How Successful People Think

"You are today where your thoughts have brought you.  You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you."

- James Allen, quoted in How Successful People Think, page 123

John C. Maxwell makes the case throughout How Successful People Think that the difference for what we want out of life is pulled only from our mind.  If you want to change your life, change your thinking.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Think! Don't merely conform

"What luck for rulers that men do not think."
- Adolf Hitler, as quoted in How Successful People Think, page ix

Thinking is, pardon the pun, something that we just do not think about.  Have you ever found yourself on the internet, surfing along only to realize that 15, 20, 30 minutes have gone by, and for what?  What good thinking has occurred during that time?  Or have you ever just read something from a magazine, book, or blog and thought “that must be true, they wrote it!”?  As the quote above states, the greatest power we turn over to others comes when we do not actively engage our minds in the discipline of thinking.

The 11 Thinking Skills Maxwell lists in his book are all actionable and deserve a insight for each, as the depth he provides is equally insightful and challenging. But for me, I was most inspired/challenged by two skills in particular: Big Picture Thinking and Reflective Thinking.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Think Big to be Prepared

"There comes a special moment in everyone's life, a moment for which that person was born... when he seizes it... it is his finest hour."
- Winston Churchill, quoted in How Successful People Think, page 6

The power of big picture thinking: does the quote above send chills down your spine?  If not you might want to check your heart to be sure it’s still beating!  There is a reason that we are all put here on this Earth, and regardless of your spiritual background, this is something most people agree on.  And to think, when that moment comes, will you be ready?  Will you know what to do?  Maxwell would say yes…if you engage in Big Picture Thinking.

Do you ever find yourself “caught up” in the seemingly mundane aspects of life?  Tonight, for example, I came home, painted the bathroom with my wife, grilled a meal, held my daughter during a crying spell, changed a diaper, and wrote this summary.  All small, trivial, mundane actions.  However, what is the bigger picture?  I love my wife and want to spend time with her helping on a project.  I want to live a healthy lifestyle, so we grilled lean meat and vegetables rather than running to get fast food.  My four month old is growing up, and she will never be four months old again.  Is some crying really going to ruin my night?  And on and on it goes.  The seemingly mundane, trivial, and oftentimes just plain annoying aspects of life all fall into perspective when laid against the backdrop of the Bigger Picture.

The actionable step many of us can take is to focus on bigger things rather than just the diaper in our hand or the work left to be done.  What do each of these actually mean in the grand scheme?  Through that lens, even the most menial of tasks can find value.

Some days, though, life can just be life, moving at a speed where we look up and ask ourselves, “WHAT did I do today?”  In times like these, you can employ another of Maxwell’s thinking skills: Reflective Thinking, which we will discuss below.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Look back to appreciate what comes ahead

"William Shakespeare wrote, 'Experience is a jewel, and it need be so, for it is often purchased at an infinite rate'.  Yet, experience alone does not add value to a life... it's the insight people gain because of that experience."
- How Successful People Think, page 74

To quote that wonderful philosopher, Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  This is the power of reflective thinking.  As we continue to move at even more breakneck speeds in the world we live in (I can’t have 3G, I want 4G!  No, even more, I want LTE!  No, give me 100GLTE+!!!) taking the time to sit, pause, stop, and reflect is lost in the never ending shuffle of daily tasks.

To combat this Maxwell recommends setting a time, place, to just stop to think through your day.  What went well?  What didn’t?  What would you change?  What are you going to do better tomorrow?  What do you want to do again?

The overworked and under-slept among us will cry out with shouts of “Not possible!  I already don’t have any time for anything else, how can I possibly do this?”  To which I would simply offer: If it is important to you, you can make time for it.  Perhaps that means no Facebook, Twitter, ESPN, blogs, etc.  As Maxwell goes back to over and over again, is the return from those activities paying off?  If not, why do you engage in them?  Invest in yourself, and think reflectively to find ways to continue to grow and become.


Let me leave you with this final thought, a quote from Maxwell’s book.  “Economist John Maynard Keyes, whose ideas profoundly influenced economic theory and practices in the 20th century, asserted, ‘The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from the old ones'”.  Thinking, good, bad, some, or none, will ultimately make you who and what you want to be.

What are areas you can change you thinking for the better?

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Ben Wallis

ABOUT Ben Wallis

WHO ARE YOU? Ben Wallis: husband, new father, and salesman. WHAT DO YOU DO? I work for eShipping, a logistics technology company in the role of Business Development Manager...
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