The Three Bones - An Introduction to Osteology

November 20, 2018

‘To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone’.

This quote is often attributed to songwriter Reba McEntire, but is now believed to have first been said by Dr. Kavanagh during his talk on ‘Moral Anatomy’ - cited in the New Rochelle Pioneer way back in 1908. There must be something in it, since far more recently the New Zealand All Blacks mental resilience coach Gilbert Enoka has often referenced the statement as part of his no-nonsense approach to coaching rugby world champions. “In the end, you need only three bones to be successful: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funnybone.”

So, it looks like osteology may well hold some of the secrets to success.


Here are the three bones in question:

  • Wishbone – emphasises the importance of having a goal, a focus and something to aspire towards. This bone provides us with personal motivation and keeps us facing forwards. Have big dreams.
  • Backbone – underlines the importance of mental toughness, being resilient and seeing things through. Having the courage to stand our ground, to stretch ourselves and attain the goal. This bone keeps us on our feet, even in the most difficult times.
  • Funnybone – reminds us that we all need a sense of humour, the ability to laugh at ourselves – to not take life too seriously or be too self-absorbed. This bone reminds us that it is okay to make mistakes and be vulnerable on occasions. This final bone helps us to stay optimistic and enjoy where we are and what we are doing.

The suggestion is that all three bones need to be present for a successful life.  Having a purpose and a sense of humour is no good without the mental attitude required to achieve your goal. Having the goal and the right mental attitude may make you fiercely ambitious, but without some sense of humility, people are unlikely to support your cause. Having the ability to laugh at yourself combined with a resilient nature may well make you extremely robust as an individual, but without any clear plan for yourself or set of intentions, it is unlikely that you will ever realise your true potential.


What other bones can you think of which may be missing from this list?

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