argued with each other, and they kept trying.
Why did they keep trying? This is the crucial
question. They kept trying and stayed motivated because the way
they explained their setback to themselves set them on fire with
determination and commitment. Please remember that. When you
feel demoralized by the setback, look at your explanations. Use
for your mind. Your motivation depends on it.
They discovered several researchers in
different places working on the disease, but they worked in isolation
from each other. The Odones thought they might speed up the process
of discovery by funding a symposium, so they did. They got all
the experts together in one room to discuss ALD. Maybe pooling
their insights would help them find a new approach.
The Odones were trying to find a way. And
they were urgent because the clock was ticking. Every day their
son was losing more myelin (the protective sheath that covers
the neurons in his brain). Lorenzo was going blind, couldnt
speak, and was no longer able to feed himself.
the symposium, in a conversation between scientists who each
brought different pieces of the puzzle to the table, they concluded
a particular oil might help. The Odones tracked down a manufacturer
who could make it, and tried it on their boy. Their goal was
to keep his level of long-chain fatty acids low. Those were the
acids destroying his myelin.
The oil helped some, but not enough. They
did more reading and found another line of possibility. They
needed another oil extraction of a different kind but it couldnt
be made legally in the U.S. So they found a chemist in England
who could do it.
And the combination of the two oils achieved
the goal! The level of fatty-acids in Lorenzos blood became
normal. The oil is now used as a treatment for boys with ALD
(girls dont get the disease) and if it is started early
enough, it stops the disease completely in many of them, allowing
them to lead normal lives.
Lorenzo, however, did not return to normal.
He had lost too much myelin. But he recovered some of his functions
(including his eyesight) and is now 28 years old.
Have the Odones given up? Of course not!
They started The
Myelin Project, aimed at finding a way to re-myelinate neurons.
It has already been successfully done in dogs.
The movie is one of the most inspiring
Ive ever seen. If you would like to see a demonstration
of determination in action, if you would like to see a real-life
example of the power of persistence, if you would like to put
the difficulty of your own goals into perspective, watch Lorenzo's Oil.