“Can you recommend a book for…?”
“What are you reading right now?”
“What are your favorite books?”
I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.
I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.
On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.
So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.
The idea here is simple: Every week, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.
I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.
If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!
Lastly, if you want to be notified when new recommendations go live, hop on my email list and you’ll get each new installment delivered directly to your inbox.
Okay, let’s get to this week’s book: The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz.
If you haven’t read much in the way of self-help/personal development and want to learn some simple but powerful lessons on optimism, positivity, goal setting, and creativity, then you want to read this book.
There are two distinct types of self-help books: the analytical, “left-brain” books that offer science-based actions and formulas for betterment, and the whimsical, “right-brain” books that are more like fireside chats with wise old mentors who have illuminating experiences and stories to share.
This book is the latter, and one of the better ones of this type that I’ve read (and I tend to not like these types of books). I don’t want to oversell it and put your expectations too high, but I’m recommending it because quite a few of its key ideas are spot-on and actually validated by science. Most of them probably qualify as common sense, but the same can be said of most things that make for good living. The trick isn’t just understanding these ideas intellectually but internalizing and organizing our lives around them, the initial impetus to do this often comes down to timing and delivery. You can come across an idea that, if accepted and acted upon, would completely change your life, but if you’re not ready to accept it or if it isn’t communicated persuasively enough, you won’t give it a second thought. On the other hand, if it’s communicated at just the right time and in just the right way, it can ring you like a bell and motivate you to get into action and transform your very being.
I can’t promise this book is going to do that for you, but it is a book that has that potential, and that’s why it has sold millions of copies and continues to top bestseller charts today.
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“You will discover that excusitis explains the difference between the person who is going places and the fellow who is barely holding his own. You will find that the more successful the individual, the less inclined he is to make excuses. But the fellow who has gone nowhere and has no plans for getting anywhere always has a bookful of reasons to explain why. Persons with mediocre accomplishments are quick to explain why they haven’t, why they don’t, why they can’t, and why they aren’t. Study the lives of successful people and you’ll discover this: all the excuses made by the mediocre fellow could be but aren’t made by the successful person.”
Excuses are seductive. They promise freedom from pain, embarrassment, and failure. They lull us into letting ourselves off the hook. Without excuses, we have to face the things we don’t want to face and do the things we don’t want to do. We have put ourselves out on the line every day and prove that we’re still worthy of our station. Without excuses, having done and been is never enough. We have to continue doing and becoming, continue living up to our standards.
“Just enough sense to stick with something— a chore, task, project— until it’s completed pays off much better than idle intelligence, even if idle intelligence be of genius caliber. For stickability is 95 percent of ability.”
Hakuin Ekaku was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism, and here’s his take on this: “It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. When that time comes, you could round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crashing to the ground…. But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, ‘Why doesn’t this tree fall?’ And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, ‘Why doesn’t this tree fall?’ he would never succeed in felling the tree.
“If I looked at myself strictly as I am— old car, low income, cheap apartment, and hamburger diet— I couldn’t help but be discouraged. I’d see a nobody and I’d be a nobody for the rest of my life. I’ve made up my mind to look at myself as the person I’m going to be in a few short years. I see myself not as a rate clerk but as an executive. I don’t see a crummy apartment, I see a fine new suburban home. And when I look at myself that way, I feel bigger and think bigger. And I’ve got plenty of personal experiences to prove it’s paying off.”
Optimism is one of the most constructive mindsets that you can have. To quote the Nobel prize-winning scientist and author Daniel Kahneman: “Optimists are normally cheerful and happy, and therefore popular; they are resilient in adapting to failures and hardships, their chances of clinical depression are reduced, their immune system is stronger, they take better care of their health, they feel healthier than others and are in fact likely to live longer. A study of people who exaggerate their expected life span beyond actuarial predictions showed that they work longer hours, are more optimistic about their future income, are more likely to remarry after divorce (the classic “triumph of hope over experience”), and are more prone to bet on individual stocks.”
“Both Mr. Triumph and Mr. Defeat are intensely obedient. They snap to attention immediately. All you need do to signal either foreman is to give the slightest mental beck and call. If the signal is positive, Mr. Triumph will step forward and go to work. Likewise, a negative signal brings Mr. Defeat forward. To see how these two foremen work for you, try this example. Tell yourself, ‘Today is a lousy day.’ This signals Mr. Defeat into action, and he manufactures some facts to prove you are right. He suggests to you that it’s too hot or it’s too cold, business will be bad today, sales will drop, other people will be on edge, you may get sick, your wife will be in a fussy mood. Mr. Defeat is tremendously efficient. In just a few moments he’s got you sold. It is a bad day. Before you know it, it is a heck of a bad day. But tell yourself, ‘Today is a fine day,’ and Mr. Triumph is signaled forward to act. He tells you, ‘This is a wonderful day. The weather is refreshing. It’s good to be alive. Today you can catch up on some of your work.’ And then it is a good day.”
Decades of psychological research has demonstrated that we construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to, not what is. Who we are, what we think, feel, do, and love is the sum of what we focus on.
To fully appreciate this, let’s do a personal experiment. Take a moment to observe your physical surroundings, and for the next several minutes, look around and ask yourself a few questions, paying attention to how it impacts your mood: What’s right about this environment? What am I okay with? What can I enjoy, admire, and even celebrate? As you’ll see, it doesn’t take much of this before your heart begins to warm.
Bask in the good vibes you’ve created for a minute, and then, let’s turn them off by doing the opposite. This time, look around and find what’s wrong with your current environment, what bothers you, and what should be improved (and if you want to spoil the fun even faster, consider who’s likely to blame for all of it). Notice how quickly the glow fades?
Objectively speaking, nothing has changed between these exercises. You’re still occupying the same space and surveying the same environment, which still contains things that are both wonderful and woeful. How you feel about these realities, though, is determined by your frame of mind. Choose to see the good and you will feel good; choose to see the bad and you will feel bad.
The point here is we have a surprising amount of control over our emotions, and can “turn on” positivity almost whenever we want by simply controlling our attention.
“Creative thinking is simply finding new, improved ways to do anything.”
Many people don’t think of themselves as particularly creative individuals or even capable of creative thinking, but that’s nonsense. If you feel this way, it’s simply because you haven’t cultivated habits that are conducive to creativity and practiced the creative process, not because you’re just wired poorly. Every one of us can be creative if we’re willing to work at it, and most of that work comes down to exposing ourselves to a wide variety of inputs and stimuli, entertaining new and different ways of analyzing situations and circumstances, and searching for new and interesting ways to combine disparate elements into unique concepts, solutions, products and services, and so forth.