50 Self-Help Classics

50 Self-Help

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© Tom Butler-Bowdon 2003
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ISBN 1-85788-323-3
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Butler-Bowdon, Tom, 1967–
50 self-help classics : 50 inspirational books to transform your life / Tom Butler-Bowdon.
p. cm.
includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-85788-323-3
1. Self-help techniques—Bibliography. 2. Life skills—Bibliography. I. Title: Fifty
self-help classics. II. Title.
Z7204.S44 B88 2003
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50 Self-Help
50 inspirational books to transform your life,
from timeless sages to contemporary gurus
Tom Butler-Bowdon
James Allen
Steve Andreas & Charles Faulkner
Marcus Aurelius
Martha Beck
The Bhagavad-Gita
The Bible
Robert Bly
Alain de Botton
William Bridges
David D. Burns
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers
Richard Carlson
Dale Carnegie
Deepak Chopra
Paulo Coelho
Stephen Covey
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler
The Dhammapada
Wayne Dyer
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Viktor Frankl
Benjamin Franklin
Shakti Gawain
Daniel Goleman
John Gray
Louise Hay
James Hillman
Susan Jeffers
Richard Koch
Ellen J. Langer
Lao Tzu
Maxwell Maltz
Abraham Maslow
Philip C. McGraw
Thomas Moore
Joseph Murphy
Norman Vincent Peale
Carol S. Pearson
M. Scott Peck
Ayn Rand
Anthony Robbins
Florence Scovell Shinn
Martin Seligman
Samuel Smiles
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Henry David Thoreau
Marianne Williamson
Acknowledgments vii
Introduction 1
1 James Allen As a Man Thinketh (1902) 10
2 Steve Andreas & Charles Faulkner (NLP Comprehensive Team)
NLP: The New Technology of Achievement(1994) 14
3 Marcus Aurelius Meditations (2nd century) 22
4 Martha Beck Finding Your Own North Star: How to Claim the Life
You Were Meant to Live (2001) 26
5 The Bhagavad-Gita 30
6 The Bible 36
7 Robert Bly Iron John (1990) 40
8 Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy (6th century) 46
9 Alain de Botton How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997) 50
10 William Bridges Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes
(1980) 56
11 David D. Burns Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (1980) 62
12 Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers The Power of Myth (1987) 68
13 Richard Carlson Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… And It’s All
Small Stuff (1997) 74
14 Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) 80
15 Deepak Chopra The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (1994) 86
16 Paulo Coelho The Alchemist (1993) 92
17 Stephen Covey The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) 96
18 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal
Experience (1990) 102
19 The Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler The Art of Happiness:
A Handbook for Living (1998) 108
20 The Dhammapada (Buddha’s teachings) 114
21 Wayne Dyer Real Magic: Creating Miracles in Everyday Life
(1992) 120
22 Ralph Waldo Emerson Self-Reliance (1841) 126
23 Clarissa Pinkola Estés Women Who Run with the Wolves
(1992) 132
24 Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning(1959) 138
25 Benjamin Franklin Autobiography (1790) 144
26 Shakti Gawain Creative Visualization (1978) 150
27 Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter
More than IQ (1995) 154
28 John Gray Men Are from Mars,Women Are from Venus (1992) 160
29 Louise Hay You Can Heal Your Life (1984) 166
30 James Hillman The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and
Calling (1996) 170
31 Susan Jeffers Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (1987) 176
32 Richard Koch The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving
More with Less (1998) 182
33 Ellen J. Langer Mindfulness: Choice and Control in Everyday
Life (1989) 188
34 Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching (5th–3rd century BC) 194
35 Maxwell Maltz Psycho-Cybernetics (1960) 198
36 Abraham Maslow Motivation and Personality (1954) 204
37 Philip C. McGraw Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing
What Matters (1999) 210
38 Thomas Moore Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating
Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (1992) 216
39 Joseph Murphy The Power of Your Subconscious Mind (1963) 222
40 Norman Vincent Peale The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) 228
41 Carol S. Pearson The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We
Live By (1986) 234
42 M. Scott Peck The Road Less Traveled (1978) 240
43 Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged (1957) 246
44 Anthony Robbins Awaken the Giant Within (1991) 252
45 Florence Scovell Shinn The Game of Life and How to Play It
(1925) 258
46 Martin Seligman Learned Optimism (1991) 264
47 Samuel Smiles Self-Help (1859) 270
48 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin The Phenomenon of Man (1955) 276
49 Henry David Thoreau Walden (1854) 282
50 Marianne Williamson A Return to Love(1994) 288
50 More Classics 294
Credits 301
To each of the authors: Thank you writing your classic and for your
unique contributions to personal development. I’ve had a great time
reading your books and telling other people about them.
To the publishers: Thank you for your commitment to a field of
writing that has never, despite its popularity, had much critical attention.
I hope that this book will generate even more readers for your
To Tamara Lucas: Thanks for your love and inspiration, and for
putting up with the computer in the evenings.
To Marion Butler-Bowdon: Thanks for so much over the last 35
years, and for being the book’s greatest promoter.
To Noah and Beatrice Lucas: Thanks for your continued support
and interest in what I do.
To Nick Brealey of Nicholas Brealey Publishing: Thanks for your
insights, enthusiasm, and close attention to the work, and Sally
Lansdell for editing.
And for others who have given feedback, words of encouragement,
or a sense of perspective, recently and over the years: Andrew Arsenian,
Andrew Chang, John Melville, Giselle Rosario, my siblings Caroline,
Teresa, Charles, Edward, Piers, and Richard and their partners Charles,
Will, Valerie, Kate, Tammy, and Ruth, my nieces and nephews Celeste,
Caleb, Jacob, Toby, and Conrad, the Pollocks Joy, Norman, Jane,
Cathy, Adrian, and Roger, the Taylors Maurice, Barbara, Howard, and
Jessica, the Misaks Sonia, Albert, Natan, and Raphael, Sarah Ravenscroft,
Humphrey Butler-Bowdon, Paul Goose, Fitzroy Boulting,
Richard Koch, Ronnie Gramazio, Frazer Kirkman, Pria Mitra, Ian
Hunter, Nick Harford, Tom Magarey, David Meegan, and Yvette,
Rosemary, Karen, and Isobel at OCC. This book is also inspired by my
father Anthony William Butler-Bowdon (1913–2001).
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“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can
alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
William James (1842–1910)
“Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant
findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can
choose the way they think.”
Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism
You will have heard many times that “you can change your life by
changing your thoughts and your mental habits,” but have you
ever stopped to consider what that means? This book identifies
some of the most useful ideas from writings specifically devoted to personal
transformation—from the inside out.
I have called these books “self-help classics.” You may already have
an idea of what self-help is, but that understanding should be deepened
by the range of authors and titles covered in these pages. If there is a
thread running through the works, it is their refusal to accept “common
unhappiness” or “quiet desperation” as the lot of humankind.
They acknowledge life’s difficulties and setbacks as real, but say that
we cannot be defined by these. No matter how adverse the situation,
we always have room to determine what it will mean to us, a lesson
given us in two books covered here, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for
Meaning and Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. To consciously
decide what we will think, not allowing genes or environment or fate
to determine our path—this is the essence of self-help.
A conventional view of self-help is that it deals with problems, but
most of the self-help classics are about possibilities. They can help
reveal your unique course in life, form a bridge between fear and happiness,
or simply inspire you to be a better person. Samuel Smiles wrote
the original Self-Help in 1859. He feared that people would think his
book a tribute to selfishness. In fact it preached reliance on one’s own
efforts, the never-say-die pursuit of a goal that did not wait on government
help or any other kind of patronage. Smiles was originally a
political reformer, but came to the conclusion that the real revolutions
happened inside people’s heads; he took the greatest idea of his century,
“progress,” and applied it to personal life. Through telling the life stories
of some of the remarkable people of his era, he tried to show that
anything was possible if you had the gall to try.
Abraham Lincoln is sometimes mentioned in self-help writing
because he embodies the idea of “limitless” thinking. Yet his thoughts
were not applied to himself—he considered himself an ungainly depressive—
but to the potential he saw in a situation (saving the Union and
freeing America of slavery). Lincoln’s vision was not vainglorious; he
lived for something larger.
At its best, self-help is not about the fantasies of the ego, but
involves the identification of a project, goal, ideal, or way of being
where you can make a big difference. In so doing, you can transform a
piece of the world—and yourself along with it.
The self-help phenomenon
“…the symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the
trash stratum.”
Philip K. Dick, Valis
The self-help book was one of the great success stories of the twentieth
century. The exact number purchased is impossible to calculate, but
this selection of 50 classics alone has sold over 150 million copies
between them, and if we consider the thousands of other titles the final
number would run to more than half a billion.
The idea of self-help is nothing new, but only in the twentieth century
did it become a mass phenomenon. Books like How to Win
Friends and Influence People (1936) and The Power of Positive Thinking
(1952) were bought by ordinary people desperate to make something
of their lives and willing to believe that the secrets of success
could be found in a paperback. Maybe the genre took on its lowbrow
image because the books were so readily available, promised so much,
and contained ideas that you were unlikely to hear from a professor or
a minister. Whatever the image, people obviously had a new source of
life guidance and they loved it. For once, we were not being told what
we couldn’t do but only that we should shoot for the stars.
A self-help book can be your best friend and champion, expressing a
faith in your essential greatness and beauty that is sometimes hard to
get from another person. Because of its emphasis on following your
star and believing that your thoughts can remake your world, a better
name for self-help writing might be the “literature of possibility.”
Many people are amazed that the self-help sections in bookstores
are so huge. For the rest of us there is no mystery: Whatever recognizes
our right to dream, then shows us how to make the dream a reality, is
powerful and valuable.
The books
This list of classics is the result of my own reading and research, and
might be quite different if another person were to undertake the same
project. The focus is on twentieth-century self-help books, but much
older works are also included because the self-help ethic has been with
us through the ages. The Bible, The Bhagavad-Gita, Marcus Aurelius’
Meditations, and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography are examples of
works that may not have been thought of as self-help before, but I
hope I can argue the case for their inclusion.
Most of the contemporary writers are American, and while this may
seem like cultural imperialism, in reality self-help values are universal.
There are a number of strands to self-help that offer specific guidance, for
example on relationships, diet, selling, or self-esteem, but the books covered
here relate to the broader personal development aims of self-knowledge
and increasing happiness. Through the selections I try to give a sense
of the huge diversity of the genre. Many of the titles were easily selected
because they are both famous and influential. Others are included because
they fill a niche through their ideas. Every book had to have a level of
readability and “spark” that defies the time and place that it was written.
At the end of Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola
Estés lists a great array of books that might be of interest to readers.
She asks, “How do they go together? What can one lend the other?
Compare, see what happens. Some combinations are bomb materials.
Some create seed stock.”
The same could be said of the self-help classics. However, to help
draw out some themes, below I have grouped the works into areas that
may help you find what you are after. There is an additional list, “50
More Classics,” at the end of the book.
The Power of Thought
Change your thoughts, change your life
James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
Steve Andreas and Charles Faulkner, NLP: The New Technology of
David D. Burns, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More
than IQ
Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life
Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulness: Choice and Control in Everyday Life
Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking
Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It
Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism
Following Your Dream
Achievement and goal setting
Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
Shakti Gawain, Creative Visualization
Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway
Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics
Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within
Secrets of Happiness
Doing what you love, doing what works
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star: How to Claim the Life
You Were Meant to Live
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal
The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, The Art of Happiness: A
Handbook for Living
The Dhammapada (Buddha’s teachings)
Wayne Dyer, Real Magic: Creating Miracles in Everyday Life
John Gray, Men Are from Mars,Women Are from Venus
Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with
Philip C. McGraw, Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What
Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
The Bigger Picture
Keeping it in perspective
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life
William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes
Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… And It’s All Small Stuff
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Soul and mystery
Appreciating your depth
Robert Bly, Iron John
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves
James Hillman, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling
Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and
Sacredness in Everyday Life
Carol S. Pearson, The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By
M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Making a Difference
Transforming yourself, transforming the world
The Bhagavad-Gita
The Bible
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Samuel Smiles, Self-Help
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man
Over to you
“In the last analysis, the essential thing is the life of the individual. This
alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations take place,
and the whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately springs
as a gigantic summation from these hidden sources in individuals.”
Carl Gustav Jung
Once upon a time we lived in tribal groups that guided our lives and
supplied us with our physical, social, and spiritual needs. As “civilization”
emerged it may have been the Church or the State that assumed
these roles; today, you may depend on the company for which you
work for material security and a sense of belonging.
Yet history shows that every kind of institution and community
eventually crumbles, and when it does the individual is exposed. This is
forced change, and as the world speeds up the likelihood of its happening
to you increases. Therefore you need to know more about yourself,
be aware of how to manage change better, and have a plan for your life
that does not depend on an institution. Whether you want to change
the world or just change yourself, you are right in suspecting that no
one is going to do it for you. In the end, it is all up to you.
The other key pressure on us, strange as it may seem, is the expansion
of choice. Most of us cherish freedom, but when we actually get the
opportunity to make our own way it can be terrifying. Many of the works
covered in this book, from Philip McGraw’s Life Strategies to Martha
Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden,
deal with the paradox that the more choices we have, the greater our need
for focus. Anyone can get a job, but do you have a purpose?
The twentieth century was about fitting in to large organizational
structures—by conforming well you became successful. Yet Richard Koch
shows us in The 80/20 Principle that success now and in the future comes
from being more yourself; if you are willing to express your uniqueness,
you will inevitably contribute something of real value to the world. This
has a moral dimension to it (Teilhard de Chardin referred to “the incommunicable
singularity that each of us possess”), but also makes economic
and scientific sense: Evolution happens by differentiation, not by matching
up to some general standard, and therefore the rewards of life will always
go to those who are not simply excellent but outstanding.
The future of self-help
“I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
Walt Whitman
At the heart of the self-help literature are two basic conceptions of how
we should see ourselves. Titles like Wayne Dyer’s Real Magic, Thomas
Moore’s Care of the Soul, and Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual
Laws of Success assume the existence of a changeless core inside us
(called variously the soul or the higher self) that guides us and helps us
to fulfill a purpose unique to us. In this conception, self-knowledge is
the path to maturity.
Then there are titles such as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Anthony
Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within, and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography,
which assume that the self is a blank slate on which you can
write the story of your life. There is no one better than Friedrich
Nietzsche to sum up this attitude:
“Active, successful natures act, not according to the dictum ‘know thyself’,
but as if there hovered before them the commandment: will a self
and thou shalt become a self.”
The self-knowing and the self-creating person are, of course, only
abstractions; a person will always be an interesting combination of the
two. Both viewpoints, nevertheless, contain the assumption that the self
is independent and unitary (“one”). Yet in the twenty-first century we
have multiple roles, are members of many communities, and express a
variety of personas, so our experience is of complexity. Where does
self-help fit into such a context?
In his book The Saturated Self, Kenneth Gergen suggested that the
old idea of the unitary self has had to evolve to take account of our
many-mindedness, or what he called the “multiphrenic personality.”
Another writer, Robert Jay Lifton in The Protean Self: Human
Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation, says that to prevent the feeling
of being pulled in all directions we have to develop a tougher and more
sophisticated self, aware of all its many dimensions; only this “protean
self” will cope with a vastly complicated world. For Lifton, the unitary
self is not dead but in a time of challenge.
However, will even this more evolved understanding of the self be
able to cope with technological advance? What sort of people will
emerge from a twenty-first century that can use genetic and other technologies
to alter the personality and increase intelligence? If we will
have the ability to change the self to such an extent, what is “selfknowledge”
as Plato imagined it?
Scientists are confident that many children born in the next decade
will have a life expectancy of well over 100 years, even 140 or 150.
Will living that long make your sense of identity more coherent, or will
15 decades of change—relationships, families, careers, world events—
shatter any feelings of continuity and security? Scarier still is the possibility
that we may be able to keep alive the “software” of our brain
long after our body has given up, then perhaps have it transplanted
into a new corpus.
The ever more sophisticated application of technology to the human
body and brain is clearly going to make the question “What is the
self?” even more significant. In this Blade Runner future, the idea of
self-knowledge may end up being the historical goal of the “posthuman”
human being.
Self-help books emerged from the evaporation of certainty and the
collapse of tradition. But the literature always assumed that we knew
what the self was. As this assumption is questioned, future self-help
books will have to be guides to the self itself.
50 Self-Help
As a Man Thinketh
“Of all the beautiful truths pertaining to the soul that have been
restored and brought to light in this age, none is more gladdening or
fruitful of divine promise and confidence than this—that you are the
master of your thought, the molder of your character, and the maker
and shaper of your condition, environment and destiny.”
“Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts
and actions can never produce good results … We understand this law in
the natural world, and work with it; but few understand it in the mental
and moral world—although its operation there is just as simple and undeviating—
and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it.”
“Law, not confusion, is the dominating principle in the universe; justice,
not injustice, is the soul and substance of life; and righteousness,
not corruption, is the molding and moving force in the spiritual government
of the world. This being so, we have to but right ourselves to find
that the universe is right.”
In a nutshell
We don't attract what we want, but what we are. Only by changing
your thoughts will you change your life.
In a similar vein
Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind (p222)
Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (p258)
James Allen
With its theme that “mind is the master weaver,” creating our
inner character and outer circumstances, As a Man Thinketh is
an in-depth exploration of the central idea of self-help writing.
James Allen’s contribution was to take an assumption we all share—
that because we are not robots we therefore control our thoughts—and
reveal its fallacy. Because most of us believe that mind is separate from
matter, we think that thoughts can be hidden and made powerless; this
allows us to think one way and act another. However, Allen believed
that the unconscious mind generates as much action as the conscious
mind, and while we may be able to sustain the illusion of control
through the conscious mind alone, in reality we are continually faced
with a question: “Why cannot I make myself do this or achieve that?”
In noting that desire and will are sabotaged by the presence of thoughts
that do not accord with desire, Allen was led to the startling conclusion:
“We do not attract what we want, but what we are.” Achievement happens
because you as a person embody the external achievement; you don’t
“get” success but become it. There is no gap between mind and matter.
We are the sum of our thoughts
The logic of the book is unassailable: Noble thoughts make a noble person,
negative thoughts hammer out a miserable one. To a person mired in
negativity, the world looks as if it is made of confusion and fear. On the
other hand, Allen noted, when we curtail our negative and destructive
thoughts, “All the world softens towards us, and is ready to help us.”
We attract not only what we love, but also what we fear. His explanation
for why this happens is simple: Those thoughts that receive our
attention, good or bad, go into the unconscious to become the fuel for
later events in the real world. As Emerson commented, “A person is
what he thinks about all day long.”
Our circumstances are us
Part of the fame of Allen’s book is its contention that “Circumstances
do not make a person, they reveal him.” This seems an exceedingly
heartless comment, a justification for neglect of those in need, and a
rationalization of exploitation and abuse, of the superiority of those at
the top of the pile and the inferiority of those at the bottom.
This, however, would be a knee-jerk reaction to a subtle argument.
Each set of circumstances, however bad, offers a unique opportunity
for growth. If circumstances always determined the life and prospects
of people, then humanity would never have progressed. In fact, circumstances
seem to be designed to bring out the best in us, and if we make
the decision that we have been “wronged” then we are unlikely to
begin a conscious effort to escape from our situation. Nevertheless, as
any biographer knows, a person’s early life and its conditions are often
the greatest gift to an individual.
The sobering aspect of Allen’s book is that we have no one else to
blame for our present condition except ourselves. The upside is the possibilities
contained in knowing that everything is up to us; where before
we were experts in the array and fearsomeness of limitations, now we
become connoisseurs of what is possible.
Change your world by changing your mind
While Allen did not deny that poverty can happen to a person or a
people, what he tried to make clear is that defensive actions such as
blaming the perpetrator will only run the wheels further into the rut.
What measures us, what reveals us, is how we use those circumstances
as an aid or spur to progress. A successful person or community, in
short, is one who is most efficient at processing failure.
Allen observed, “Most of us are anxious to improve our circumstances,
but are unwilling to improve ourselves—and we therefore
remain bound.” Prosperity and happiness cannot happen when the old
self is still stuck in its old ways. People are nearly always the unconscious
cause of their own lack of prosperity.
Tranquillity = success
The influence of Buddhism on Allen’s thought is obvious in his emphasis
on “right thinking,” but it is also apparent in his suggestion that
the best path to success is calmness of mind. People who are calm,
relaxed, and purposeful appear as if that is their natural state, but
nearly always it is the fruit of self-control.
These people have advanced knowledge of how thought works,
coming from years of literally “thinking about thought.” According to
Allen, they have a magnet-like attraction because they are not swept up
by every little wind of happenstance. We turn to them because they are
masters of themselves. “Tempest-tossed” souls battle to gain success,
but success avoids the unstable.
Final comments
Some 100 years after its first publication, As a Man Thinketh continues
to get rave reviews from readers. The plain prose and absence of hype
are appealing within a genre that contains sensational claims and personalities,
and the fact that we know so little about the author makes
the work somehow more intriguing.
To bring its message to a wider audience, two updated versions of
the work that correct the gender specificity of the original have been
published: As You Think, edited by Marc Allen (no relation), and As a
Woman Thinketh, edited by Dorothy Hulst.
James Allen
Allen was born in Leicester, England, in 1864. At 15 he was forced to
leave school and go out to work; his father, who had left for the United
States following the failure of the family business, had been robbed and
murdered. Allen was employed with several British manufacturing firms
until 1902, when he began to write full time. Moving to Ilfracombe on
the south-west coast of England, he settled down to a quiet life of reading,
writing, gardening, and meditation.
As a Man Thinketh was the second of 19 books that Allen wrote in
a decade. Although considered his best work, it was only published at
his wife’s urging. Other books include From Poverty to Power, Byways
of Blessedness, The Life Triumphant and Eight Pillars of Prosperity.
Allen died in 1912.
NLP: The New
Technology of
“This book will change your life. We know. What you’re about to read
has already changed ours.”
“You’d be surprised at the inner images people try to use to motivate
themselves. In their mind’s eye, they see tiny, dark slides of their work
being done, or a fuzzy, black-and-white picture of the reward for completing
a project. No wonder they’re not motivated. Now, you can
make a rich and compelling picture of what you want and what you
value. The bigger, richer, more colorful, more three-dimensional and
clear, the better.”
In a nutshell
“People work perfectly.” Program in new thoughts, actions, and
feelings and you get a new life.
In a similar vein
Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle (p182)
Philip C. McGraw, Life Strategies (p210)
Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics (p198)
Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within (p252)
Steve Andreas &
Charles Faulkner
(NLP Comprehensive
The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently
advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
This quote appears at the beginning of NLP: The New Technology
of Achievement and is also the conclusion of many who have used
neuro-linguistic programming, a science of mind that has swept across
the world in less than 20 years. Through NLP techniques, people have
rid themselves of a longstanding phobia in a few minutes, or quickly
left behind the burden of a horrible memory that has plagued them for
We are so used to believing that change takes time, so comfortable
with the philosophy of no pain—no gain, that when a contrary practice
comes into being we are inclined not to believe it. The authors of this
book admit, “It seems so grandiose and unlikely that some people will
use that as an excuse to never examine it closely.” We are stuck in a
time warp when it comes to psychology, believing that Freud’s ideas are
still central even though they were published a century ago. Yet how
many people, Andreas and Faulkner ask, would be happy to drive
around in a 100-year-old car?
Thanks to advances in cognitive science and the development of
NLP methods, personal change is no longer a mystery—it can be fast,
reliable, even fun.
NLP: the beginning
In the early 1970s Richard Bandler was a maths undergrad at the University
of California with a strong interest in computer science and psychology.
He met an associate professor in linguistics, Dr. John Grinder,
and they began to lead weekly therapy meetings that involved copying
the content and style of the founder of the Gestalt movement, Fritz
Perls. This attempt to replicate the results of another person by adopting
their behaviors and methods (the German accent, mustache, and
chain smoking were eventually accepted as unnecessary) led to the discipline
of “modeling human excellence.”
Research into phobias led Bandler and Grinder to the discovery that
people who detach themselves from their fear (e.g., in their mind they
watch themselves having the phobia from a distance) will lose it. A further
array of therapeutic techniques flowed from their work with famous
clinical hypnotist Milton Erickson. Bandler’s Master’s thesis became the
first volume of the seminal NLP work, The Structure of Magic.
A new technology of achievement
Essentially, NLP is about changing the way you think about thinking.
“Neuro” refers to the nervous system and the mental pathways of the
five senses. “Linguistic” refers to language and the use of words,
phrases, body language, and habits to reflect our mental worlds. “Programming”
is borrowed from computer science. Add them together and
you get a technology that reveals thoughts, feelings, and actions to be
habitual programs open to manipulation.
NLP: The New Technology of Achievement is one of the best introductions
to the discipline, written by a professional training team that
has links with NLP’s founders. It has intellectual weight, but its real
value lies in its many exercises or “thought experiments.” Read only
the first two chapters and you will already have a few methods under
your belt for instant change. Read the whole book and do the exercises,
and you’ll have a mental toolkit to change your moods, behaviors,
and memories, shape your thoughts and actions, and live
according to your deepest values.
Chapters include:
❖ Getting motivated.
❖ Discovering your mission.
❖ Achieving your goals.
❖ Creating rapport and strong relationships.
❖ Persuasion strategies.
❖ Eliminating fears and phobias.
❖ Building self-confidence.
❖ Creating self-appreciation and self-esteem.
❖ Securing a positive mental attitude.
❖ Achieving peak performance.
NLP principles
The following are the “presuppositions” or principles underpinning
1 The map is not the territory. We do not respond to the world as it
is, we act in accordance with our own mental map of it. We have a
much better chance of getting what we want if our map is continually
revised to take account of the territory. Doing this is much better
than trying to bend the world to fit your map.
2 Experience has a structure. We all have patterns or structures in the
way we think. By changing these, we literally change our experience,
including how we think about past events.
3 If one person can do something, anyone can learn to do it. We can
model the thinking and behavior of people who are already successful
in order to achieve similar results.
4 The mind and body are parts of the same system. Our thoughts constantly
affect our breathing, muscles, etc., which in turn affect our
thinking. Control your thoughts and you control your body.
5 People already have all the resources they need. From our storehouse
of memories, thoughts, and sensations we can construct new mental
patterning designed to provide the outcomes we want.
6 You cannot not communicate. Everything about you—eye and body
movements, vocal tones, habits—is a form of communication. It is
not difficult to sense when what a person is saying does not match
with who they are.
7 The meaning of your communication is the response you get. People
receive information filtered through their mental map of the world.
How you communicate must be constantly adjusted so that the message
you want to be received is the one that is received.
8 Underlying every behavior is a positive intention. Violence masks a lack
of acceptance or fear, and yelling or criticism can express a need to be
acknowledged. Look behind what people do to find their positive intent.
9 People are always making the best choices available to them. We
make choices based on experience. More and better experiences
allow for more choices.
10 If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else. Do anything
else. You’ll only get the same results if you do what you’ve always
NLP: The New Technology of Achievement amplifies these principles,
including the following points:
❖ Everyone has a “motivation direction,” either toward pleasure and
goals or away from pain. The NLP team found that most people are
motivated by the latter, but with a change to toward motivation you
can focus on possibilities rather than on what you fear. This doesn’t
mean living through rose-tinted spectacles, simply changing the way
you communicate with yourself. For example, after making your
usual negative comments, restate your goal. This order—negative
first and positive last—is a simple but effective motivator.
❖ Know the difference between a job and a mission. A job is usually
too small for a person; a mission needs a whole life to make it real.
Acknowledging the NLP principle that “If one person can do something,
anyone can learn to do it,” you can take the successful attitudes,
decisions, and behaviors of people you admire and use them
to fulfill your unique mission. Film director Steven Spielberg, artist
Michelangelo, champion dog-sled racer Susan Butcher, and media
mogul Ted Turner are given as examples of people who are crystal
clear about what their life is about. NLP exercises can reveal your
life’s passion and deepest values, from which your mission will
❖ Change happens in an instant and should be natural and easy. No
matter how many times you try to get a computer to do something,
it will not do it if it does not have the appropriate software, or if it
can do it, you need to have a manual in order to give it the right
instructions. The human brain is much more sophisticated, but NLP
is designed to be its software manual, using the brain’s own language
to alter and create new neural pathways.
With NLP you do not have to rely on willpower; with knowledge of
the technical means, change becomes easy.
❖ NLP’s basic premise is that we can change our minds not simply by
having new thoughts, but by changing the way we think, i.e., by
choosing a different way to process the multitude of images, feelings,
and memories that exist inside us, so that they serve us rather than
sabotage us. We can diminish a bad memory quite easily by giving it
new associations (just some examples: hearing a happy song in our
minds each time we remember it, turning the memory into a “painting”
with our choice of color and frame, making it into an old blackand-
white movie, seeing ourselves smiling in the image instead of sad).
Once these new associations are made, how you feel about a memory
changes not only instantly but forever. Revisit it any time and the new
association will still be in place. Try it before you dismiss it.
❖ NLP gets you away from “either/or” thinking. In NLP there is a saying:
“If you only have one way to do something, you’re a robot. If
you only have two ways to do something, you’re in a dilemma. You
need at least three ways to do something before you have the beginning
of some real flexibility.” Above all, NLP gives you choice in how
you want to change; there are few rules, only successful experiments.
❖ Everyone has internal voices. Turn them into great encouragers
instead of saboteurs. You can play powerful and uplifting music in
your mind whenever you need instant confidence, for instance. You
can learn automatically to hear laughter any time you encounter a
difficulty or challenge. Such methods put you in control of your
reactions and thoughts at any moment, and enable you to take criticism
and use it constructively.
❖ The brain does not know how to think negatively. If you continually
tell yourself “I want to lose weight,” your brain will be impressed
with the word “weight” much more than the word “lose.” Professionals
advise slimmers to have a “goal weight” that they focus on;
it is to this that they will make their body conform, not the losing of
something. NLP teaches you always to use positive language, focusing
on what you want, not what you fear.
❖ You can learn the ability to be confident in an instant, to be more
loving, or to “make real” your ambitions before they are acted out
in the world. Many winners use NLP without knowing it, in the
way they can see, hear, feel, touch, and taste victory in their minds
long before it actually happens. The feeling of winning draws the
win to it; designing a compelling future draws you toward the
actions needed to realize it. Those who become adept at creative
visualization appreciate the NLP maxim “not all dreamers are
achievers, but all achievers are dreamers.”
Final comments
A psychology that sees the mind and body as machine-like and open to
manipulation is appropriate for the technological culture in which we
live, yet the overall effect of NLP is to increase the intensity and quality
of life. Despite its origins in computing and linguistics, NLP is really
about graceful human change.
Traditional clinical psychology is all about describing and analyzing
problems and finding out their causes. NLP, in contrast, focuses on possibilities
and how the mind works to produce results. If NLP could be
summed up in one phrase, it would be “People work perfectly.” Our
specific thoughts, feelings, and actions have produced what we are
today; by changing these “inputs” you will get different results—a different
Each of us is a bundle of emotions, behaviors, and potentialities, all
of which we must accept and even love in order to achieve what in
NLP is called “personal congruence,” the perfect alignment of our
desires and values with our capabilities.
Steve Andreas and Charles Faulkner
Steve Andreas was an industrial chemist before becoming an NLP
trainer and developer of new methods.With his wife Connirae he
founded NLP Comprehensive in Colorado in 1979 (which offered the
first ever NLP training certification), and with her has co-authored two
books, Change Your Mind—And Keep the Change (1987) and Heart of
the Mind (1989). He has written numerous articles and produced video
and audio programs, and wrote a biography of one of America’s pathbreaking
relationships therapists, Virginia Satir: The Patterns of Her
Magic (1991). He has an MA in psychology from Brandeis University
and for 30 years has run Real People Press, a publisher focused on personal
Charles Faulkner has pioneered an array of methods for accelerated
language learning, but is well known for his NLP methods in financial
decision making and the modeling of successful bond traders. Audiotape
programs include Metaphors of Identity and Success Mastery with
The other contributing authors to NLP: The New Technology of
Achievement are Kelly Gerling, Tim Halbom, Robert McDonald, Gerry
Schmidt, and Suzi Smith. The book was originally written as a audio
program in 1991.
2nd century
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference,
ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will and selfishness—all of
them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my
part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature
of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is
my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly
endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those
things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is
“Love nothing but that which comes to you woven in the pattern of
your destiny. For what could more aptly fit your needs?”
“Everything—a horse, a vine—is created for some duty. This is nothing to
wonder at: even the sun-god himself will tell you, ‘This is a work I am here
to do,’ and so will all the other sky-dwellers. For what task, then, were you
yourself created? For pleasure? Can such a thought be tolerated?”
In a nutshell
Don’t get caught up in trivia or pettiness; appreciate your life within a
larger context.
In a similar vein
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (p46)
Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (p74)
Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was emperor of Rome from 161AD
until his death 19 years later. By the time he came to power,
Rome was under threat: constant warring with “barbarians”
on the frontier, disease brought back by soldiers, pestilence, and even
earthquakes. Try to imagine the President of the United States being so
philosophical in the midst of such crises. Yet despite the circumstances,
after his death Marcus Aurelius would come to be idealized by the
Romans as the perfect emperor, a genuine philosopher-king who provided
the last real nobility of rule before the savagery of his son Commodus’
reign and the anarchy of the third century.
A student of Stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius refused to be made
miserable by the difficulties of life. Stoicism was a Greek school of
thought originating around 300BC. In simple terms, it taught that submission
to the law of the universe was how human beings should live,
and emphasized duty, avoidance of pleasure, reason, and fearlessness of
death. Stoics would also have full responsibility for their actions, independence
of mind, and pursue the greater good over their own. The
emperor would have been comfortable with today’s United Nations and
other world bodies that stand for cooperative effort: Stoics had an
international outlook and believed in universal brotherhood.
As well as the world, the thoughts of the Stoics spanned time, as this
excerpt from the Meditations demonstrates:
“All things fade into the storied past, and in a little while are shrouded in
oblivion. Even to men whose lives were a blaze of glory this comes to
pass; as to the rest, the breath is hardly out of them before, in Homer’s
words, they are ‘lost to sight alike and hearsay’. What, after all, is immortal
fame? An empty, hollow thing. To what, then, must we aspire? This,
and this alone: the just thought, the unselfish act, the tongue that utters
no falsehood, the temper that greets each passing event as something predestined,
expected, and emanating from the One source and origin.”
This was written over 19 centuries ago, yet it is somehow even more relevant
when we know how ancient it is. Marcus Aurelius’ life itself bears
the statement out; not many now will have cause to remember his skill
or otherwise as a leader, but his Meditations, quiet thoughts written by
firelight in the midst of campaigns, live on in hearts and minds.
The Meditations are alive with perceptiveness about the basic unity
of all things in the universe, including its people. They tell us that the
effort to see through another’s eyes is nothing less than an expansion of
one’s world—and a unifying of it. To despise, avoid, or judge a person
is simply an obstruction of Nature’s law. The realization that to move
human relations to a higher level we must do the opposite of these
things formed the basis of the emperor’s thought.
On every page of the Meditations is this theme of accepting things and
people how they are, not how we would like them to be. There is sadness
in this view, as the following brief comment suggests: “You may break
your heart, but men still go on as before.” One does get the impression
of reading the thoughts of a lonely man, but then Marcus Aurelius’ ability
to see life objectively saved him from any real disillusionment:
“Be like the headland against which the waves break and break: it
stands firm, until presently the watery tumult around it subsides once
more to rest. ‘How unlucky I am, that this should have happened to
me!’ By no means; say, rather, ‘How lucky I am that this has left me
with no bitterness; unshaken by the present, and undismayed by the
The great worth of Stoic philosophy is its ability to help put things into
perspective so you can remember the things that matter; the Meditations
is, if you like, an ancient and noble Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.
The person who can see the world as it really is also carries the ability
to see beyond that world. We are here and we have a job to do, but
there is a feeling that we came from another place, and will eventually
go back to it. Life can be sad and lonely, seemingly one thing after
another, but this should never dull our basic wonder at our existence in
the universe:
“Survey the circling stars, as though you yourself were mid-course with
them. Often picture the changing and rechanging dance of the elements.
Visions of this kind purge away the dross of our earth-bound life.”
Final comments
What can we make of the fact that Marcus Aurelius was the father of
Commodus, whose accession and brutal reign broke the tradition of
non-hereditary kingship? If the philosopher was such a great man, how
could he have fathered such a brute?
The Meditations is not just another self-help book with easy
answers—its very theme is imperfection. We can never know exactly
why things happen, why people act the way they do, but it is not up to
us to judge anyway; there is a larger meaning to events and lives that
escapes us. This knowledge itself is a comfort.
This is a short book that is a source of sanity in a mad world, and
today’s reader will also love the beautiful prose that makes it stand out
against modern philosophical and self-help writings (Maxwell Staniforth’s
translation is particularly good). Buy a copy and you will make
use of it for life.
Marcus Aurelius
When Hadrian, one of Rome’s most successful emperors, died in
138AD, he appointed as his successor Antoninus Pius, who in turn, on
Hadrian’s instructions, adopted the 17-year-old Marcus Aurelius as his
successor. The young man’s future was confirmed when he was married
to Faustina, a daughter of Antoninus Pius. As well as carrying out
courtly duties, he devoted himself to the study of law and philosophy.
Taking power at age 40, Aurelius voluntarily divided rule with his
brother Lucius Verus, who was to die eight years later.
Though peaceful by nature, Aurelius was forced continually to
defend the Empire’s territories against the Germanic tribes, including
the Marcomanni and the Quadi. A single manuscript, now lost, is the
source of the Meditations. Marcus Aurelius had never intended that it
be published. The year 1559 saw its first printing, almost 14 centuries
after the emperor’s death in 180. While Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator
portrays the emperor being murdered by Commodus, there is no historical
evidence for this.
Finding Your Own
North Star:
How to Claim the Life
You Were Meant to Live
“Listen carefully: Your family of origin does not know how to get you
to your North Star. They didn’t when you were little, they don’t now,
and they never will. … People whose families were accepting and supportive
have to face the fact that familial love can’t take them all the
way towards their right lives.”
“Many of my clients can’t figure out what they want to do with their
careers until they restore themselves to physical health by resting deeply for
weeks, sometimes even months. Whatever your body tells you to do, the
odds are very good that it’s the next step towards your North Star.”
In a nutshell
The book for you if you feel as though your life has taken a wrong turn.
In a similar vein
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (p68)
Wayne Dyer, Real Magic (p120)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves (p132)
James Hillman, The Soul’s Code (p170)
Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (p176)
Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle (p182)
Martha Beck
Also known as Stella Polaris, the North Star is found at the North
Pole of the heavens. Because it does not move around like other
stars, it has always been used by explorers and seafarers to
work out their current position and check direction. The North Star
struck Martha Beck as the perfect symbol of what she calls “right life,”
the fulfilled existence that is uniquely yours and waiting to be claimed.
How do we find our star? Internal compasses, in the form of our
physical reactions, intuitions, and peculiar wants and longings, are
there to guide us, and to get us back on course when the clouds and
storms of life make us lose sight. Beck says that the key to finding our
right life is to know the difference between the essential self and the
social self. This is what we concentrate on here.
The essential self and the social self
What is the essential self? It is that quiet voice that will ask you to “walk
to the beat of a different drum” when you would prefer to stroll with the
pack. The social self is the voice that may have determined most of your
life decisions so far; it has provided you with skills, networked for you,
and is basically “responsible.” Most people make their social self their
master, but for you to live a fulfilled live it should be the other way
around—take your lead from your essential self, and let the social self do
what is practically necessary to get you where you want to go.
Beck came from an academic background in which doing something
“difficult” was respected. She took Chinese as her major at college
because it sounded admirable and brainy—and she hated it. It bogged
her down mentally and was truly hard. Anything you are doing that
causes stress and struggle, she says, no matter how worthy you think it
is, is probably not part of your true direction. When you find
something that gives you joy and at which you seem easily
productive—what in eastern philosophy is called “non-action”—it is
probably close to your North Star.
In times past, you were much more likely to do well economically
through the obedient, conformist behavior of your social self, as the
individual was always part of a larger machine. In the twenty-first century,
however, this has changed, the real money going to people with a
unique personality, skill, or product. And uniqueness never drops out of
committees, it arises from deep within a person, from your essential self.
Bringing out the essential self
The essential self is like the daimon or soul image that James Hillman
talks of in The Soul’s Code. It can’t speak, so it finds all kinds of ways to
be recognized. Many of Beck’s clients come to her complaining that they
“self-sabotage”: They fluff exams or interviews that they had to do well
in, not really knowing why. Yet what seems like an inexplicable failure
may actually be in harmony with your true desires in the long term.
One of the most vital aspects of regaining your essential self is to learn
how to say “no” again. The Japanese word for no is iie, but because
Japan is a relatively conformist society, it is actually a taboo to say it. We
learn from an early age that we must cooperate and always let our essential
self give way to our social self. But just as a caged tiger will lash out if
someone comes into its precious space, your essential self knows when to
say no. It must be allowed to do this, to state its boundaries, or you will
end up with neuroses caused by having to be nice to everyone all the time.
Your body and your brain will happily tell you when the essential
self has been ignored, be it through illness, forgetfulness, numb hostility,
apathy, Freudian slips, or addiction. Listen to your body!
Alignment with your North Star, in contrast, may release a pent-up
vitality that you last enjoyed when you were a child. You will start to
love yourself again, remember things easily, be more concerned with
good health, and be a lot more cheerful to the rest of the world. In the
eyes of those close to you, looking for your true purpose may seem selfish—
but would they rather live with the results of keeping it buried?
Making the leap
When we contemplate change (having a baby, quitting a job, taking a
year off) we make protestations to ourselves that “everybody” will think
I’m an idiot, “everybody” will hate me. This is terrifying—until we come
to understand that “everyone” is composed of just a few people, some
maybe not even still alive. Psychology describes this as the “generalized
other.” Beck, for instance, took a long time to realize that merely to get
her father’s approval she was writing in the unnecessarily dry style of an
academic journal when she should have been using everyday language.
Once we see that there are in fact millions of points of view on
everything, we can no longer be beholden to an imaginary everybody,
and are free to pursue what we feel to be right. Always remember, Beck
says, that the social self is programmed to avoid danger, even if it’s an
illusion. By following your dreams, on the other hand, you will develop
a new and positive relationship with fear.
Final comments
Finding Your Own North Star is a comprehensive self-help book (380
pages) covering everything from how to appreciate beauty, be generous,
welcome change even when everything is OK, diagnose fear in yourself
and others, grieve, and express hate and anger, to how to follow your
intuition. What have these got to do with your North Star? Not being
“on purpose” will affect every area of your life, and you will need to
become more aware of your emotions and inner learnings to get back
to that state. The last part of the work looks at the four stages of life
through which you may go in your quest to find your North Star, and
is almost worth a book on its own. There are quizzes and exercises
throughout, many designed to “bring you out of your shell.”
Martha Beck
Beck is a graduate of Harvard with a BA, MA, and PhD. She taught at
Harvard and at the American Graduate School of International
Management in career development. After academia she became a “life
design” counselor and set up Life Designs, Inc., a practice for helping
clients fulfill their potential.
Her other bestsellers are Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth,
Transformation and Unconditional Love and Breaking Point: Why
Women Fall Apart and How They Can Re-Create Their Lives. She has
also written for a number of American magazines.
Beck lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her family.
The Bhagavad-Gita
“We are born into the world of nature; our
second birth is into the world of spirit.”
“But he who, with strong body serving mind,
Gives up his power to worthy work,
Not seeking gain, Arjuna! Such an one
Is honourable. Do thine alloted task!”
“He whose peace is not shaken by others, and before
whom other people find peace, beyond excitement and
anger and fear—he is dear to me.”
“If thou wilt not fight thy battle of life because in
selfishness thou art afraid of the battle, thy resolution
is in vain: nature will compel thee.”
“I have given thee words of vision and wisdom more secret
than hidden mysteries. Ponder them in the silence of thy
soul, and then in freedom do thy will.”
In a nutshell
Seek peace inside yourself, do the work that is yours, and wonder at
the mysteries of the universe.
In a similar vein
Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (p86)
The Dhammapada (p114)
The Bhagavad-Gita is the record of a conversation between a
young man and God (in the form of Krishna). The young warrior
Arjuna, from the royal Pandava family, is in a state of panic on
the morning of a battle. The “enemies” he is expected to fight are
cousins whom he knows well.
In this desperate predicament, Arjuna turns to his charioteer Krishna
for help. The answers he gets are not exactly what he wants to hear,
but it is Krishna’s opportunity to tell a mortal about how the universe
operates and the best approach to life.
The Gita is a small but much-loved part of the vast Hindu epic the
Mahabarata, a poetic chronicle about two warring groups of cousins,
the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The title means Celestial Song or Song
of the Lord, and Juan Mascaró (whose translation is used here) has
described it as a “symphony” that represents a peak of Indian
The beauty of this work is that it operates on various levels—poetry,
scripture, philosophy, self-help guide—and here we will focus on the
last of these.
The meaning of Arjuna’s predicament
Arjuna does not want to get involved in this battle, and why would he?
The reader cannot but agree that it is madness to wage war against
one’s own relatives. The story is allegorical, however; it is about action
and non-action, and introduces us to the concepts of karma and
Arjuna wonders, quite reasonably, why he should bother to do anything
good, or to do anything at all, in a world that is so bad. Joseph
Campbell says in The Power of Myth that part of maturity is saying
“yes” to the abominable or the evil, to recognize its existence in your
world. What he calls “the affirmation of all things” does not mean that
you can’t fight a situation, only that you can’t say that something does
not have the right to exist. What exists does so for some reason, even if
that reason is for you to fight it. It would be nice to withdraw from
life, to be above it all, but you can’t. Because we are alive, we can’t
avoid action or its effects—this is karma.
If we must throw ourselves into life, what should be our guide?
There is action motivated by desire, and action undertaken out of a
sense of purpose.
The first type seems easier, because it allows you to live without
questioning and requires little self-knowledge. In fact it goes against the
grain of universal law, usually leading to the departure of spirit from
our lives. Purposeful action seems more complicated and obscure, but
is in fact the most natural way; it is the salvation of our existence and
even the source of joy. The word for this is dharma.
The Bhagavad-Gita is a great book because it embodies the reasoning
mind, capable of choosing the way of purpose over the automaticity of
a life led by desire. If Arjuna simply follows his desire not to fight, he
learns nothing. Instead, Krishna tells him to “fight the good fight”—
this is his duty, his purpose, his dharma.
Freed from indecision, Arjuna is subsequently told that his opponents
“have it coming to them” anyway; Arjuna is merely the instrument
of divine karma.
The reader should not dwell too long on why God is recommending
war. The point of the story is that the young warrior, in questioning his
own action and existence, displays reason. Nowadays we tend to
equate reason with intelligence. This is lazy thinking, because it means
that a mouse or a computer, displaying the ability to “work something
out,” is at our level.
Reason is actually the process by which we discover our place in
the larger scheme of things, specifically the work or actions by which
our existence is justified and fulfilled. It is what makes us human
The Gita is no flight into the mystical; in showing the path to reason,
it reveals our highest faculty and greatest asset.
The Bhagavad-Gita draws attention to the three “constituents of
nature,” Tamas (darkness), Rajas (fire), and Sattva (light). A Rajas style
of life is full of action and endless business, with fingers in too many
pies, hunger for more, lack of rest, and lust for things and people. It is
about gaining and attaining, a life focused on “what is mine and what
is not yet mine.”
Sound familiar? This is living according to “outcome,” and while it
may be of a higher order than Tamas (inertia, dullness, lack of care,
ignorance), it is still one of mediocrity. And the life of light, Sattva?
You will know you are living it when your intentions are noble and
you feel peace in your actions. Your work is your sanctuary and you
would do it even for no reward at all.
This holy book’s key point about work is that unless you are doing
the work you love, you are darkening your soul. If this seems impossible,
love what you are doing. Freedom—from fear and anxious worry
over “results”—will follow. The wise always have an outcome or result
in mind, yet their detachment from it makes them all the more
The Gita says that higher even than the peace of meditation is the
peace that comes from surrender of the fruit of one’s actions; in this
state we are free from the rigidity of set expectations, allowing the
unexpected and remarkable to emerge.
The steady self
You may be relaxing in front of the television when a report comes on
about the year’s Academy Awards, telling of the glitter and glory of the
Oscars and exclusive post-ceremony parties. Someone remarks, “This is
where the rest of the world would like to be.” Beneath the superficial
enjoyment of the report, suddenly you get a sense of inferiority. “Who
cares if people say it’s shallow, I want to be there! What have I done
with my life that I am not on the list for that party? Am I really going
back to my job on Monday morning?”
There is a phrase in psychology for this thinking: “object referral.”
This means having a focus on others and seeking their approval.
Hollywood is famously a shrine to external valuations of worth,
where you are always wondering what people will think of your next
audition, performance, or deal. This is basically a life of fear and,
when things don’t turn out as you had hoped, of desperation. The
Gita teaches that you can achieve a state where you don’t need any
external commendation to make you feel right; you know you are of
real worth.
One of the main routes to this level of being is meditation, which
brings detachment from emotions like fear and greed. Through it we
discover a self that is not subject to change, that is, in Deepak Chopra’s
words, “immune to criticism ... unfearful of any challenge, and feels
beneath no-one.” This surely is real power, compared to what we can
acquire in the world of action.
In your baser conscious desires you are just like everyone else; in the
meditative state you grasp your uniqueness. What we do following
meditation does not normally generate negative karma, because we are
emerging from a zone of purity and perfect knowledge. “With perfect
meditation comes perfect act,” says The Bhagavad-Gita.
The book repeatedly comments that the enlightened person is the
same in success or failure, is not swayed by the winds of event or emotion.
It is a manual on how to achieve steadiness, which ironically
comes from appreciating the ephemeral nature of life and the relentless
movement of time. Though the universe may be in a constant state of
flux, we can train our mind to be a rare fixed point. The book is a brilliant
antidote to the feelings of smallness and insignificance that can
swamp even the most confident in modern life.
Final comments
Those prejudiced against religious books as “mystical rubbish” may be
shocked to discover that The Bhagavad-Gita is one of the great works
on the sovereignty of the mind.
God tells Arjuna:
“I have given thee words of vision and wisdom more secret than hidden
Ponder them in the silence of thy soul, and then in freedom do thy
Even though God is all powerful, man has free will. The Gita has delivered
this message with force across the ages because, perhaps ironically,
it is done through poetry, the language of the heart.
This is a perfect self-help book because it is not scholarly or complicated
but remains a source of the most profound wisdom, offering a
path to steadiness of mind and joy in one’s work that could not be
more relevant amid the speed and pressure of life in the twenty-first
The Bible
“Thou shalt decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and
the light shall shine upon thy ways.” (Job 22:28)
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in
green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23)
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest,
whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are
of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think
on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
“I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”
(Philippians 4:13)
“He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he
increaseth strength.” (Isaiah 40:29)
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
“What things soever ye desire, when ye pray believe that ye receive
them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11.24)
In a nutshell
Love, faith, hope, the glory of God, the perfectibility of man.
In a similar vein
The Bhagavad-Gita (p30)
The Dhammapada (p 114)
The way people view the Bible usually falls into one of three categories:
a sacred religious text; a vast historical work; or a collection
of great stories. However, our attachment to these tired slots
can prevent us from seeing it anew as a collection of ideas, ones that
helped create our concept of what a human being might be.
It is easy to forget just how much the Old and New Testaments are
responsible for the world we live in today. In his book The Gifts of the
Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone
Thinks and Feels, Thomas Cahill wrote:
“Without the Bible we would never have known the abolitionist movement,
the prison-reform movement, the anti-war movement, the labor
movement, the civil rights movement, the movement of indigenous and
dispossessed peoples for their human rights, the anti-apartheid movement
in South Africa, the Solidarity movement in Poland, the freespeech
and pro-democracy movements in such Far Eastern countries as
South Korea, the Philippines, and even China. These movements of
modern times have all employed the language of the Bible.”
Perhaps the crucial change in the way we think was the idea of
progress. In the distant past time was invariably seen as cyclical; the
great creation stories were so important to these early cultures’ understanding
of themselves that little attention was paid to the future. The
idea that tomorrow could be better than today was alien. There were
many gods, but they were impersonal and capricious and none had any
particular vision for the human race.
This changed with the direct revelation of the commandments through
Moses on Mount Sinai. While this new singular God was to be feared,
He was a God who not only always had our best interests at heart, but
had a long-term vision for His people. He was the God who led the Jews
out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, who would work
through history in order to create his own ends—the God of progress.
Though we take it for granted today, this progressive worldview has
defined western culture and been adopted by nearly all non-western cultures
too. It is, as Cahill says above, the force behind all the great emancipation
movements that, often employing the language of the Book of
Exodus, grew out of the thought that “it does not have to be this way.”
This thought is also the light that guides most of the self-help literature.
The power of love
If the Old Testament has been the inspiration for groups through the millennia,
the New Testament became a symbol of personal salvation. The
Old was revolutionary because it put fresh emphasis on the individual, but
the New took this to its logical extreme by saying that individuals could
not only change the world, but had a duty to do so. Its challenge to transform
the world in God’s image, using Jesus as the example, made it a
manual for active love. Again, a love that heals and creates—like
progress—is something totally taken for granted now. But as Andrew
Welburn put it in The Beginnings of Christianity: “Love is the revelation
of God to the individualised, self-conscious man, just as power and wise
order were the revelation of God to ancient, pre-self-conscious humanity.”
The Bible’s theme of the power of love marked a new era of
humankind. On his way to Damascus to help suppress the Christians,
Saul of Tarsus (who later became St. Paul) was “blinded by the light.”
This wonderful story of personal transformation illustrated the strange
new idea that love could be stronger than position or power.
The collections of deities that preceded the Judaic concept of one god
were mostly reflections of human desire. If you didn’t get what you
wanted, it was obvious that the gods were displeased with you. Moses’
God was more complicated, requiring the worshipper to have faith in
order to fashion His ends and demonstrate omnipotence. The Judaic
and Christian God became one not simply of creation and destruction,
but of co-creation.
Look at the story of Abraham: Told by God to go to a mountain to
make a sacrifice, he does so but realizes that the sacrifice will be his
only son. Amazingly, he is willing to go through with it. At the last
minute God has him replace the boy with a ram caught in a nearby
bush. Abraham’s success at this incredible test of faith is rewarded by
generations of his descendants living in prosperity.
Yet this was not simply a test of allegiance to God, and not just
about Abraham. Humanity itself had passed a test: we could choose no
longer to be animals quivering with fear, tied to the physical world, but
could reflect God in becoming beings with calm faith.
The Bible and individuality
Other religions and philosophies had seen the world either as an illusion
or a drama in which we played a role, but Christianity, by making
the individual the unit through which the world would develop and fulfill
its potential, made history important—it became the story of
humankind’s efforts to create heaven on earth.
Above all, Christianity freed believers from having to accept their lot
in life. It was profoundly egalitarian: Human beings were no longer captive
to other humans, nor to capricious gods, the “fates,” or the “stars.”
This emphasis gave people the groundbreaking idea that they could no
longer be defined by factors such as class, ethnicity, or lack of money.
The revolutionary opportunity of the Bible, particularly the New Testament,
was to see and understand the “incommunicable singularity of
being which all possess” (Teilhard de Chardin). While the broader vision
of the Bible is the creation of a community of humankind, it can only be
one in which each person has the opportunity to express this singularity
to the full. Whatever you think of him, this belief is what fired Pope
John Paul to be so strongly anti-communist—that was a system that was
willing to sacrifice a person’s uniqueness to some larger community.
Final comments
The Bible deserves to be seen with new eyes. We no longer have to see it
as being about original sin and sacrifice, or as spawning a heavy church
hierarchy and holy wars. We should be reminded of its simpler messages
of compassion and fulfillment and refinement of ourselves, a morality
requiring no imposition on others. Though fascinating as a historical
book with great stories, we should do the Bible justice by remembering
that it was the original manual for personal transformation.
Iron John
“The male in the past twenty years has become more thoughtful, more
gentle. But by this process he has not become more free. He’s a nice
boy who pleases not only his mother but also the young woman he is
living with.”
“The word special is important to the naïve man, and he has special relationships
with certain people. We all have some special relationships, but he
surrounds the special person with a cloying kind of goodwill. The relationship
is so special that he never examines the dark side of a person.”
“The Iron John story retains memories of initiation ceremonies for men
that go back ten or twenty thousand years in northern Europe. The Wild
Man’s job is to teach the young man how abundant, various, and
many-sided his manhood is. The boy’s body inherits physical abilities
developed by long-dead ancestors, and his mind inherits spiritual and
soul powers developed centuries ago.”
In a nutshell
Through old stories we can resurrect the ancient and deep power of
the masculine.
In a similar vein
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (p68)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves (p132)
Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (p216)
Robert Bly
Robert Bly is a well-respected American poet. How did he come to
write a self-help bestseller? Bly had been giving talks on mythology
to supplement his income, and found that the Brothers
Grimm tale “Iron John” hit a nerve with men. His resulting book
about this age-old story helped establish the men’s movement, and his
seminars inspired its drum-beating, tree-hugging stereotype.
The modern man
In early seminars, Bly asked men to re-enact a scene from The Odyssey,
in which Odysseus is instructed to lift his sword as he approaches the
symbol of matriarchal energy, Circe. Peace-loving men were unable to
lift the sword, so fixed were they on the idea of not hurting anyone.
These were men who had come of age during the Vietnam war, and
they wanted nothing to do with a manhood that, to feel its aliveness,
required an enemy. In place of the single-mindedness of the 1950s
male, they had receptivity to different viewpoints and agendas.
The world is a much better place for these “soft males”—they are
lovely human beings, Bly admits—but such harmony-minded men are
also distinguished by their unhappiness, caused by passivity. Bly tried to
teach them that flashing a sword didn’t necessarily mean that you were
a warmonger, but that you could show “a joyful decisiveness.”
Iron John is about taking men back, through myth and legend, to
the source of their masculinity, and finding a middle path between the
greater awareness of the “sensitive new age guy” and the power and
vitality of the warrior.
The story
The Iron John story has been around in one form or another for thousands
of years. In a nutshell: A hunter answers a challenge from the king
to go to a part of the forest from which men don’t normally return. The
hunter goes into the forest and his dog is taken by a hand that shoots out
of a lake. Slowly draining the lake with a bucket, he finds at the bottom
a hairy wild man, who is taken back to the town castle and imprisoned.
The king’s son is playing with a golden ball when it accidentally rolls
into the cage holding the wild man. At length, the prince does a deal in
which he gets the ball back, but only after he has released the hairy man
in the cage. This deal marks the beginning of the boy’s manhood: He is
willing to separate himself from his parents and retrieve his “golden ball”
(that alive feeling of youth) through discovering his masculine energy.
Who or what is a wild man?
Bly makes an important distinction between the wild man and the savage
man. The savage is the type who wrecks the environment, abuses
women, and so on, his inner desperation being pushed out on to the
world as a disregard or hatred of others. The wild man has been prepared
to examine where it is he hurts; because of this he is more like a
Zen priest or a shaman than a savage. The wild man is masculinity’s
highest expression, the savage man its lowest.
A civilized man tries to incorporate his wildness into a larger self.
When the prince in the story risks all and goes into the forest with the
wild man, the parents simply think that their boy has been taken by the
devil; in fact it is a profound initiation, an awakening. Bly’s message is
that the modern obsession with making childhood a cocoon of light
closes children off to sources of power. Addictions and psychological
disorders mirror society’s inability to accommodate the “dark side.”
Bly believes that New Age thinking about harmony and higher consciousness
holds a dangerous attraction to naïve men. Mythology beckons
us to enter fully into life, with all its blood and tears; the way we
achieve full realization of ourselves is to focus on “one precious thing”
(an idea, a person, a quest, a question) and the decision to follow it at
any cost is the sign of maturity. When we make a clear choice, the king
inside us awakens and our powers are finally released.
Re-awakening the warrior
Warrior energy, if not honored or channeled, ends up being expressed
as teen gang warfare, wife beating, paedophilia, and feelings of shame.
If used rightly, it can become a source of delight to everyone in its
refinement. How else, Bly asks, can we explain the unconscious admiration
for a glorious knight or a man in a starched white uniform and
medals? This image represents the civilization of warrior energy.
The author also calls for the warrior spirit and occasional “fierceness”
to be used in relationships. He quotes psychoanalyst Carl Jung,
who said that American marriages were “the saddest around because
the man reserved all his fighting for the office.” At home he was a
pussycat. Fierceness involves protecting what is rightfully yours, and
women want to know what a man’s boundaries are.
Coming to ground
A man may spend his twenties and thirties as a sort of “flying boy”; in
his imagination, nothing can hold him down. But for a man to be made
whole, there has to be something that rips him open, a wound that
allows his soul to enter. In many myths, a wild animal gets close
enough to a young man to gore his leg; in the Iron John story, it is a
knight who chases after the prince and stabs him in the leg. As he falls
off his horse, the golden hair he has hidden from everyone underneath
the helmet is revealed. Until then he has seemed two-dimensional.
Appreciation of pain and sorrow, Bly says, is as vital to a man’s potentiality
as is having the ability to soar through the air.
A hunger for the masculine
The male initiation ceremonies of all cultures form a deepening, a forced
discovery of the dark side. Women can’t initiate men. In many cultures,
a boy is taken from the women who have so far managed his life and
made to live among older men for a while. Modern society has few
structures for initiation, and boys can spend their teenage years prolonging
their freedom, manifested in wild behavior, rudeness to parents (particularly
the mother), and clothing and music that attract attention.
Millions of men have grown up with an environment of feminine
energy—which isn’t a problem in itself, but boys also need the masculine.
Men start to think more about their fathers as they get older, and
mythology has much to say about the heaviness of “entering the
father’s house,” leaving behind the expectation of lightness and comfort
to face grim reality. Bly says that Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for instance, is
an elaborate metaphor for this process of moving from the mother’s
side to the father’s.
Colors of a life
In Iron John the prince, disguised as a knight, rides a red then a white
then a black horse. These colors have a logical symbolic progression in
relation to a man’s life: The “redness” of his emotions and unbridled
sexuality in younger years; the “whiteness” of work and living according
to law; and the “blackness” of maturity in which compassion and
humanity have the chance to flower.
Bly comments that in the later years of his presidency, Lincoln was a
man in black. He had seen it all. No longer ruled by his emotions (red)
or some external set of principles or law (white), he had ceased to
blame and had developed a brilliant, philosophical sense of humor. You
tend to know a man who has begun to move into the black because he
is really trusted. There are no hidden corners, because he has fully
incorporated his shadow.
Final comments
Why has Bly’s retelling of a fairy tale appealed to millions of western
The Iron John story has been told around campfires for millennia.
Unfortunately, like an inheritance that lies uncollected, many men do
not know exactly what they have missed, but this book’s impact suggests
that many overdue claims for genuine masculinity are now being
made—and women and the rest of society will be better off for it too.
Men who may laugh at a book like this are probably those who
need it most. The most destructive types tend to be those with the least
developed powers of self-examination, and women should welcome any
efforts to revive a forceful, but non-destructive, spirit of masculinity.
What Iron John has done for men, Women Who Run with the Wolves
(Clarissa Pinkola Estés) has achieved for women, and is highly
Iron John bears reading twice or more, especially if you are unfamiliar
with mythology. This was Bly’s first book of prose, but it includes a
good selection of his excellent poems.
Robert Bly
Born in 1926 in Madison, Minnesota, to a farming family, Bly went to
Harvard for his BA and received an MA from the University of Iowa.
He is one of the most renowned living American poets, and has edited
a number of collected works, mentored many young poets, and made
non-English poetry more widely available through his translations. He
was a leader in the anti-Vietnam war movement.
Since Iron John Bly has written other mainstream books, including
The Sibling Society, which argues that we now live in an “adolescent”
culture, and The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine,
with self-help author Marion Woodman. His most recent work is
Eating the Honey of Words, a “best-of” collection of his poetry from
the last three decades with some new material. He lives in Minnesota.
The Consolation of
6th century
“Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at last
cease to admire worthless things.”
“…lack of self-knowledge is natural in other living creatures, but in
humans is a moral blemish.”
“So although the general picture may seem to you mortals one of confusion
and turmoil because you are totally unable to visualize this order
of things, all of them none the less have their own pattern, which orders
and directs them towards the good.”
“’This is why,’ she went on, ‘the wise man ought not to chafe whenever
he is locked in conflict with Fortune, just as it is unfitting for the
courageous man to be resentful when the din of battle resounds. For
each of them the difficulty offers the opportunity; for the courageous
man it is the chance of extending his fame, and for the wise man the
chance of lending substance to his wisdom.’”
In a nutshell
No matter what happens to you, you always have freedom of mind.
In a similar vein
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (p22)
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (p138)
It is difficult to overestimate the place of The Consolation of Philosophy
in the self-help canon. Though Boethius is not a household name
today, for over a millennium in the Christian West his work was second
only to the Bible in popularity.
Boethius’ life was one of incredible privilege. Born Anicius Manlius
Severinus Boethius into an aristocratic family in the late Roman Empire,
he was adopted by the statesman Symmachus, whose daughter he married.
Groomed for power, he received the best education and was made
Consul while still in his late twenties. As well as being a pillar of the
Roman Senate and society, he was esteemed as a scholar, making translations
and commentaries of Aristotle that would keep alive the classical
tradition through the Middle Ages. But his aim to translate all the
works of Plato and Aristotle and to harmonize their ideas into one work
would never be fulfilled. For Boethius lived in interesting times.
The Roman Empire had metamorphosed into “Christendom,” split
between East (Constantinople) and West (Ravenna). While he maintained
most of the old Roman institutions, the ruler of Italy was now not a
Roman, but a “barbarian,” the Ostrogoth Theodoric. Boethius was
appointed Master of Offices in Theodoric’s court, a sort of chief-of-staff
who could smooth relations between the Senate and the new regime.
However, a court intrigue saw Theodoric accuse Boethius of treason and,
despite assertions of innocence, he was sentenced to death by torture.
The life that had previously had everything now lay in ruins. How
could his beloved philosophy help him now? This awful predicament
made him uniquely suited to answer the question, and it was on death
row that The Consolation was written.
The wheel of Fortune
The book begins when a despondent prisoner in his cell (whom we take
to be Boethius himself) is visited by an apparition, Lady Philosophy.
Having heard the prisoner rail against the injustice of his situation, Philosophy
begins reasoned arguments on why he should not blame Fortune.
Fortune comes and goes as she chooses, and therefore should never
be depended on. The prisoner has associated “happiness” with his high
position, public esteem, and wealth, but Philosophy argues that these
things cannot be the real source of happiness if they have led him to
where he sits now. If one is to depend on Fortune, one should expect
her departure as much as her arrival, just as seasons come and go. In
his rage, Boethius has forgotten how the world is ordered.
And how is it ordered? Philosophy gets the prisoner to agree that
the highest good we can seek is God, and that our pursuit of external
things including fame, wealth, or power are de facto graspings for this
source of true happiness. Unlike Fortune, God is unchanging and is
accessed through looking inward. Paradoxically, the person who seeks
to know God attains self-knowledge.
Still somewhat despondent, the prisoner complains that the wicked
often win out over the good. However, Philosophy questions this, noting
that if the wicked achieve their ends they become as animals,
whereas if the good succeed they rise above being human to the level of
gods. So evil can never really win, since “success” in evil does not lead
anywhere, whereas all attempts at good take us higher.
Fate and Providence
The book builds up to even bigger questions concerning Providence
and free will. Told that there is no chance in the universe, that Providence
orders everything perfectly, the prisoner rightly demands: “How
then do humans have free will?” Philosophy explains that “God sees in
the present the future events which proceed from free choice.” God
knows what will happen if you make a particular choice, but does not
interfere in the choice made, unless asked for guidance.
The prisoner learns that whereas Providence effortlessly organizes
the universe as a whole, Fate concerns the movement of individual
beings within time. Those who are closer to God live in greater accord
with Providence and can therefore depend on it for help; those who
believe they are on their own are wholly tied to their fate and are—
again paradoxically—in lesser control of their destiny. Those who
appreciate stillness know the mind of Providence; those who apprehend
nothing but turmoil and chaos can only see the harshness of Fate.
Meaning from misery
Philosophy tries to show Boethius that there is no better person than
he, who had enjoyed wealth, power, fame, and all the advantages of
high birth, to be forced to consider the ultimate worth of material
things. These are no protection against what has befallen him, and in
fact set him up for his fate. In his last days, writing as “the prisoner,”
he sees his life in perspective. His achievements, he realizes, are not as
important as the self-knowledge he is now gaining.
It dawns on Boethius that his life thus far has been about the power
of mastery, or willful self-creation. In the course of the year in prison
he replaces the mastery fixation of the adolescent/adult with an appreciation
of the universe’s unity and oneness; he transforms himself from
grasping politician to wise elder. Comforted by Philosophy, even a
death as horrible as his is put into perspective.
Impact of The Consolation
The Consolation inspired Dante, Chaucer, and Aquinas, and was rendered
into English by both King Alfred (9th century) and Elizabeth I
(16th century). At a general level, the book helped to inspire the piety
and introspection that we now associate with the Middle Ages.
Boethius’ desire to enlighten the broader public is expressed in the
form in which The Consolation is written, through the interleaving of
prose and poetry known as Menippean satire, which until then had
been a popular and light-hearted literary style. The book was designed
to seduce the reader into accepting its arguments through the provision
of delight as much as solace, and this it does. P. S. Walsh’s translation
brilliantly captures the intent of the book.
Final comments
Though Boethius was one of the great intellects of his time, his book is
above all a personal work that speaks directly to the reader in whatever
age, offering instant advice, solace, and inspiration. Its central question
of free will may at first seem too intellectual, but in fact it is pivotal to
the whole self-help ethic, for being free of mind even when you are not
physically free, which Boethius achieves, is the essence of maturity. The
Consolation is one of the most in-depth discussions of the nature of
happiness you are ever likely to read.
How Proust Can
Change Your Life
“Though Proust never liked it, and referred to it variously as ‘unfortunate’
[1914], ‘misleading’ [1915] and ‘ugly’ [1917], In Search of Lost
Time had the advantage of pointing directly enough to a central theme
of the novel: a search for the causes behind the dissipation and loss of
time. Far from a memoir tracing the passage of a more lyrical age, it
was a practical, universally applicable story about how to stop wasting
and begin appreciating one’s life.”
“Though philosophers have traditionally been concerned with the
pursuit of happiness, far greater wisdom would seem to lie in pursuing
ways to be properly and productively unhappy. The stubborn
recurrence of misery means that the development of a workable
approach to it must surely outstrip the value of any utopian quest for
In a nutshell
Appreciate the rich experience of life, despite circumstances.
Low expectations make for pleasant surprises.
In a similar vein
Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (p216)
Alain de Botton
The father of the Proust family was an esteemed professor of hygiene
who wrote countless scholarly papers and traveled widely. The son
also became a doctor, financially successful and fond of sports, so
robust that he had once been run over by a cart and horses and lived.
Then there was the other son, a sickly aesthete who lived off his parents’
money and could not even keep a simple library job. In his healthier
times, he was to be seen at the Paris opera or giving dinner parties.
Only after both his parents had died was he ready to make something
of his life, and he was in his mid-30s by the time he settled down to
write; it would then be years before he would receive any recognition.
As Alain de Botton relates it, Proust expressed to his maid what must
have seemed a forlorn hope: “Ah, Celeste, if I could be sure of doing as
much with my books my father did for the sick.”
Given the fame that we know would later greet Proust, it seems a
little ridiculous to have held such low hopes. Yet in de Botton’s eyes,
the remark encapsulates the meaning of Proust’s work: The writer did
honestly seek to emulate his father’s success, and also as a healer. De
Botton’s book goes beyond the literary merits of a masterpiece (In
Search of Lost Time) to unveil its therapeutic power, making us see that
it was by this that Proust would ultimately have wanted to be judged.
The purposes of pain
Proust was interested in putting suffering to good use; for him this was
“the whole art of living.” Noting that philosophers have traditionally
been in pursuit of theories of happiness, in Proust de Botton finds a
substantially more useful form of life advice: Instead of seeking to
make our lives a sort of Disneyland of fulfilled aspirations, it is better
to find ways in which we can be “productively unhappy.”
Suffering always seems to surprise us, when maybe it shouldn’t.
Many of the characters in Proust’s writing are bad sufferers, employing
defense mechanisms against facing up to their “issues,” making them
insufferable people. The good sufferer sees the bitter logic in what he
or she is feeling, knowing that matters inevitably lose their emotional
intensity, leaving residues of wisdom.
The art of living, as Proust understood it, is not about a great
lifestyle, but about locating worth and meaning despite your circumstances,
rather than through them. Seen this way, productive unhappiness
turns out to be quite a good way to approach life.
How to win friends… and still keep your place in history
Proust had lots of friends who loved him dearly and several wrote
glowing memoirs of their time with him. De Botton shows us just how
the writer came to enjoy such veneration.
First of all, he did not believe that friendship was an opportunity to
bare one’s soul to another, even if the other person was interested in
hearing what you had to say. Indeed, to keep a friend and to get the
most out of their personality, you had to let them do the talking. Proust
was loved perhaps because he was such a great listener. Secondly, he
believed that friendships should be light-hearted and non-intellectual—
conversation was an opportunity to amuse the other person and to
make them feel special.
All of this might be taken direct from the Dale Carnegie book of
interpersonal relations, and in fact Proust’s friends invented the verb
Proustify, to give abundant attention and praise. However, there is
more to it than this: De Botton insightfully shows how Proust deliberately
excised “truth” and the intellect from the friendship equation,
allowing him to express his laser-like powers of analysis in his writing—
thereby keeping his friends.
The message we can glean from this master of friendship is to have
lower expectations of your friends, and generally not to depend on
other people for your happiness. Get a grip on your deeper passion or
love (which is usually not a person but a thing that cries out for fulfillment
or pursuit—in Proust’s case, writing) and live according to it. The
satisfaction this gives will put friendship and other relationships into
their proper perspective.
How to get a life (that is not like anyone else’s)
If the doctor told you that you had a week to live, the world would
seem wonderful, a miracle. How is it that in the normal state of affairs
we can so easily get depressed, bored, or completely fed up? Proust
believed that these latter feelings, while quite normal, were a mistake in
perception. The narrator in his book goes to the seaside hoping to see a
stormy, dark coastline with wailing seabirds, but instead finds a regular
resort town. Nevertheless his painter friend Elstir, by pointing out simple
things like the whiteness of a woman’s cotton dress in the sun, is
able to retrieve the narrator’s appreciation of beauty.
For many, the word “Proust” conjures up images of untouchable
intellectuality and refinement, writing that can take us back to a
Parisian golden age when life was somehow grander and richer. De Botton
tells us how wrong this view is. The irony of his homage to Proust
is that it contains a warning not to love the French writer too much.
We should not bother to visit the town of Combray where he spent
some of his childhood summers, trying to see what he saw; rather, the
object of reading him is to come away with a heightened sense of perception
that can be employed wherever you are and in whatever time
you live. To wish we had lived in Proust’s time, with its madeleine
cakes, horse carriages, and banquets, is a crime committed against the
possibilities of the present.
At one level, Proust’s work is about appreciating the moment, the tiny
details of life. He wanted us to feel the luxury of time, to revel in it,
and his writing style famously reflects his obsession. If a sentence could
be understood to be a moment in words, he sought to prolong those
moments; if something was worth writing about, it was worth doing so
at length. De Botton refers us to one sentence that in standard font
would run to four meters, or stretch around a bottle of wine 17 times!
At another level, Proust lived in quiet disregard of time. A la
recherche du temps perdu has often been translated as Remembrance of
Things Past, and indeed a popular picture of Proust’s work is that it is
a resurrection of the forgotten for sentiment’s sake. The impression that
De Botton gives us, however, is that this masterpiece is not “about” the
past at all; rather, like all great novelists Proust used the past to
describe a vision of how things are separate to time. Events are in the
past, but the deep understanding of people, of love, and of life that
Proust provides is not tied to time. De Botton was inspired to write his
book because of this very timelessness in Proust.
Final comments
Does the seven-volume, million-and-a-quarter-word In Search of Lost
Time, considered by many the greatest book of the twentieth century,
really have anything to do with self-help? The suggestion that it does
has enraged some Proust devotees, because Art is not to be cheapened
by suggestions of practical therapeutic value. Though the book has an
élitist and cultured image, Proust once said that the readers he sought
were “the sort of people who buy a badly printed volume before catching
a train.” As De Botton has it, Proust did not write so that he could
receive recognition as a literary maestro, but for his own redemption. If
it had helped him, maybe it would help others.
How Proust Can Change Your Life is not merely a homage to a person
but a tribute—even if intended ironically—to the ethic of self-help.
Its great service is to have given those people who may never actually
read the French genius his essential philosophy. A Proustian understanding
of life, in all its complexity and subtlety, is now an option for
readers who may never have bothered to look beyond the clear-cut,
rosy answers of a Stephen Covey or an Anthony Robbins.
De Botton, and through him Proust, will have succeeded if the people
who might normally read books about “time management” can be
moved to consider the nature of time itself.
Alain de Botton
De Botton grew up in Switzerland, went to England’s Harrow School,
and has a degree from the University of Cambridge. He is only in his
early 30s but his work has already been translated into 16 languages.
Other books include Essays in Love (1993), The Romantic Movement
(1994), Kiss and Tell (1995) and The Art of Travel (2002). The Consolations
of Philosophy (2000) was adapted for a British Channel 4 television
series, in which the author applied the thoughts of Socrates,
Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche to everyday
De Botton lives in London, where he is an Associate Research Fellow
of the Philosophy Programme of the University of London School
of Advanced Study.
Transitions: Making
Sense of Life’s Changes
“Throughout nature, growth involves periodic accelerations and transformations:
things go slowly for a time and nothing seems to happen—
until suddenly the eggshell cracks, the branch blossoms, the tadpole’s
tail shrinks away, the leaf falls, the bird molts, the hibernation begins.
With us it is the same. Although the signs are less clear than in the world
of feather and leaf, the function of transition times are the same.”
“Whether you chose your change or not, there are unlived potentialities
within you, interests and talents that you have not yet explored.
Transitions clear the ground for new growth. They drop the curtain so
the stage can be set for a new scene. What is it, at this point in your
life, that is waiting quietly backstage for an entrance cue?”
In a nutshell
All life transitions have a pattern, which if acknowledged will make
tough times more comprehensible.
In a similar vein
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
Robert Bly, Iron John (p40)
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (p68)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves (p132)
Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (p216)
William Bridges
William Bridges only reluctantly started writing this book
when he was going through a period of change himself and
found that there were no guides to transition. To his surprise,
Transitions found an immediate niche and has sold over a quarter
of a million copies. It is quietly passed from one person to another.
The depth of the book is that it is not just a manual on “how to
cope,” but gets us to see that the process of disorganization, death, and
renewal is fundamental to nature and a central theme in mythology.
Rather than stability, this cycle is the natural state of affairs. We all
intuitively know this, but Bridges says that admitting it to yourself, and
looking more closely at the process, will make the inevitable times of
change easier to deal with.
The way of transition
One of the interesting things about transition is the way it descends on
us unexpectedly. Many women and couples have a hard time dealing
with the loss of time and freedom that accompanies a newborn baby in
their lives, for example. Before they can enjoy the marvel of the child,
they have to deal with the ending of their old, less restricted life.
A man came to one of Bridges’ group meetings on dealing with life
transitions who had recently received a big promotion. His family were
now getting everything they had wanted, but psychologically he was
finding it hard to deal with. Why? We all have our patterns of living
and in a way it doesn’t really matter whether we were happy with them
or not—when they change there is a loss. Even a musician toiling away
in small clubs for years who suddenly finds herself a star or a lottery
winner will need a time of adjustment.
The morale is: Focus less on whether an event is good or bad, but
whether or not it involves an important change of life for you. And
don’t be worried if the event seems relatively inconsequential; it may
merely be the most obvious symbol of change, when there are deeper
rumblings in the psychological ground beneath.
The only constant is change
It can be useful to see transition within the context of a larger life journey.
Many social scientists see age 30 as a key turning point, a moving
from youth to real adulthood, where in the past this point was 21. Men
come to Bridges and say, “I seem to be entering old age and have
barely got out of adolescence!” The fact is that transitions happen
throughout our life and don’t necessarily correspond to a set age.
Bridges discusses the myth of Odysseus and his long journey home
through many trials and tribulations. Though a great leader, Odysseus
found that he had to unlearn many of the ways he had dealt with life in
the past. One of the messages of transition is that we can’t be the same
person doing the same thing all our life. When you are young you
imagine that from age 30 until death life is one unbroken plain of stability.
However this is rarely so, and if life seems too settled you either
choose to make changes or have them forced on you.
Following is a rough outline of Bridges’ three stages of transition,
which follow the “rites of passage” identified by anthropologists and
evident in the most tribal rituals.
To have a new beginning you need to acknowledge an ending. It is universal
practice among traditional peoples that when one of their number
is about to undergo an inner transition they are taken out of their
normal daily life. In our times of change we may feel this need for disengagement
from our normal experience.
This can be followed by a sense of disidentification, when we don’t
know quite what know who we are any more. The old motivations are
gone. Another stage is disenchantment, the point when we realize that
how we saw the world was not a very good reflection of reality after
all. This can be the first stage of transition, but also the last, as it flattens
the ground for a new beginning and way of seeing the world.
We all have different styles when it comes to coping with an ending,
but each ending may reawaken old hurts or feelings of shame. If you
were made to feel unworthy as a child, each seeming failure in later life
will bring acute pain as you are reminded of perceived unworthiness.
Although they sometimes feel like it, endings are not the end of us. In
tribal cultures they are ritualized so that the person sees an ending not
as something final, but as a necessary stage to bring new life.
The neutral zone
We usually want to escape as quickly as possible from this uncomfortable
time after the shock of an ending. It could, however, be one of the
most valuable times in your life, when because you have been “broken
open” you are also ready to consider other ways of being and doing.
Bridges has some suggestions for your time in limbo:
1 Make sure that you find time to be alone. Welcome the emptiness.
Go somewhere with few distractions where you can do literally
nothing, but don’t expect any great revelations. The point is to pay
attention to your dreams and thoughts.
2 Keep a diary or log of your neutral-zone experiences, or write your
autobiography. Give yourself the chance to “rewrite” your life story.
3 Try to discover what you really want, what your purpose for living
may be. If your life ended today, what you do feel you should have
done by now?
Many of the great figures of history (St. Paul, Mohammed, Dante,
Buddha) saw the need to “go into the woods” or the desert. Your
intention may not be to save the world, but be reassured that humans
have been going into retreat, and needing to do so, for thousands of
New beginnings
How do we know when the neutral zone can be left behind? When do
we make our great new start? Beginnings can often only be seen in
retrospect—they don’t seem impressive at the time. We meet someone
who ends up being our spouse at a party we didn’t want to go to, we
happen to open a book at a friend’s place that changes us for ever.
When we are ready to move on, opportunities will appear and it will
be an exciting time. But be easy on yourself and maintain at least some
form of continuity with your old life. Fresh with your insights from
limbo time, don’t be too disheartened if things don’t move as quickly as
you would like. Bridges recalls the Zen saying, “After enlightenment,
the laundry.”
Final comments
If you have experienced a significant transition, whether it be a divorce,
going back to university, or starting a new career, a common feeling is
that you are going “back to square one,” that all the previous years
have been wasted. You are likely to think, “Maybe I should have
stayed doing what I was doing—it wasn’t that bad, was it?”
Hopefully, Bridges’ book can be a support and a motivator, because
it shows us that transition is not the end of everything but a cyclical
process whose ultimate reward is a sense of direction much clearer than
you have had before. The author quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, who
said, “Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.” If you can
become skilled at getting through difficult periods, you will feel much
more confident to cope with life generally.
This classic may not seem attractive right now, but try to remember
it when you next start to feel that a period of stability is coming to a
William Bridges
Formerly a professor of English, Bridges shifted to the field of transition
management in the mid-1970s. He now works as a consultant and
lecturer, developing transition strategies for large companies such as
Intel, Apple, and Shell.
Other books include the bestsellers Jobshift, Creating You & Co,
and Managing Transitions. His most recent work, The Way of Transition,
was written in response to the loss of his wife, Mondi. He lives in
Mill Valley, California.
Feeling Good: The
New Mood Therapy
“You don’t have to be seriously depressed to derive great benefits from
these new methods. We can all benefit from a mental ‘tune-up’ from
time to time. This book will show you exactly what to do when you
feel down in the dumps.”
“What is the key to releasing yourself from your emotional prison?
Simply this: Your thoughts create your emotions; therefore, your
emotions cannot prove that your thoughts are accurate. Unpleasant
feelings merely indicate that you are thinking something negative and
believing it. Your emotions follow your thoughts just as surely as baby
ducks follow their mother.”
In a nutshell
Feelings are not facts. Always question whether your emotions
accurately reflect reality.
In a similar vein
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (p154)
Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism (p264)
David D. Burns
Feeling Good grew out of dissatisfaction with the conventional
Freudian treatment of depression. Aaron T. Beck, David Burns’
mentor, found that there was no empirical evidence for the success
of psychoanalysis in treating depressed people; in fact, the patient
is generally made to feel like a loser. Freud believed that if a patient
admitted to deep faults, they were probably correct!
Beck’s experience with the depressed showed a contradiction
between their present opinion of themselves and their actual achievements;
their protestations of “I am worthless” simply did not make
sense to the observer. He concluded that depression was the result of
wrong thinking. Negative or incorrect thoughts spiral a person into the
full set of depressive symptoms, which then tend to compound the condition.
This insight laid the basis for cognitive therapy, which gets
patients to “talk themselves out of” depression, rebutting their own
thoughts until they become free of distorted self-perceptions.
The research created a wave of interest that made the cognitive
approach into a pillar of modern depression treatment, along with
drugs and other forms of psychotherapy.
The Feeling Good story
David Burns was part of the team at Beck’s Center for Cognitive
Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Feeling Good was the
popular outcome of its clinical treatment and research. Though
obviously not so new now, Feeling Good is still a superb introduction
to the cognitive therapy way of beating the blues, and continues to be a
If you want a more clinical approach to personal development and
mood mastery than the average self-help book, it should not disappoint
(US mental health professionals rated it No. 1 out of a list of 1,000
books for self-help depression treatment). The graphs, tables, and
imaginary patient–doctor scripts might be a little off-putting to some
readers, but it is easy to skip over these.
Feeling Good is not simply an anti-depression manual, however. It
has sold three million copies because it also trains you to sail the more
mundane seas of daily mood and emotion. Just as Seligman’s classic
Learned Optimism originated in research into learned helplessness, so
the quest of Drs Beck and Burns to learn about the “black bile” of
depression resulted in a book that shows you how to cultivate its
opposite: joy, and the self-mastery that engineers it.
We look more closely below at some of the main points in the
Demystifying depression
❖ Throughout the history of psychiatry, depression has been an emotional
disorder. The cognitive view is that an intellectual error
creates or worsens the depressive illness. Depression is one illness
that we do not have to have.
❖ Negative thoughts have a snowball effect. Just one can lead into a
mild case of the blues, which in turn expands into a fog of general
distorted perception, in which everything looks bad or lacks meaning.
When someone is depressed their worthlessness, expressed in
terms of the four “Ds” of defeated, defective, deserted, and
deprived, seems to be the absolute truth. Depressed patients actually
lose the ability to think clearly, and the worse the depression, the
greater the distortion. When thinking is clear and has a sense of perspective,
it is impossible not to have a healthy level of self-esteem
and confidence.
❖ Burns makes a distinction between genuine sadness and depression.
The former is a part of being human, enlarges our experience of life,
and brings self-knowledge. The latter suffocates us by closing our
view of life’s possibilities.
Feelings are not facts
❖ We tend to believe that our emotions reflect a self-evident truth that
is beyond question. Emotions fool us into thinking that they are
“right,” and bad feelings about ourselves or our abilities seem
unchallengeable. We are told to “trust our feelings.” But if the
thoughts feeding them are not rational, or are based on misconception
or prejudice, trusting our feelings is a very risky thing to do.
❖ Burns employs this analogy: “Your emotions follow your thoughts
just as surely as baby ducks follow their mother. But the fact that
the baby ducks follow faithfully along doesn’t prove that the mother
knows where she is going.” Emotions are almost the last thing we
should trust, because “feelings are not facts.”
❖ Does “feeling great” prove that you are a particularly worthy person?
If the answer is no, then feeling bad does not, logically, say
anything about your true worth. “Your feelings do not determine
your worth, simply your relative state of comfort or discomfort,”
Burns says. Not surprisingly, he counsels never to label yourself with
terms like “worthless” or “contemptible.” We are not set things that
can be judged like that; each person is an evolving, flowing phenomenon
that defies easy judgments. Some aspect of our behavior
might be no good, but it makes no logical sense to take an opinion
about our behavior and turn it into a larger judgment about our
basic self.
How to develop a low IQ (“Irritability Quotient”)
❖ The two regular approaches to anger and irritability are turning
anger inward, where it corrodes from inside and leads to depression
and apathy; and expression, or “letting it all out.”
❖ Expression can sometimes be effective, is simplistic, and may even
get you into trouble. The cognitive approach transcends both by virtually
eliminating the need to deal with anger, because there is very
little of it around in the first place. However, first you must have the
realization that it is “hot thoughts,” rather than events, that create
your anger. Even if something happens that by any normal standards
is bad, you should still be able to choose your response, rather than
being prey to automatic or uncontrollable reactions. If you are
angry, it is because you have chosen to be.
❖ Would you like to overcome your fear of criticism? Even more, to be
able to talk back when criticized, in a cool, non-defensive way? This
ability would have a tremendous impact on your self-perception.
Criticism may be right or wrong, or somewhere in between, but one
way to find out clearly is to ask the critic questions. Be specific, even
if what was said was harsh and personal. This will reveal either the
truth in what has been said, giving you the opportunity to rectify
your behavior, or that the person is talking out of anger, in which
case you will know that the criticism was an expression of their own
frustration rather than a real criticism of you. Either way, there is no
need for a negative emotional reaction on your part. You are left in
the position where you can either use the criticism or dismiss it and
get on with things. You also defuse the wrath of the critic.
❖ Much anger is defensiveness against loss of self-esteem. However, by
learning to control your angry feelings your self-esteem stays on an
even keel, as you refuse to turn every situation into an emotional
one. As Burns says: “You rarely need your anger in order to be
human.” Controlling your feelings does not turn you into a robot,
but on the contrary gives you vastly more energy for living life and
enjoying it.
Rest of the book
❖ There are excellent chapters on guilt, overcoming the “approval
addiction” and the “love addiction,” work (“Your work is not your
worth”), the value of aiming low (“Dare to be average! Ways to
overcome perfectionism”), and “How to beat ‘do-nothingism.’”
❖ Perhaps surprisingly, the book’s last chapter looks at the chemical
treatment of depression (for example Prozac). Used simultaneously
with cognitive therapy, drugs often work because they enable a person
to think more rationally, and from that base cognitive therapy is
likely to have more effect.
Final comments
You may believe that mood swings and self-defeating behavior are a
natural part of being human. The amazing thing about Feeling Good is
that it not only shatters this myth but shows how easily they can be
prevented by deploying simple but effective principles and techniques.
Most depression is usually only a case of having fallen into a rut and
having forgotten the original purpose trigger. Where before you may
have thought “These are important deep feelings I have to deal with,”
now you can see them for what they really are: a waste of your time.
Emotional mastery is not about turning yourself into a robot, but
about increasing your humanity. The significance of Feeling Good is
that it blazed a trail for successful titles like Emotional Intelligence and
Learned Optimism, which have collectively attempted to reinstall reason
as the monarch that unites and rules over emotional territory.
David D. Burns
Burns attended Amherst College and received his MD from Stanford
University. He completed his psychiatric training at the University of
Pennsylvania, where he was Acting Chief of Psychiatry of the Medical
Center. He has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Medical School and
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University School
of Medicine, where he received a “Teacher of the Year” award from
graduating residents in 1998. He lectures to professional groups around
the world.
As well as the successful spin-off Feeling Good Handbook, Burns
has published Love Is Never Enough on relationships and Ten Days to
The Power of Myth
“MOYERS: Do you ever have this sense when you are following your
bliss, as I have at moments, of being helped by hidden hands?
CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition
that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the
time—namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a
kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the
life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you
can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your
bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t
be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going
to be.”
In a nutshell
Always do what you love and appreciate your life as a wonderful
In a similar vein
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
James Hillman, The Soul’s Code (p170)
Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (p216)
Carol S. Pearson, The Hero Within (p234)
Joseph Campbell
with Bill Moyers
This is a red-blooded book from a man who lived a very full life.
Campbell was essentially a storyteller, spending his days uncovering
and telling old stories and myths that he felt had the power to
soak up the alienation of modern life. Though a respected academic
mythologist, he also played a key role in the creation of a definitive
modern tale, Star Wars. Director George Lucas said that Campbell’s
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) was the catalyst in dreaming
up the film, and that the inspiration for Yoda, the ancient and wise
one, was Campbell himself.
Yet Campbell should not have been too ironic about his life taking
on mythical proportions, since one of his key ideas was that everyone’s
life could resemble a great myth. His idea of the “hero’s journey” has
had a huge impact, launching many an unassuming person on a great
The Power of Myth is a sort of campfire dialog between Campbell and
writer/journalist Bill Moyers, covering the stories and symbols of civilization.
Filmed for a television series at George Lucas’s Skywalker ranch, the
series caught the American public’s imagination and the book became a
bestseller. Campbell did not live very long after the taping, and The
Power of Myth became a final snapshot of his wisdom and knowledge.
The power of myth
Campbell’s big question was: “How can myth be powerful for a person
living today?” Are our lives really comparable to the likes of Odysseus
or the goddess Artemis?
He believed that mythical characters act as archetypes of human
possibility: They are confronted with problems and their ensuing action
gives us an idea about how life might be handled. To identify ourselves
with, for instance, the young warrior Arjuna in The Bhagavad-Gita is
not an inflation of our ego, but an acceptance that this figure has something
to teach us. In mythology we could never really feel alone, for
within it were guides for the human spirit belonging to everyone, providing
a map for every cycle of life or experience through which we
may go. He called mythology “the song of the universe,” put into tune
by a thousand different cultures and peoples. With myth, all experience
can be empowering; without it, life can seem merely a meaningless
series of ups and downs.
We don’t look to myth to find the meaning of life, Campbell said, its
purpose is to make us appreciate “the adventure of being alive.” Without
some sense of ourselves within a larger history of human imagination
and experience, our life would inevitably lack romance and depth.
The stories and imagery that we have in our heads are only a tiny fraction
of what is available to us and, in increasing our knowledge of past
culture and art, life is enriched immeasurably.
Following your bliss
In The Power of Myth Campbell talked about the medieval idea of the
wheel of fortune, a metaphor for life that has had us in its thrall for
millennia. The wheel has a hub, radiating out to its rim. As it turns
through time, we hang on to its rim, either going up or down, experiencing
the great highs and lows. In modern terms, chasing rewards like
a higher salary or power or beautiful bodies is rim hanging. We hang
on, sometimes for dear life, in this relentless cycle of pleasure and pain.
The wheel of fortune idea nevertheless contains its own solution: the
possibility of learning to live at the hub, centered, focusing on what
Campbell called one’s “bliss.” Our bliss is an activity, work, or passion
with the power to fascinate endlessly. It is unique to us, yet may come
as a total surprise, and we may resist it for years. In modern psychological
phraseology, bliss is the state of “flow” (see Csikszentmihalyi) that
we experience when we are doing what we are best at; time seems to
stand still and we feel effortlessly creative. Here is joy, as distinct from
merely pleasure.
Campbell portrayed bliss as the track that has always been waiting
for you, with “hidden hands” seeming to help you attract the right circumstances
for the fulfillment of your work. In mythological terms,
bliss is represented by the cosmic mother, who guards an inexhaustible
well offering solace, joy, and protection from mundane life.
In another book, The Way of Myth, Campbell talked about the people
he had seen who had spent their lives climbing the “ladder of success,”
only to find that it was put up against the wrong wall. Kevin
Spacey’s character in the movie American Beauty is a portrayal of a man
whose whole life has been dictated by other people’s expectations, who
then decides to do what he wants. He has had enough of rim life. The
message of this film, and of the sum of Campbell’s writings, is that the
banality of your current life is always waiting to yield to a greater story.
The hero’s journey
Campbell’s voluminous reading was legendary. He came back from
Europe to the United States just a few weeks before the Wall Street
Crash and didn’t have a job for five years. Nevertheless it was a rich
time: “I didn’t feel poor. I just felt that I didn’t have any money.” His
bliss was basically reading every day, all day, in a shack rented for virtually
What began as a simple thirst for knowledge became a quest to find
“the key to all mythologies.” The more he read of the world’s stories,
the clearer it became that there was an underlying template that most
followed: the “hero’s journey,” a sequence of experiences that both
tests and proves the person-cum-hero.
Myths typically begin with the protagonist on home turf, living a
quiet but unfulfilled life. Then something happens and he or she gets
the “call” to leave on an adventure with some specific goal or quest. In
Arthurian legend, Arthur begins a search for the grail; in The Odyssey,
Odysseus simply tries to return home; in Star Wars, Luke Skywalker
must rescue Princess Leia. Following numerous smaller trials, the hero
endures a supreme ordeal in which all seems lost, followed by a
triumph of some sort. The hero must then try to bring his “magic
elixir” (some secret knowledge or thing) back home, to reality. There
are many subtleties and variations to the pattern, but these are the
basic stages.
What is the relevance of the hero’s journey to our age? Or, as
Moyers put it to Campbell, how is the hero different to the leader? The
leader, Campbell said, is one who sees what can be done and accomplishes
it, who is good at organizing a company or a country; a hero
actually creates something new. (With today’s business focus on innovation,
personal journeys clearly become important.)
Final comments
Myths reveal to us the incredible potential for more life, in whatever
form it comes. “I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about
ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman or
child,” Campbell stated. Yet he acknowledged that too many accept the
sadness and desperation of inauthentic lives, living without their bliss
or not even knowing that it exists.
Campbell was a polymath, fascinated by everything. He noticed that
the trend of western civilization was toward specialization, yet was
proud of being a generalist, able to see the commonality of all human
stories and life experience. His resurrection of the idea of the hero gave
people a template on to which they could mount their own experiences
and dreams; being present in all human myths, it knows no national
boundaries. The idea involves no grasping or hurry (Campbell’s life
itself is a good example), but enjoyment of the richness of the moment.
And significantly, it focuses on self-knowledge rather than aggrandizement
of the ego.
The “human potential” movement of the 1960s and 1970s may
have been important, but it took Campbell to remind us what myths
have been saying for thousands of years: that everyone has the right to
become a hero of some kind.
Joseph Campbell
Born in New York in 1904, as a boy Campbell loved Native American
mythology. When he was 15 his family home burned down, killing his
grandmother and destroying his collection of Indian books and relics.
At Dartmouth College he studied biology and mathematics, later transferring
to Columbia University where he wrote a Master’s thesis on the
Arthurian legends. He excelled as an athlete, setting the New York City
record for the half-mile, and played saxophone in jazz bands.
In 1927 a scholarship took him to study old languages at the
University of Paris, before transferring to the University of Munich to
read Sanskrit literature and Indo-European philology. Back in the US
he based himself at a shack near Woodstock for several years, and during
this time also traveled to California, where he met John and Carol
Steinbeck and their neighbor Ed Ricketts, immortalized in Steinbeck’s
Cannery Row.
Campbell’s first real job was a modest post at the newly founded
women’s college, Sarah Lawrence, where he remained for 38 years,
marrying former student and dancer Jean Erdman. He slowly increased
his list of publications, including A Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake
(1944), and co-editing and translating The Upanishads. The Hero with
a Thousand Faces was published in 1949.
Campbell lectured to diverse audiences including the US State
Department, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and the Esalen Institute,
and traveled widely. Notable later works include the series The Masks
of God (1969), The Mythic Image (1974), and The Inner Reaches of
Outer Space (1986). He died in Honolulu in 1987.
Don’t Sweat the Small
Stuff... and It’s All
Small Stuff
“So many people spend so much of their life energy ‘sweating the
small stuff’ that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty
of life. When you commit to working towards this goal you will find
that you have far more energy to be kinder and gentler.”
“One of the major reasons so many of us remain hurried, frightened and
competitive, and continue to live life as if it were one giant emergency, is
our fear that if we were to become more peaceful and loving, we would
suddenly stop achieving our goals. We would become lazy and apathetic.
You can put this fear to rest by realizing that the opposite is true.
Fearful, frantic thinking takes an enormous amount of energy and drains
the creativity and motivation from our lives.”
In a nutshell
Put your little struggles into perspective; by doing this you can gain
more enjoyment of other people and life generally.
In a similar vein
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (p22)
Wayne Dyer, Real Magic (p120)
Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (p228)
Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism (p264)
Richard Carlson
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff has been a massive international
bestseller. The story of the title’s genesis is recounted by the
author in the introduction. Carlson was asked by a foreign
publisher to get an endorsement for his book You Can Feel Good
Again from bestselling author Wayne Dyer. As Dr. Dyer had provided a
blurb for a previous book, Carlson said he would try and sent out a
request. Time went by and nothing came back, and six months later
Carlson’s publishers sent him a copy of the foreign edition. To his
extreme annoyance, the publisher had used Dyer’s endorsement of the
previous book for the current one! Carlson wrote a heartfelt apology to
Dyer, explaining that he was trying to get the edition taken off the
shelves. Some worried weeks later, Dyer wrote back with the following:
“Richard. There are two rules for living in harmony. #1) Don’t sweat the
small stuff and #2) It’s all small stuff. Let the quote stand. Love, Wayne.”
For Carlson, the graceful response inspired a super-practical guide that
rests on an ethereal spiritual law: taking the path of least resistance.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is no manual for self-perfection, simply a
collection of ideas for avoiding struggle where possible. The 100 strategies,
elaborated in short essays, have apparently proven their worth
among Carlson’s clients and readers.
The way of perspective
The book has the quirky good-heartedness and love of people that you
find in the likes of Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale, combined
with an eastern conception of time and the value of stillness. However,
the real value is in its awareness of the crushing demands of modern
life and the culture in which we live. We might feel good about the
meditation camp we went on or our weekend walk along the beach,
but its effects soon wear off and by Tuesday morning we are again
driving fast, getting angry, and hating our lack of time.
How do we bring that peace and perspective into the moment by
moment of real life? This is Carlson’s compelling question, and one of
the refreshing things about Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is that it tells
you not to worry about having bad feelings. Don’t try to get rid of
them, it says, but do try to put them into a larger context.
Many of Carlson’s remedies are quite simple, others novel. Some of
the interesting strategies among the 100 listed include the following.
Become an early riser
Getting up long before his wife and children gives Carlson a “golden
hour” in which to read, meditate, or think about the day in peace and
solitude. Many have told him that this single act of becoming an early
riser has revolutionized their life.
Let go of the idea that gentle, relaxed people can’t be
A frantic life of constant emergencies somehow seems to fit our idea of
forceful, achieving individuals. Our idea of becoming more peaceful
and loving seems to equate with a dreamy apathy. However, frantic
thinking and constant movement leach motivation and real success
from our lives. Carlson notes his good fortune at being surrounded by
people who are gentle and relaxed, but who are outward success stories
by any measure. If inner peace becomes your habit, there is ease in the
way you achieve your goals and serve others.
Don’t interrupt others or finish their sentences
This is a surprisingly easy way to become a more relaxed, loving person—
try it.
Learn to live in the present moment
John Lennon said that “Life is what happens when we are busy making
other plans.” With attention to the present moment, fear—being associated
mostly with an imaginary future—tends not to exist. You may be
amazed how easily tomorrow’s troubles sort themselves out. Make this
a habit of mind and see life subtly transformed.
Ask yourself the question, “Will this matter a year from
With the frequent use of this question, Carlson finds himself actually
laughing at things he used to worry about. The energy he once spent on
getting angry and overwhelmed is now spent on his family and creative
Allow yourself to be bored
Don’t be afraid of the vacant moment. You are a human being, not a
“human doing,” so just be and consider your boredness. You may be
surprised at how it clears the mind (after getting over the initial discomfort)
and provides new thoughts.
Imagine yourself at your own funeral
This is a super-valuable way of reassessing your priorities now, when it
matters. Not many people, looking back on their life, would be pleased
by how much of it they spent being uptight, with all the “small stuff”
over which they sweated. Ask yourself: What sort of person was I? Did
I do the things I loved and did I really love and cherish those close to
me every day?
Imagine the people in your life as tiny infants or as 100
years old
This nearly always provides perspective and compassion (as well as
Redefine a meaningful accomplishment
Instead of always thinking of an accomplishment as an external thing,
ask yourself about the achievements you have made in terms of your
self. This could include, for instance, staying centered in the face of
Be open to “what is”
The world is frequently not how you would like it to be. When someone
disapproves of you, even someone close, or if at work there is some
sort of failure, acknowledge to yourself that this is the case, rather than
automatically becoming emotional about it. After some time, things
that once bothered you so much slip by without damage. In many
ways, you are free of them.
Other strategies include:
❖ Just for fun, agree with criticism directed toward you (then watch it
go away).
❖ Be grateful when you’re feeling good and graceful when you’re feeling
❖ Be happy where you are.
❖ Cut yourself some slack.
Final comments
If you are interested in self-help ideas but have no time to read books,
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff may be the best compromise. Though it
looks quite folksy and simplistic, the book is in fact grounded in cognitive
therapy, which shows how closely feelings are the product of
thoughts; by becoming more conscious of what you are thinking, you
are in a position to change your thoughts and therefore your feelings.
“Not sweating the small stuff” is not as cheesy as it sounds. The
esteemed psychologist Abraham Maslow recognized it as a key feature
of what he called the self-actualizing person, a person who has given
up pettiness for an unusually wide view of the world and life.
The layout of the book is such that it can be grabbed when you
have a moment and opened up at any random page for the perspective
or inspiration you need. Free of lengthy argument or anecdote, it condenses
what more learned writing has taken hundreds of pages to say.
If only one or two of the strategies stays in your mind, it will have been
worth reading.
Richard Carlson
Carlson grew up in Piedmont, California. He studied the psychology of
happiness for his PhD, graduating in 1986. This led to a popular newspaper
serialization called “Prescriptions for Happiness,” which
launched his career as a happiness and stress-reduction expert.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff has sold over ten million copies and
been translated into many languages. It was the No. 1 selling book in
the US for two consecutive years.
Carlson’s 15 popular books include You Can Feel Good Again,
Short Cut through Therapy, and, with Benjamin Shield, Handbook for
the Soul and Handbook for the Heart. He has also written Don’t
Worry, Make Money, Slowing Down to the Speed of Life, Don’t Sweat
the Small Stuff in Love (with his wife Kristine), Don’t Sweat the Small
Stuff with Your Family, and For the Love of God: Handbook for the
Carlson lives with his wife and two daughters in northern
How to Win Friends
and Influence People
“Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try
to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and
intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and
kindness. ‘To know all is to forgive all.’”
“Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times
more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they
are in you and your problems. A person’s toothache means more to that
person than a famine in China which kills a million people. A boil on
one’s neck interests one more than forty earthquakes in Africa. Think of
that the next time you start a conversation.”
In a nutshell
Really try to see the world as another sees it. The appreciation he or
she feels means that whatever you have to say will be truly heard.
In a similar vein
Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (p96)
Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (p228)
Dale Carnegie
The title How to Win Friends and Influence People reeks of insincerity.
How many people would boast of “winning” a friend and
influencing them for their own personal gain? It just doesn’t
sound nice. To a modern reader, the book conjures up mental trickery
for a dog-eat-dog world, a shonky product hawked by a Depression-era
salesman. In this case, judging a book by its cover would seem a very
reasonable thing to do. Yet the reader should consider some points in
the book’s defense.
Reasons to read and like Carnegie
1 There is a strange inconsistency between the brazenness of the title
and much of what is actually in the book. When read carefully, it is
not at all a manual for manipulation, in the manner of Machiavelli’s
The Prince. Carnegie genuinely despised “winning friends” for a
purpose: “If we merely try to impress people and get people interested
in us, we will never have many true, sincere friends. Friends,
real friends, are not made that way.” The energy that makes the
book a great read comes from a love of people. Maybe it is still
bought by shallow egomaniacs—current editions are marketed as
tools to gain popularity, for instance—but it is about time Carnegie’s
classic was seen in a kinder, truer light.
2 Carnegie wrote the book in the America of the 1930s. The country
was still clawing itself out of the Great Depression, and opportunities,
particularly for people with limited education, were scarce.
Carnegie offered a way to get ahead, taking advantage of the one
thing you owned outright—your personality. By modern standards,
the claims made in How to Win Friends do not seem too wild; motivational
psychology is now well established. But try to imagine its
impact in 1937, before the great prosperity of the post-Second
World War period. To many people it would have seemed like gold.
For many today, it still is.
3 How to Win Friends is a self-confessed manual of action, “letting
the reader in on a secret.” No theory, just a set of rules that work
“like magic.” Carnegie’s conversational style was a breath of fresh
air to those who had tried to read academic psychology, and even
more attractive to those who didn’t read books at all. Labor-saving
ideas are a hallmark of American culture, so a book promising a
transformed life without years of toil and character building was
bound to get a good reception.
4 The book was not written with an eye to bestseller glory, but as a
textbook for Carnegie’s courses on Effective Speaking and Human
Relations (the “How to” part of the title is a giveaway to its course
origin). The initial print run was only 5,000 copies. Rather than
being devised as part of some master plan to profit from people’s
baser instincts, the aim was to bring the messages of the Carnegie
courses to a reading audience.
The How To Win Friends phenomenon
Nevertheless, initially no doubt due to the title alone, the book caused
a sensation. It is one of the biggest-selling books ever (over 15 million
copies, in all the world’s main languages) and is still the biggest overall
seller in the self-improvement field. In her preface to the 1981 edition,
Dorothy Carnegie noted how her husband’s ideas filled a real need that
was “more than a faddish phenomenon of post-Depression days.”
Indeed, How to Win Friends is written up in compendiums like
Most Significant Books of the 20th Century, and takes its place in
Crainer & Hamel’s Ultimate Business Library: 50 Books that Made
Management, among titles by Henry Ford, Adam Smith, Max Weber,
and Peter Drucker.
The message: Education, not manipulation
The success of Carnegie’s adult courses revealed a deep desire for education
in the “soft skills” of leading people, expressing ideas, and creating
enthusiasm. That technical knowledge or raw intelligence alone
does not bring career success is now a given, but in Carnegie’s time the
idea that success was composed of many elements was only just starting
to be researched. In seeing that people skills could make all the difference,
Carnegie effectively popularized the idea of emotional
intelligence, decades before it was established as fact in academic
He had kept in his mind a statement by John D. Rockefeller (the Bill
Gates of his age) that the ability to handle people well was more valuable
than all others put together, yet astonishingly he could find no
book written on the subject. Carnegie and his researcher hungrily read
everything they could find on human relations, including philosophy,
family court judgments, magazine articles, classical texts, the latest
work in psychology, and biography, specifically the lives of those recognized
for superb leadership. Carnegie apparently interviewed two of the
most important inventors of the century, Marconi and Edison, as well
as Franklin D. Roosevelt and even the movie stars Clark Gable and
Mary Pickford.
A set of basic ideas emerged from these researches. Originally written
as a short lecture, they were relentlessly tested on the “human laboratory”
of his course attendees before emerging, 15 years later, as the
“principles” in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Whatever
might be said about the book, it was not written on a whim.
Carnegie’s principles
Did the principles work? At the start of the book Carnegie gave the
example of a man who had driven his 300+ employees mercilessly,
apparently the epitome of a bastard boss who was incapable of saying
anything positive about his own people. However, after taking a
Carnegie course and applying the principle “Never criticize, condemn,
or complain,” he was able to turn “314 enemies into 314 friends,”
inspire a previously non-existent loyalty, and, to top it off, increase
profits. There’s more, Carnegie told us: His family liked him more, he
had more time for leisure, and he found his outlook on life “sharply
What excited Carnegie most were not stories of the beneficial career
or financial effects of his courses, but how they made people open their
eyes and reshape their lives. They started to see that there could be
more lightness in their life, which was no longer seen as a struggle or a
power game.
The book’s second chapter gets underway with a quote from the
American philosopher John Dewey, that the deepest urge in human
nature is the desire to be important. Freud’s belief, Carnegie also noted,
was that apart from sex, the chief desire was to be great; Lincoln said
that it was the craving to be appreciated.
The person who really understands this craving for appreciation,
Carnegie said, will also know how to make people happy—“even the
undertaker will be sorry when he dies.” Such a person will also know
how to draw the best out of others. Carnegie loved telling the success
stories of the great industrialists of his day. Charles Schwab was the
first person to earn $1 million a year by running Andrew Carnegie’s
United States Steel Company. He confided that his secret of success was
being “hearty in my approbation, and lavish in my praise” to the people
under him. Valuing your employees, making them feel special in the
scheme of things, is now accepted wisdom in management circles, but
in the era of Andrew and Dale Carnegie it wasn’t.
At the same time, Carnegie was against flattery. That simply
involved mimicking the vanities of its receiver, whereas sincere appreciation
of someone’s good points is an act of gratitude that requires
you really to see that person, maybe for the first time. One effect is
that you seem more valuable to them, the expression of value only
increasing your own. You get the priceless pleasure of seeing a face
light up and, in the workplace, are an amazed witness as excited cooperation
grows out of boredom or mistrust. Carnegie’s principle “Give
honest and sincere appreciation” is ultimately to do with seeing the
beauty of people.
The book lists 27 principles, but most follow the logic of these first
couple. They include:
❖ Arouse in the other person an eager want.
❖ Become genuinely interested in other people.
❖ The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
❖ Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say “you’re
❖ If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
❖ Begin in a friendly way.
❖ Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
❖ Appeal to the nobler motives.
❖ Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
Final comments
Though easy to parody, the book itself is genuinely funny—quite a rare
event in personal development writing. It took Carnegie’s log cabin
sense of humor to make it a text that really pulls you in. One of its
famous principles is: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person
the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
How to Win Friends and Influence People will be read another 50
years from now because it is essentially about people, a subject we
assume we know a lot about but invariably don’t. Before books like
this, it was thought that dealing with people was a natural ability—you
either had it or you didn’t. How to Win Friends put firmly into the
public’s mind the fact that human relations are more understandable
than we think, and that people skills can be systematically learned. It
also carried the proposition, in direct opposition to the book’s reputation,
that we don’t really influence a person until we truly like and
respect them.
Dale Carnegie
Born in 1888 in Maryville, Missouri, Carnegie was the son of a poor
farmer and apparently didn’t see a train until he was 12 years old. In
his teens, though he still had to get up at 3 am every day to milk his
parents’ cows, he managed to get educated at the State Teacher’s
College in Warrensburg. His first job after college was selling correspondence
courses to ranchers, then he moved on to selling bacon, soap,
and lard for Armor & Company. He was successful to the point of
making his sales territory, south Omaha, the national leader for the
A desire to be an actor led Carnegie to the American Academy of
Dramatic Arts in New York, and after touring the country as Dr. Hartley
in Polly of the Circus, he returned to the sales fold, selling Packard
cars. He persuaded the YMCA to let him run public speaking courses
for business people, which were a great success, and his first book, Public
Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, was written as an aid to
teaching. Other books include How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
and Lincoln the Unknown. Carnegie training courses are now run all
over the world. The author died in 1955.
The Seven Spiritual
Laws of Success
“When we understand these laws and apply them in our lives, anything
we want can be created, because the same laws that nature uses
to create a forest, or a galaxy, or a star, or a human body can also bring
about the fulfillment of our deepest desires.”
“The best way to put the Law of Giving into operation … is to make a
decision that at any time you come into contact with anyone, you will
give them something. It doesn’t have to be in the form of material things;
it could be a flower, a compliment, or a prayer … The gifts of caring,
attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious
gifts you can give, and they don’t cost you anything.”
“The fourth spiritual law of success is the Law of Least Effort. This law
is based on the fact that nature’s intelligence functions with effortless
ease and abandoned carefreeness. This is the principle of least action,
of no resistance … When we learn this lesson from nature, we easily
fulfill our desires.”
In a nutshell
There is an easier way to get what you want from life, involving
attunement with nature and the universe.
In a similar vein
The Bhagavad-Gita (p30)
Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (p258)
Deepak Chopra
With an effortless power and simplicity, The Seven Spiritual
Laws of Success is a supreme example of contemporary selfhelp
writing. You could throw away all other self-help
books and live by this one alone.
The emphasis on success and prosperity may not seem “spiritual”
enough for some, but this is the very point of the book. Unless you are
a self-sufficient hermit, you are an economic actor who must be able to
reconcile wealth generation with the spirit. In being both a devotional
tract and a prosperity manual, The Seven Spiritual Laws acknowledges
this and is therefore an emblematic work of our times.
Identifying immutable laws of success is the great challenge of the
self-help literature. Karma (cause and effect) and dharma (purpose in
life) have been with us for eons, and they form two of Chopra’s seven
laws. Here we look briefly at his other five.
The law of pure potentiality
The field of pure potentiality is the silent realm from which all things
flow, from which “the unmanifest is made manifest.” In this state of
pure consciousness, we have pure knowledge, perfect balance, invincibility,
and bliss. When accessing the field, we experience our higher,
pure selves, and are able to see the futility and waste of living through
the ego. While the ego is based in fear, the higher self exists in loving
“It is immune to criticism, it is unfearful of any challenge, and it feels
beneath no one. And yet, it is also humble and feels superior to no one,
because it recognizes that everyone else is the same Self, the same
spirit in different guises.”
When the veil of the ego drops, knowledge is revealed and great
insights are normal. Chopra refers to Carlos Castaneda’s remark that if
we could stop trying to uphold our own importance, we would start to
see the grandeur of the universe. We can access the field of pure potentiality
primarily through meditation and silence, but also through the
practice of non-judgment and appreciation of nature. Once you know the
field, you can always retreat to it and be independent of situations, feelings,
people, and things. All affluence and creativity flow out of the field.
The law of giving
Have you ever noticed that the more you give, the more you receive?
Why does this seem infallible? Chopra says it happens because our
minds and bodies are in a constant state of giving and receiving with
the universe. To create, to love, to grow keeps the flow going; not to
give stops the flow and, like blood, it clots. The more we give, the more
we are involved in the circulation of the universe’s energy, and the more
of it we will receive back, in the form of love, material things, serendipitous
experiences. Money does makes the world go around, but only if
it is given as much as it is received.
If you give, give joyfully. If you want to be blessed, silently bless
people by sending them a bundle of positive thoughts. If you have no
money, provide a service. We are never limited in what we can give
because the true nature of humankind is affluence and abundance.
Nature provides everything we need, and the field of pure potentiality
provides the intelligence and creativity to produce even more.
The law of least effort
Just as it is the nature of fish to swim and the sun to shine, it is human
nature to turn our dreams into reality, with ease. The Vedic principle of
economy of effort says “do less and accomplish more.” Is such a concept
revolutionary—or crazy? Are hard work, planning, and striving a
waste of time?
Chopra suggests that when our actions are motivated by love, not
by the desires of the ego, we generate excess energy that can be used to
create anything we want. In contrast, seeking power over others or trying
to get their approval consumes a great deal of energy. We are trying
to prove something, whereas if we are acting from the higher self, we
simply make choices about how and where we will affect evolution and
bring abundance.
The first step is to practice acceptance. We cannot hope to channel
the universe’s effortless power if we are fighting against it. Say to yourself,
even in very difficult situations, “This moment is as it should be.”
Secondly, practice defenselessness. If we are continually defending our
point of view or blaming others, we can’t really be open to the perfect
alternative that waits in the wings.
The law of intention and desire
This is the most complex law, and of course the most alluring. Chopra
notes that while a tree is locked into a single purpose (to put down
roots, grow, photosynthesize), the intelligence of the human nervous
system allows us actually to shape the mind and the laws of nature to
bring about the achievement of a freely imagined desire. This occurs
through the process of attention and intention.
While attention on something will energize it and make it expand,
intention triggers energy and information and “organizes its own fulfillment.”
How does this happen? The author uses the analogy of a still
pond. If our mind is still, we can toss into it a pebble of intention,
creating ripples that move through space and time. If the mind is like a
turbulent sea, we could throw a skyscraper into it and there would be
no effect. Once the intention is introduced, in this receptive stillness we
can depend on the infinite organizing power of the universe to make it
manifest. We “let the universe handle the details.”
The law of detachment
Though you may have an intention, you must give up your attachment
to its realization before it can manifest itself. We can have a onepointed
focus on something, but if we are attached to a specific outcome
it will produce fear and insecurity at the possibility of its not
happening. A person who is attuned to their higher self will have intentions
and desires, but their sense of self is not riding on the outcome;
there is a part of them that cannot be affected.
In Chopra’s words:
“Only from detached involvement can one have joy and laughter. Then
the symbols of wealth are created spontaneously and effortlessly.
Without detachment we are prisoners of helplessness, hopelessness,
mundane needs, trivial concerns, quiet desperation, and seriousness—
the distinctive features of everyday mediocre existence and poverty
Without detachment we feel we must force solutions on problems; with
detachment, we are free to witness the perfect solutions that spontaneously
emerge from chaos.
Don’t let this outline suffice. For the detail and rich prose that
makes Chopra a delight to read, buy the book. It may take a while to
get on to his wavelength and understand his terms, but persevere—the
laws can have a real effect. On subsequent readings you may find yourself
discovering new meanings in the text, the familiar mark of a
Final comments
The genius, intended or not, of the last century’s self-help writing is
that spiritual messages have been delivered through instructions of a
more material kind. We buy a book about prosperity and find it telling
us about the universe’s benign and perfect intelligence; we find another
that promises the laws of success and are surprised to see that the
answer involves maintaining good karma in our actions and detaching
ourselves from the fruits of success. Chopra is often accused of promoting
spiritual values as the means to becoming wealthier. That is true,
but it is nothing to be ashamed of: When the nature of the universe
itself is abundant, a life lived in poverty consciousness is a wasted life.
The motif of the book is the unity of everything in the universe.
Though it is overtly concerned with “success,” perhaps the real theme
is power. By becoming more open to that unity and perfection we
assume more of its power, while the illusion of separateness pits us
against the world, making us weaker in the process. The best personal
development writing, exemplified by The Seven Spiritual Laws of
Success, is transforming the genre’s idea of success from being “master
of the universe” to achieving oneness with it.
Deepak Chopra
Born in 1947 in New Delhi, the son of a prominent cardiologist,
Chopra studied medicine before moving to the US in 1970. In Boston
he established himself as an endocrinologist, then taught at Boston
University and Tufts medical schools. He was Chief of Staff at the New
England Memorial Hospital.
The transformation from specialist to guru was assisted by meeting
the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a holy man who came to America in the
1960s to popularize meditation. Chopra’s subsequent involvement in
the transcendental meditation movement was matched by a renewed
interest in the Hindu healing philosophy Ayurveda, and he founded the
American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine.
In 1999, Time magazine included Chopra as one of the “Top 100
Icons and Heroes of the Century,” a “poet-prophet of alternative
medicine.” He has spoken at the UN, the World Health Organisation,
and the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and his 25-plus books—including
Quantum Healing (1986), Ageless Body, Timeless Mind (1993),
Creating Affluence (1993), and How to Know God (2000)—have been
translated into over 35 languages. He has edited a collection of
Rabindranath Tagore poetry and written a novel, The Lords of Light.
The author is based in La Jolla, California, where the Chopra Center
for Well Being runs courses and events.
The Alchemist
“He had studied Latin, Spanish and theology. But ever since he had
been a child, he had wanted to know the world, and this was much
more important to him than knowing God and learning about man’s
sins. One afternoon, on a visit to his family, he had summoned up the
courage to tell his father that he didn’t want to become a priest. That he
wanted to travel.”
“’It’s a force that appears to be negative, but actually shows you how
to realize your destiny. It prepares your spirit and your will, because
there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it
is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire
originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.’
‘Even when all you want to do is travel? Or marry the daughter of a
textile merchant?’”
In a nutshell
We too easily give up on our dreams, yet the universe is always ready
to help us fulfill them.
In a similar vein
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (p68)
Paulo Coelho
Santiago is a shepherd. He loves his flock, though he can’t help but
notice the limited nature of the sheep’s existence. Seeking only
food and water, they never lift their heads to admire the green hills
or the sunsets. Santiago’s parents have continually struggled for the
basics of life and have smothered their own ambitions accordingly.
They live in beautiful Andalucia, which attracts tourists to its quaint
villages and rolling hills, but for them it is no place of dreams.
Santiago, on the other hand, can read and wants to travel. He goes
into town one day to sell some of his flock and encounters a trampking
and a gypsy woman. They urge him to “follow his omens” and
leave the world he knows. The gypsy points him toward the Pyramids
of Egypt, where she says he will find treasure.
Crazily, he believes her. He sells his flock and sets sail. Sure enough,
disaster is met early on when a thief in Tangier robs him of his savings.
So much hard work and discipline for a little adventure! But strangely,
Santiago is not devastated, apprehending a greater feeling—the security
of knowing that he is on the right path. He is now living a different
life, in which every day is new and satisfying. He keeps reminding himself
of what he was told in the market before he left: “When you want
something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Following the dream
This belief is a marvelous one, a support for anyone embarking on a
major project. Nevertheless, is it a hope based on nothing? If you think
about the energy you put into something once you are committed to it,
probably not. The “universe conspiring” to give you what you want is,
more precisely, a reflection of your determination to make something
happen. In reading The Alchemist, we are reminded of Goethe’s
demand: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it—boldness
has genius, power and magic in it.”
The book does not get away from the fact that dreams have a price,
but, as Coelho has noted in interviews, not living your dreams also has
a price. For the same money, he said, you can either buy a horrible
jacket that doesn’t fit or one that suits you and looks right. There will
be difficulties in whatever you do in life, but it is better to have problems
that make sense because they are part of what you are trying to
achieve. Otherwise difficulties merely seem insidious, one terrible setback
after another. Dream followers have a greater responsibility, that
of handling their own freedom. That may not seem like such a price,
but it does require a level of awareness that we are maybe not used to.
The old man that Santiago meets in the town square tells him not to
believe “the biggest lie,” that you can’t control your destiny. You can,
he says, but you must “read the omens,” which becomes possible when
you start to see the world as one. The world can be read like a book,
but we will never be able to understand it if we have a closed type of
existence, complacent with our lot and unwilling to risk anything.
The Alchemist is remarkable for being a love story that renounces the
idea that romantic love must be the central thing in your life. Each person
has a destiny to pursue that exists independently of other people. It
is the thing that you would do, or be, even if you had all the love and
money you want. The treasure that Santiago seeks is of course the symbol
of the personal dream or destiny, but he is happy to give up on it
when he finds the woman of his dreams in a desert oasis. Yet the
alchemist he meets in the desert tells him that the love of his oasis girlfriend
will only be proved real if she is willing to support his search for
Santiago’s dilemma is about the conflict between love and personal
dreams. Too often we see a love relationship as the meaning of our life,
but the obsession with romantic coupling can cut us off from a life
more connected with the rest of the world. But surely the heart has
needs? Live your life around the dream, Coelho says, and their will be
more “heart” in your life than you can now comprehend:
“...no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams,
because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God
and with eternity.”
Romantic love is important, but it is not your duty—that is to pursue your
dream. Only through devotion to the dream is the “soul of the world”
revealed to us, the knowledge that destroys loneliness and gives power.
Final comments
So much of the self-help literature is about pursuing our destiny, but
dreams do not always pull us along by their own force; they speak persistently
but quietly, and it does not take too much effort to smother
the inner voices. Who is willing to risk comfort, routine, security, and
existing relationships to follow something that to others looks like a
mirage? It takes courage, and dog-eared, stained copies of Coelho’s
classic have become the constant companion of people who need to
make fearless decisions daily in order to keep true to a larger vision.
Paulo Coelho
Coelho grew up in a middle-class family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His
father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become an engineer,
but after stating his wish to be a writer Coelho was put in and out of
mental institutions for three years. He became a hippie traveler, joined a
cult in Italy for a while, and was held and tortured by the Brazilian
police after a stint writing “subversive” lyrics for a rock band.
Coelho is one of the world’s bestselling authors. The Alchemist,
which was inspired by a tale in The Thousand and One Nights, has
sold 20 million copies (his first publisher dropped it after selling fewer
than 1,000 copies, but Coelho managed to find another one).
Coelho is a Catholic and has a particular interest in pilgrim routes.
Santiago de Compostela in Spain provides the setting for both The Pilgrimage
and Diary of a Magus. Other books include The Valkyries: An
Encounter with Angels, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, and
Veronica Decides to Die. He lives with his wife Christina, a painter, in
Rio de Janeiro.
The 7 Habits of Highly
Effective People
“The Character Ethic is based on the fundamental idea that there are
principles that govern human effectiveness—natural laws in the human
dimension that are just as real, just as unchanging and unarguably
‘there’ as laws such as gravity are in the physical dimension.”
“People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside
them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you
are, what you are about and what you value.”
“Most people tend to think in terms of dichotomies: strong or weak,
hardball or softball, win or lose. But that kind of thinking is fundamentally
flawed. It’s based on power and position rather than on principle.
Win/Win is based on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody,
that one person’s success is not achieved at the expense of exclusion of
the success of others.”
In a nutshell
Real effectiveness comes from clarity (about your principles, values,
and vision).
Change is only real if it has become habitual.
In a similar vein
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (p138)
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (p144)
Philip C. McGraw, Life Strategies (p210)
Stephen Covey
Stephen Covey’s book is one of the phenomena of modern personal
development writing. It has sold a million copies a year since its
release, has been translated into 32 languages, and forms the intellectual
basis of a large corporation. It took Dale Carnegie’s How To
Win Friends and Influence People 60 years to have the same sort of
What was it that lifted it above the mass of books claiming the
secret to a better existence?
Inside-out success
First, it was timing. The 7 Habits came out just as we entered the
1990s. Suddenly, aspiring to be a “master of the universe” in a
shoulder-padded world did not seem to satisfy, and people were ready
for a different prescription for getting what they really wanted out of
life. Covey’s message of “restoring the character ethic” was so oldfashioned
that it seemed revolutionary.
Having studied the success literature of the last 200 years for a doctoral
dissertation, Covey was able to draw a distinction between what
he termed the “personality ethic”—the quick-fix solutions and human
relations techniques that had pervaded much of the writing in the twentieth
century—and the “character ethic”—which revolved around
unchanging personal principles. Covey believed that outward success
was not success at all if it was not the manifestation of inner mastery.
Or, in his terminology, “private victory” must precede “public victory.”
A business plan for personal life
The second, more practical reason for the book’s success is that it is a
compelling read, both as a self-help book and as a leadership/management
manual. This crossover status effectively doubled its market. It
also means that the reader interested only in personal development
may not like the management terms, diagrams, and business anecdotes
that fill it. For a book that is so much about changing
paradigms, it is remarkably representative of the paradigm of business
But this should be a small price to pay for what is a brilliant guide
to reengineering your life, enlivened by Covey’s personal and family
experiences. Covey may be Dale Carnegie’s heir in many ways, but his
classic is more systematic, comprehensive, and life-expanding than any
of the modern self-help titles that came before it.
Habits: The building blocks of change
The emphasis on habits as the basic units of change has also been
important in the book’s success. Covey saw that real greatness was the
result of the slow development of character over time; it is our daily
habits of thinking and acting that are the ground on which that greatness
is built. The 7 Habits promises a life revolution, not as a big bang,
but as the cumulative result of thousands of small, evolutionary
changes. The English novelist Charles Reade summarized what Covey
is referring to:
“Sow a thought, and you reap an action; sow an action, and you reap a
habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you
reap a destiny.”
Effective vs. efficient
Finally, the success of the book owes much to the use of “effective” in
the title. By the late 1980s, western culture had had decades of management
theory about efficiency. The concept of time management, a
product of a machine-obsessed culture, had spilled over into the personal
domain, and we could have been forgiven for thinking that any
problems in our lives were the result of “inefficient allocation of
resources.” However, Covey took a different perspective, and he had
this message: Think about what is most important to you and see if it
is the center around which your life revolves. Don’t worry about efficiency.
There is no use being “efficient” if what you are doing lacks
meaning or an essential good.
The 7 Habits puts effectiveness at a higher level than achievement.
Achievement is hollow unless what you achieve is actually worthwhile,
both in terms of your highest aims and service to others. Covey’s view
is that the personality ethic of twentieth-century self-help had helped to
create a high-achieving society that also did not happen to know where
it was going.
The habit of responsibility
The seven habits are predicated on a willingness to see the world anew,
to have the courage to take life seriously. The book struck a nerve
because it showed many of us, perhaps for the first time, what genuine
responsibility was about. To blame “the economy” or “my terrible
employer” or “my family” for our troubles was useless. To have fulfillment
and personal power, we had to decide what we would take
responsibility for, what was in our “circle of concern.” Only by working
on ourselves could we hope to expand our “circle of influence.”
To review the seven habits briefly:
1 Be proactive. We always have the freedom to choose our reactions
to stimuli, even if everything else is taken away. With that ability
also comes the knowledge that we do not have to live by the scripts
that family or society has given us. Instead of “being lived,” we
accept full responsibility for our life the way conscience tells us that
it was meant to be lived. We are no longer a reactive machine but a
proactive person.
2 Begin with the end in mind. What do I want people to say about me
at my funeral? By writing our own eulogy or creating a personal
mission statement, we create the ultimate objective or person first,
and work backward from there. We have a self-guidance system that
gives us the wisdom to make the right choice, so that whatever we
do today is in line with the image created of ourselves at the end.
3 Put first things first. Habit 3 puts into daily action the farsightedness
of habit 2. Having that ultimate picture in our mind, we
can plan our days for maximum effectiveness and enjoyment. Our
time is spent with the people and the things that really matter.
4 Think Win/Win. One person’s success doesn’t need to be achieved at
the expense of the success of others. In seeking Win/Win, we never
endanger our own principles. The result is a better relationship—
“not your way or my way, a better way”—created by truly seeing
from the other person’s perspective.
5 Seek to understand, then to be understood. Without empathy, there
is no influence. Without deposits in the emotional bank account of
relationships, there is no trust. Genuine listening gives precious psychological
air to the other person, and opens a window on to their
6 Synergize. Synergy results from the exercise of all the other habits. It
brings forth “third alternatives” or perfect outcomes that cannot be
predicted from adding up the sum of the parts.
7 Sharpen the saw. We need to balance the physical, spiritual, mental,
and social dimensions of life. “Sharpening the saw” to increase productivity
involves taking the time to regularly renew ourselves in
these areas.
Final comments
The author’s heroes are a guide to his philosophy. Benjamin Franklin is
put forward as a perfect example of the character ethic in action, “the
story of one man’s effort to integrate certain principles and habits deep
within his nature.” Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who originated
the Middle East peace accords, also ranks highly in Covey’s mind as a
person who successfully “rescripted” himself. Covey uses the story of
concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl (see Man’s Search For
Meaning) to support his personal responsibility ethic, and Henry David
Thoreau (see Walden) to illustrate the independent mind.
It has been said that Covey’s seven habits are merely common sense.
On their own they may be, but put together in the one package, in that
sequence, and with the philosophy of principle-centeredness to support
them, they can produce the synergy that Covey celebrates.
A common criticism of self-help is that a seminar or a book can
inspire us enormously, then we forget about it. Through its use of
habits as the units of action and change, The 7 Habits gives readers the
momentum to incorporate its teachings into daily life. We are given the
means for changing the little, in order to transform the big.
Stephen Covey
Born in 1932, Covey has a Harvard MBA and spent most of his career
at Utah’s Brigham Young University, where he was a professor of organizational
behavior and business management.
In 1984 he founded the Covey Leadership Center, which 13 years
later merged with the Franklin Quest company to form Franklin Covey,
a $500 million company that sells learning and performance tools in
the areas of leadership and productivity, trains 750,000 people annually,
and runs more than 150 retail stores (see FranklinCovey.com).
Covey’s partner is Hyrum Smith, himself a self-help author (The 10
Natural Laws of Time and Life Management). Covey’s other books
include Principle-Centered Leadership, First Things First, The 7 Habits
of Highly Effective Families, and Living the Seven Habits. His latest
book is simply titled Leadership.
Covey has several honorary doctorates and was voted one of Time
magazine’s 25 most influential Americans. He lives with his wife Sandra
in Provo, Utah. They have nine grown children and 34 grandchildren.
Flow: The Psychology
of Optimal Experience
“Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls
we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe. Certainly
we should keep on learning how to master the external environment,
because our physical survival may depend upon it. But such mastery is
not going to add one jot to how we as individuals feel, or reduce the
chaos of the world as we experience it. To do that we must learn to
achieve mastery over consciousness itself.”
“Flow helps to integrate the self because in that state of deep concentration
consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions,
feelings, and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is
in harmony. And when the flow episode is over, one feels more
‘together’ than before, not only internally but with respect to other people
and the world in general.”
In a nutshell
Rather than being idle, doing what you love is a pathway to greater
meaning, happiness, and a self of higher complexity.
In a similar vein
The Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler, The Art of Happiness (p108)
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (p154)
Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle (p182)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“Why is it so difficult to be happy?” “What is the meaning
of life?” Whether in idleness or frustration, we all mull
over these big questions. Not many dare to provide
answers, and fewer again are equipped to try. But in devoting his life to
answering the first, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “Me-hi
Chicksent-me-hiee”) found that it could not be divorced from the second.
The linking of the two is the essence of his theory of “flow.”
At a general level, the author’s answer to the first question is surprisingly
obvious: It is difficult to be happy because the universe was
simply not built for our happiness. While religions and mythologies
have been created to provide some security against this fact, firsthand
knowledge cruelly reveals its truth again and again.
Csikszentmihalyi says that it is best to think about the universe in
terms of order and chaos (entropy). That healthy human beings find
order pleasing is a clue to its intrinsic value, and to its role in the
creation of happiness.
The bringing of order to consciousness, “control of the mind,” is
therefore the key to happiness. However, what gives us this control?
Happiness and flow
Csikszentmihalyi’s research began not by looking at the nature of happiness
per se, but by asking the question: “When are people most
happy?” That is, what exactly are we doing when we feel enjoyment or
fulfillment? Finding this out included buzzing people on a pager at random
points through a week. They were required to write down exactly
what they were doing and the feelings that the activity produced. The
discovery was that the best moments did not happen by chance,
according to the whim of external events, but could reasonably be predicted
to occur when a specific activity was undertaken. The activities
described as being of highest value, which when undertaken banished
worry or thoughts of other things, were dubbed “optimal experiences,”
or simply “flow.”
People in a state of flow feel that they are engaged in a creative
unfolding of something larger; athletes call it “being in the zone,” mystics
have described it as “ecstasy,” and artists term it “rapture.” You
and I may recognize our flow experiences as simply those that seem to
make time stand still. The book’s best definition of flow comes from the
ancient Taoist scholar Chuang Tzu. In a parable Ting, the esteemed
court butcher of Lord Wen-hui, describes his way of working: “Perception
and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it
wants.” You stop thinking and just do.
One of the key distinctions the author makes is between enjoyment
and pleasure. While challenging tasks that require all our attention are
enjoyed, mere pleasure does not have to engage us—it is passive. Television,
drugs, and sleep can all be pleasurable, but involve little conscious
will and therefore do not really assist our growth. The lesson of
optimal experience is that we are genuinely happy when we are in control.
Optimal experience is that which is directed by us and gives us a
sense of mastery. This is why goals are so enjoyable to pursue: They
bring “order in awareness,” irrespective of the feeling one may get in
seeing a goal actually achieved. An ordered mind itself is a source of
Flow: Complexity and meaning
To avoid meaninglessness, we can either devote our lives to pleasure,
which usually ends in ruin or mental entropy, or sit back on autopilot
and try not to think about all our possible choices in life. This last possibility
amounts to a surrender to whatever happen to be the societal
values of the day, letting ourselves be defined more as a consumer than
as a person.
Csikszentmihalyi finds Freud to be particularly relevant here. Freud’s
“id” was a representation of the instinctual drives of the body, while
his “superego” represented the external world to which our sense of
self may be shaped. Freud’s third element in consciousness, the ego, is
that part of ourselves that has managed to gain an autonomous sense
of self in spite of our bodily urges or environment. It is here, leaving
behind the animal and the robotic, where humanity is to be found. A
person living within this consciousness is doing so by will, and since
the universe never makes things easy for us, this person must become
increasingly complex (not in terms of confusion but higher order).
Csikszentmihalyi’s research established a fascinating point about the
flow experience: After each instance, a person is more than the person
they were before. Each piece of knowledge absorbed, each new refinement
of a skill, enlarges the self and makes it more highly ordered,
forming, in his words, “an increasingly extraordinary individual.”
This is why opportunities to create flow can be addictive—life without
them feels static, boring, and meaningless. Happiness and a sense of meaning
can therefore be increased, the author says, simply by doing more of
what we love doing. The question of “the meaning of life” may not be
answered in its most esoteric sense (that is, why does anything exist), but
can be answered at a subjective, personal level: The meaning of life is
whatever is meaningful to me. The experience of flow does not need an
explanation for those who enjoy it; we are simply aware that it gives us
the two things vital to happiness: a sense of purpose and self-knowledge.
A flow-centered culture?
Flow makes you feel more alive, certainly, but it has another, perhaps
surprising effect: The growth in complexity entails both awareness of
your uniqueness simultaneously with renewed understanding of how
you fit into your world and your relationships with other people. Flow
reconnects you to the world as well as making you more unique.
This double effect has tremendous implications for the rejuvenation
of communities and nations. The author suggests that the most successful
nations and societies of the twenty-first century will be those that
make sure people have the maximum opportunities to be involved in
flow-inducing activity. He refers to the inclusion of “the pursuit of happiness”
in the American Declaration of Independence, a far-sighted
aspiration that unfortunately metamorphosed into an expectation that
it is government’s role to provide happiness.
Whereas goal seeking (or living for the future) is a major part of
contemporary western culture, a flow-centered culture would restore
the present-centeredness that was the hallmark of hunter-gatherer societies,
freeing us from the clock’s tyranny. With increasing prosperity, if
more of the population is engaged in doing what they love, the whole
attitude to time would change. Time would cease to be framed by the
work patterns of an industrial culture, with its sharp divisions between
“work” and “leisure.” Instead, time would be determined by individuals’
subjective attitude to the activity in which they are engaged, that is,
whether the activity is flow inducing or not.
It is said that contemporary western and particularly American culture
is youth obsessed, one consequence being the terrible fear of aging.
Yet the pressure of passing time is relieved if you are truly living and
enjoying yourself in the moment, in other words, in a state of flow. As
the German philosopher Nietzsche put it, maturity is “the rediscovery
of the seriousness we had as a child—at play.”
Final comments
The flow theory has had an extensive impact since it surfaced in academic
journals 30 years ago because it is a meta-theory, applicable to
pretty well any type of human activity. Csikszentmihalyi relates it to
sex, work, friendship, loneliness, and lifelong learning. Yet flow experiences
cannot be forced on people. As ever, it will be those individuals
who can generate their own flow experiences who will tend to be
Nietzsche believed that a “will to power” was the root of human
action, but the implication of the flow theory is that a will to order is
what feeds this and other motivations. Any activity that creates an
ordered sense of self provides us with both a sense of meaning and a
degree of happiness. As the possibilities for how we can live our lives
have dramatically opened out, a need has arisen that seemingly takes us
in the opposite direction: the need to create focus, order, and discipline
in how we approach life and what we choose to do in it. The connection
is not obvious, and in drawing attention to it Flow is a justifiably
celebrated work.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Professor Csikszentmihalyi is now at the Drucker School of
Management at Claremont Graduate University in California, having
been chairman of the Psychology Department at the University of
Chicago. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,
and has had articles published in the New York Times, Washington
Post, Wired, Fast Company, and Newsweek. Bill Clinton named him as
a favorite author.
Other books include Optimal Experience: Psychological Studies of
Flow in Consciousness (scholarly essays that were the forerunner to
Flow) co-edited with his wife Isabella (1988), The Evolving Self: A Psychology
for the Third Millennium (1993), Living Well (1997), and
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
(1996). He has also written books on adolescence and on the effects of
television on quality of life, and articles on the philosophy of Teilhard
de Chardin as it relates to evolution and human progress.
The Art of Happiness:
A Handbook for Living
The Dalai Lama:
“We each have a physical structure, a mind, emotions. We are all born
in the same way, and we all die. All of us want happiness and do not
want to suffer.”
“I believe that the proper utilization of time is this: if you can, serve
other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming
them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy.”
Howard Cutler:
“Over time I became convinced that the Dalai Lama had learned how
to live with a sense of fulfillment and a degree of serenity that I had
never seen in other people … Although he is a Buddhist monk … I
began to wonder if one could identify a set of his beliefs or practices
that could be utilized by non-Buddhists as well—practices that could
be directly applied to our lives to simply help us become happier,
stronger, perhaps less afraid.”
In a nutshell
Achieving happiness does not have to depend on events. Through
mental practice we can form the ability to be happy most of the time.
In a similar vein
The Dhammapada (p114)
Wayne Dyer, Real Magic (p120)
The Dalai Lama &
Howard C. Cutler
Have you heard the one about the psychiatrist who met the
Buddhist monk? Normally this would be the beginning of a
good joke, perhaps involving a couch and a begging bowl. In
this instance it forms the basis of a book.
The Art of Happiness is the result of collaboration between Howard
Cutler, a respected psychiatrist, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is
a blend of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on various issues and Howard
Cutler’s personal and scientific reflections on them.
Many people have objected to the fact that the Dalai Lama is presented
as “co-author” when he did not actually write anything, but it
doesn’t matter when you consider the result: an unusually strong happiness
manual based on questions any of us might ask if we had a few
hours with the man himself.
The nature and sources of happiness
Cutler began working on this book with certain beliefs derived from his
western scientific background, such as that happiness is a mystery and
that the most we can really hope for is the avoidance of misery. Over
the course of many conversations, the Dalai Lama convinced him that
happiness is not a luxury but the purpose of our existence—not only
that, but there is a definite path leading toward it. First we have to
identify the factors that invariably lead to suffering and those that lead
to happiness. Then we must begin eliminating the suffering-causing factors
and cultivate the happiness-causing ones.
Perhaps the most surprising point about happiness is that its
achievement is “scientific” and requires discipline. As Cutler puts it:
“I realized that right from the beginning our interviews had taken on a
clinical tone, as if I were asking him about human anatomy, only in this
case, it was the anatomy of the human mind and spirit.”
Below are some points from the book:
❖ Happiness has many levels. In Buddhism there are four factors—
wealth, worldly satisfaction, spirituality, and enlightenment—which
create “the totality of an individual’s quest for happiness.” Good
health and a close circle of friends are also important, but the door
into all these things is your state of mind. This not only works to
create the experiences in your life, but is the filter through which
you view them. Without a disciplined mind you are not really in
control of what you are doing, nor can you be independent of events
if you wish to be. The real source of happiness is control of your
consciousness. A calm mind, for instance, or one engaged in meaningful
work equates to happiness.
❖ A basic way to happiness is to cultivate affection and connection
with other human beings. Even if you lose everything you will have
this. The Dalai Lama notes that while he lost his country, he in a
way gained the whole world, because he had the ability to bond
with others quickly. Always look for what you have in common
with others and you will never really be lonely.
❖ No matter how powerful they seem, negative emotions and states
of mind have no foundation in reality. They are distortions, stopping
us from seeing things as they really are. We only have to experience
shame or embarrassment once after losing our temper to
appreciate this. When we experience positive states, however, we
are generally closer to the true nature of the universe and how we
could be all the time. All emotions, if practiced regularly, grow in
size. The Dalai Lama continually suggests that we cultivate the positive—
like any good habit you start off small, but the end benefits
are great.
❖ A positive state of mind is not merely good for you, it benefits everyone
with whom you come into contact, literally changing the world.
No matter how difficult it is, reduce your negative states of mind
and increase your positive ones.
❖ Having “wholesome” actions as opposed to “unwholesome” actions
is not a matter of morality or religion, it is the practical difference
between happiness and unhappiness. Through self-training, you can
develop a “good heart” that lessens the chances that you will act in
an unproductive way.
❖ Don’t confuse happiness with pleasure. Pleasure is of the senses and
can seem like happiness, but lacks meaning. Happiness, in contrast,
rests on meaning and is often felt despite negative external conditions.
It is stable and persistent. While pleasures are a bonus in life,
happiness is a must.
❖ Happiness is something to be developed over time. Make a decision
to apply the same effort and determination that you devote to
worldly success to studying and practicing happiness. Systematic
seeking after the causes and ways to happiness can be one of our
most important life decisions, like deciding to get married or
embarking on a career, Cutler says. The alternative is drifting in and
out of happiness by chance, vulnerable to unexpected attacks of
unhappiness. The student of happiness will experience ups and
downs, but will be better equipped to get back to a positive state
more quickly, or to raise their “normal” mental state to a significantly
higher level.
❖ Over time you must try to cancel out negative emotions, particularly
anger and hatred, and replace them with tolerance and patience. The
Dalai Lama’s idea of countering negative thoughts with positive ones
has been validated by the rise and success of cognitive therapy (see
Feeling Good), which gets people to replace distorted modes of
thinking (e.g., “my life is a mess”) with more accurate ones (“this
part of my life isn’t good, a lot else is”).
Compassion and connection
❖ The fundamental nature of human beings, the Dalai Lama suggests, is
gentleness. Science and philosophy like to portray humans as selfinterested,
but many studies show that people like to be altruistic if
they get a chance (e.g., in disaster relief efforts). We may think of a
baby as the perfect example of humanity living only for its own physiological
needs, but another way to look at it is in terms of the joy that
babies give to those around them. When we see the world not as
aggressive but as basically compassionate, it is easy to see the evidence.
❖ Compassion is useful. Rather than being sentimental, it is the basis
of communicating well between people. Echoing Dale Carnegie, the
Dalai Lama says that only by really seeing and feeling things from
another’s point of view will you truly be able to bond with them.
Compassion is not “feeling sorry for someone” but a recognition of
commonality—what someone else feels today might be what you
will be feeling next week.
❖ The Dalai Lama is “never lonely.” The antidote to loneliness is to be
prepared to connect with anyone. Most people who consider themselves
lonely are surrounded by family and friends, yet they put all
their longings into the hope of finding that “special someone.” Open
your eyes to the wealth of people, he says, and loneliness can be a
thing of the past.
❖ Distinguish between love based on attachment and love based on
compassion. All human beings want to be happy and avoid suffering;
instead of loving a person just so that they will love you back,
begin with seeing the commonality of the human condition and
what you can do to increase this particular person’s happiness.
❖ If you fail to cultivate compassion, or the ability to feel the suffering
of others, you lose the sense of belonging to the human race that is
the source of warmth and inspiration. While feeling another’s pain
may not seem appealing, without it we set ourselves up for isolation.
While the ruthless person can never properly relax, the compassionate
person experiences freedom of mind and a rare peace.
Final comments
An effect of reading The Art of Happiness is that you find yourself asking:
“How would the Dalai Lama deal with this situation?” He gives
off a sense of the lightness of life, despite all the negative things, and
this is a person who has lost his whole country.
In the face of Cutler’s probing questions it is surprising how often
the Dalai Lama says “I don’t know,” particularly when addressing the
case of individuals. People are complex, he says, but the western way is
always to find the causes of things, which can lead to a kind of agony if
we don’t find an answer. We will not necessarily understand why life
plays out the way it does within the scope of our lifetime.
This view partly comes from his belief in reincarnation and karma,
but can be appreciated separately to Buddhist doctrine. Precisely
because we may not understand everything about our existence, it is all
the more important to be good to other beings and to leave the world a
slightly better place. With this simple command we know that we can’t
go wrong.
The Dhammapada
“There is the perfume of sandalwood, of rose-bay, of
the blue lotus and jasmine; but far above the perfume
of those flowers the perfume of virtue is supreme.”
“Come and look at this world. It is like a royal
painted chariot wherein fools sink. The wise are not
imprisoned in the chariot.”
“He who in early days was unwise but later found
Wisdom, he sheds a light over the world like that of
the moon when free from clouds.”
“Better than a hundred years not seeing the Path supreme
is one single day of life if one sees the Path supreme.”
In a nutshell
Refine and improve the quality of your thoughts and you will have
little to fear from the world.
In a similar vein
The Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler, The Art of Happiness (p108)
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (p194)
Buddha’s teachings
Tired of modern self-help books? The Dhammapada is an ancient
source of wisdom and one of the truly great works of spiritual literature.
It is also the perfect introduction to Buddhist thought,
being an inspirational compendium of all the major themes in the
sacred canon of Theravada Buddhism.
The title comes from the Sanskrit word dharma (dhamma in Pali),
simply meaning the way of the universe, its law of being, while pada in
both languages is a foot or a step. Thus the holy book represents a
path guide to the universal way of love and truth that can lead us to
nirvana, or personal liberation, as Juan Mascaró says in the note to his
1973 translation. The Dhammapada expresses both the law of the universe
and how we can live in alignment with it while on earth.
Who Buddha was
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha lived 500 years before Jesus. “Buddha” is
not his real name but a title of honor. He was the son of a king ruling
over a small state in what is now Nepal, and if you have seen the movie
Little Buddha with Keanu Reeves as The Enlightened One, you will
have some idea of the luxury and indolence that Indian royalty enjoyed.
Nevertheless at age 29, after looking outside the walls of the palace
and discovering just how miserable most people’s lives were,
Siddhartha fled into the jungle to spend years as a loin-clothed hermit.
It was famously under the bough of a bodhi tree that “enlightenment”
came to him. Unlike Jesus, the Buddha lived into old age, spending the
next 45 years wandering northern India as a teacher.
Why Buddha succeeded
Among the hundreds of faiths of the time, Buddha’s triumphed. Why?
Buddha sought out people from all levels of society, having little respect
for the caste system and the exclusive language and ceremony of the
Brahmin priesthood. He knew that power corrupted and the religion
that grew around him was dogma free, seeking to remove the barriers
between individuals and enlightenment. Buddha was not a god, a
divine incarnation, or even a prophet; through his own dedication, he
had achieved perfect wisdom and purity of mind, laying down the
example for anyone to follow him.
The spread of Buddhism was also guaranteed by the Master’s identification
of clear practices that promised to banish suffering for ever.
This was obviously a revolutionary idea, and still is—the promise of a
pain-free life continues to hold incredible allure. Buddhist scholar
Thomas Cleary believes that the Buddha succeeded because his teachings
stood outside of time and culture, grasping the essential nature of
the human condition and our relationship to the universe.
What The Dhammapada says
The Dhammapada is symbolic of Buddhism’s timelessness and accessibility.
It has chapters but no obvious sequence. You can open it at any
page and find an inspirational thought that may well have been spoken
by Buddha himself, a sacred communication across the ages. It has
been suggested that while the New Testament has the energy of a
young man who seeks to transform the world, The Dhammapada carries
the wisdom, serenity, and patience of an older person.
It covers perennial subjects such as pleasure, happiness, and evil
through almost poetic sayings, and unlike some writings in Buddhism
the style is unscholarly and to the point. As each era and culture has
interpreted it afresh, the book does not date. The following are some of
its subjects.
It is our duty to free ourselves from hate, disease, and restlessness. This
is not to be done by rejecting the world, but by cultivating love, health,
and calmness within it. The ideal state is to “feed on joy,” joy that can
be self-generated, flowing from an ever-reliable source; one no longer
has to rely on the events and conditions of the world for happiness.
Self-contained, we see ambition and acquisition to be inferior routes to
Sorrow arises from what is dear, as does fear. For someone free from
liking, there is no sorrow, so how could there be fear?
How can we not have likes and dislikes? Perhaps it is impossible,
but we should know that strong desires have a price. It makes sense
that if we are attached to something, we have an attendant fear of its
loss. By witnessing the transitory nature of the world and accepting
whatever comes to us, we can reduce attachment and therefore fear and
Discipline is all-important. The following verses speak for themselves:
“By energy, vigilance, self-control, and self-mastery, the wise one may
make an island that a flood cannot sweep away.”
“He who can be alone and rest alone and is never weary of his great
work, he can live in joy, when master of himself, by the edge of the
forest of desires.”
The idea of leaving normal life behind and becoming a hermit can sometimes
seem very attractive! But The Dhammapada says that taking solitary
refuge is a sign of egocentrism or fear. We are better off dealing
gracefully with the challenges of work and family life—through them we
can become enlightened. Cleary says that the key teaching of The
Dhammapada is “being in the world but not of the world.”
Retribution and its avoidance
The following two statements are possibly the most profound in The
Dhammapada, with implications for every aspect of human life and
“For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a
law eternal.”
“Overcome anger by non-anger, overcome evil by good. Overcome the
miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth.”
Note that there is nothing in these statements about not taking action;
they simply mean that whatever is done must be consciously chosen,
not an “emotional response.”
Accept criticism as a fact of life
“They disparage one who remains silent, they disparage one who talks
a lot, and they even disparage one who talks in moderation. There is
no-one in the world who is not disparaged.”
You can never please everyone! The main thing is to concentrate on
your own work, your integrity—to be independent of the good opinion
of others.
The Path
There is a myth that Buddhism is pessimistic, which comes from the
fifth saying in Chapter 20, “The Path.” A conventional translation
would be: “All is transient, all is sorrow. When one sees this, one is
above misery. This is the clear path.” Western culture has interpreted
these statements as implying that life is suffering.
In fact, and as Cleary argues in his translation, Buddhism is inherently
optimistic, believing that an individual, and humanity overall, can
rise above its folly, fear, and aggression.
“When one sees by insight that all conditioned states are miserable,
one then wearies of misery;
this is the path to purity.”
If we are independent of mind and do not let ourselves become robotic
reflections of our environment, life will not equate with suffering.
Nirvana is not obliteration of the world of the senses but being able to
live within it in total independence. In Pali, nirvana means “extinction”—
of the afflictions of greed, hate, conceit, delusion, doubt, and
arbitrary opinion.
The famous “four statements” are central to Buddhism because they
are the recipe for ending suffering:
❖ That misery or sorrow is a conditioned state.
❖ That it has a cause.
❖ That it has an end.
❖ That the way to end it is through practice of the eightfold path to
The eightfold path involves:
1 Accurate perception.
2 Accurate thinking.
3 Accurate speech.
4 Appropriate action.
5 Appropriate way of making a living (“right livelihood”).
6 Precise effort.
7 Mindfulness.
8 Meditation.
Final comments
It is amazing to think that a person may pick up a 2,500-year-old book
and be instantly refreshed by its insights. Of course, not only are
Buddha’s teachings still relevant, they are fashionable. Its lack of
dogma and ritual make Buddhism the perfect religion for contemporary
life. Though uprooted from tradition, we still want a level of spiritual
discipline, and it comes with the least baggage of the major world religions,
with an in-built resistance to zealotry; you don’t often hear of
Buddhist fundamentalists.
Somehow we expect spiritual truths to be complicated, only understood
by a keen theological mind. The sayings from The Dhammapada
show us just how unintellectual it all is. What may seem like empty
platitudes are accurate instructions for the best life imaginable.
Real Magic:
Creating Miracles in
Everyday Life
“As I look back at the entire tapestry of my life I can see from the perspective
of the present moment that every aspect of my life was necessary
and perfect. Each step eventually led to a higher place, even
though these steps often felt like obstacles or painful experiences.”
“Know that if anyone has gone from sickness to health, fat to slim,
addiction to choice, poor to rich, clumsy to agile, miserable to happy, or
discontentment to fulfillment, then that capacity is part of the universal
human condition … And, even if it has never been before—such as a
cure for polio prior to 1954, or an airplane ride in 1745—the fact that
one unique individual is capable of conceiving it in his or her mind is
all that is required for humankind to be open to the possibility.”
In a nutshell
When you are aligned with your higher self and your life purpose,
miraculous things happen.
In a similar vein
The Bhagavad-Gita (p30)
Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (p86)
Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life (p166)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (p276)
Wayne Dyer
Wayne Dyer is a much-loved bestselling author and prolific
speaker who, with his friend Deepak Chopra and the likes
of Anthony Robbins, John Gray, and James Redfield (author
of The Celestine Prophecy), has made life transformation into such a
massive contemporary phenomenon. The success of Your Erroneous
Zones (1976) saw Dyer leave respectable academia for the realm of
talk shows and book signings. If that first book was his most fun to
read (the play on the word erogenous is an indication), his most complete
and arguably finest book is Real Magic. Packed full of insights, it
is a self-actualization guide for real life that borrows freely from the
best thinkers of East and West.
What is real magic?
Dyer took the phrase “real magic” from Harry Houdini, the famous
escape artist. Late in his career, Houdini admitted that most of his feats
were performed by illusion, but others he could not even explain to
himself; these he called “real magic.” For Dyer, real magic is the paradoxical
truth that anyone can become a magician, a miracle maker in
their everyday lives. This might seem far-fetched, but as Dyer says, it is
simply a matter of changing the way you define your existence. He
quotes Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual
experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
The book takes the “impossibilities” in your life and, instead of suggesting
mere goal setting or strong beliefs, shows you how to develop
powerful “knowings” about who you are and what you can do. In this
state of higher awareness, your purpose in life becomes very clear, relationships
become more spiritual, work endeavors begin to “flow,” and
decisions are made with ease.
As Dyer sees it, there are no accidents in life. Each experience we
have, no matter how painful, eventually leads us to something of higher
value. When looking back, we can see that everything made sense and
was part of an unfolding plan.
Enlightenment through purpose
The thread running though Real Magic is the need to become aware of
our unique purpose in life. People learn or become “enlightened” about
life and themselves in three main ways:
❖ Enlightenment through suffering. This might also be called the “why
me?” path. Events occur, suffering takes place, and something is
learned. But when suffering is our only teacher, we shut off the possibility
of the miraculous.
❖ Enlightenment through outcome. In this path we have goals and
ambitions that make sense of life. While superior to enlightenment
through suffering, we must still be reactive and struggle, missing out
on the higher awareness that creates magic.
❖ Enlightenment through purpose. Everything in the universe has a
purpose, and by living according to our true purpose we begin to
walk in step with it, magically creating what we want instead of
battling against life.
A good indication that you are “on purpose” is if you lose track of
time while doing your task, if it gives so much pleasure that you would
want to do it even if you won $10 million tomorrow. Dyer remembers
Montaigne’s statement, “The great and glorious masterpiece of man is
to live with purpose.” Are you merely alive, or are you creating a
Creating a miracle mindset
Apart from purpose, we create a miracle mindset through:
❖ Withholding judgment (“you do not define people with your judgments,
your judgments define you”).
❖ Developing intuition.
❖ Knowing that intentions create your reality.
❖ Surrendering to the universe to provide for your needs.
Particularly important is the need to separate what we do from any
rewards it may bring. This is hard when we live in a culture of want,
yet Dyer observes the strange-but-true dictum that ambition can bite
the nails of success. We cannot will miracles to happen, but must let
them flow through us when we are fully concentrating on what we do,
not what it might bring. By all means have a relaxed intention about
the future, but do not let it interfere with your task in the present.
Purpose and relationships
Purpose also extends to our love life. Dyer says that all our relationships
are part of a divine necessity; they were meant to be, so make the
most of them. Spiritual partners go beyond what they may superficially
have in common to see that their relationship has to do with the evolution
of their souls. With this basic insight, we treat people as a gift, not
a chattel. We try to be kind, rather than right. We allow people as
much space and time as they need, which renews the relationship.
Lastly, since we know that each person is a wonderful mystery, we
no longer have to understand them. We “honor the incomprehensible”!
Purpose and the prospering self
Dyer is particularly valuable on prosperity. Mostly we worry about
whether we have money or do not have it, but his conception is that
we must not try to “get” anything: “There is no way to prosperity,
prosperity is the way.” Prosperity is chiefly a state of mind, just as
scarcity is. It is not about getting, but being. Prosperity consciousness is
about the knowledge of how much we already have in abundance; as
the biblical phrase has it, “To him that hath, more will be given.”
In contrast, poverty consciousness is based on feelings of lack, which
are manifested in your circumstances. Dyer echoes James Allen in saying
that circumstances do not make us, they reveal us. This is obviously
a sensitive area, as it could be interpreted that the poor deserve their
situation. But Dyer makes a crucial distinction: While most of us have
had the experience of being broke, “poor” is a set of beliefs that are
strengthened each time we blame “circumstances” for our plight. Living
out our purpose is a sure way to enter the stream of prosperity, as
it involves constant giving. Another way is automatically to give away
at least 10 percent of what we earn, even if that is not much.
Who am I meant to be?
Real Magic also covers personal identity. The chief point is that until
we see that the personality we have now is not set in stone, that we can
reinvent ourselves, we will not have a magic-filled life. The faint intuition
or nagging inside about your possibilities knows more about you
than you are willing to admit—treasure it and let it grow. Instead of
focusing on what we lack, this growth should come from a knowledge
that “we are it all already.” Reinvention of our personality simply
means exposing more of our true and greater self to the air.
Final comments
Real Magic also has excellent chapters on physical health, “becoming a
spiritual being,” and helping to usher in a “spiritual revolution.” Dyer
has the gift of talking about the non-material without sounding too
serious or mystical. He draws on his psychotherapy experience, the
great figures of eastern and western religions, and philosophy and
quantum physics to prove his points, all the while avoiding
The very personal way in which Dyer speaks to the reader has made
him a favorite to millions. People identify with him as a person who
has managed to combine the spiritual path with the patience-snapping
demands of family life. Indeed, in his public talks he can be very amusing
on this subject, telling once of his teenage daughter slouching
against a door and saying, “Someone at school said you wrote a book
on parenting. Tell me it’s not true!”
Dyer’s secret is meditation, and he is fond of quoting Pascal: “All
man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room
alone.” If sitting quietly in a room alone seems an impossible task for
you, a good alternative would be to read this book.
Wayne Dyer
Born in 1940 in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest of three boys, Dyer
spent many of his childhood years in foster homes. After high school he
enlisted in the US Navy for four years’ service, including a posting in
Guam working as a cryptographer. After college in Detroit he worked
as a teacher and acquired a Master’s degree in school counseling, but
envied the fewer teaching hours of the professors who had given his
classes and so enrolled in a doctorate program in psychotherapy.
Six years of university teaching followed, including an associate
professorship at St. John’s University in New York; during this time he
wrote three textbooks. Your Erroneous Zones was written after the
emotional discovery of his father’s grave (related in You’ll See It When
You Believe It) in Biloxi, Mississippi. Dyer spent a year on the road
promoting it before it became a bestseller.
Dyer is reputed to have sold over 50 million books, with titles
including Pulling Your Own Strings, What Do You Really Want for
Your Children?, You’ll See It When You Believe It, Your Sacred Self,
Manifesting Your Destiny, Wisdom of the Ages (60 essays on the great
spiritual figures of the last 2,500 years), and most recently There Is a
Spiritual Solution to Every Problem.
Dyer maintains a busy speaking schedule and is a keen runner. He is
married with eight children and lives in Florida.
“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every
moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of
the adopted talent of another you have only extemporaneous half possession.
That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach
him ... Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or
Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? ... Do that which is assigned to you,
and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.”
“We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of
its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern
truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams.”
“Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the
better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty
and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Selfreliance
is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and
customs. Who would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”
In a nutshell
Whatever the pressures, be your own person.
In a similar vein
The Bhagavad-Gita (p30)
Samuel Smiles, Self-Help (p270)
Henry David Thoreau, Walden (p282)
Ralph Waldo Emerson
At only 30 pages, Self-Reliance is the shortest text covered in this
book. It has the qualities of a concentrate, perhaps the very
essence of personal development, and its ideas have had immeasurable
influence. Self-Reliance was one of the key pieces of writing
that helped carve the ethic of American individualism, and forms part
of the intellectual bedrock of today’s self-help writers.
As one of the great philosopher-sages of western culture, Emerson
still matters; in fact, he has never been more relevant. The yearning to
fulfill our potential has always been human nature; now, however, we
are likely to see it as a right rather than a starry wish. Emerson called
his philosophy idealism, but it was not romantic, unrealistic, or fuzzy.
Rather, as Geldard says in The Vision of Emerson: “It has a touch of
granite in it.”
For Emerson, self-reliance was more than the image of a family
carving out a life on the frontier. Though he admired the do-it-yourself
attitude and reveled in nature, Emerson’s frontier, the place of real freedom
and opportunity, was a mental landscape free of mediocrity and
Unique and free
Like his friend and protégé Henry David Thoreau (see Walden),
Emerson thought it silly to run around reforming and bettering the
world, even giving to “good causes,” before we had found our place in
it. He famously observed:
“All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man
If we could not examine ourselves and identify our calling, we would
be of little use. Lack of awareness would see us quickly molded into
shape by a society that cared little for the beauty and freedom of the
This is the path most of us take, happy to go along with society’s
program in exchange for a level of status and reasonable material
circumstances. Though we profess to break away from limitations, the
reality is comfort in conformity.
But why should we bother breaking out? Why risk the insecurity?
Just as an ant cannot appreciate the level of living that a human can
enjoy, so most of us do not know what we are missing if we never look
beyond our little worlds. We tend to rely on things like sex, work success,
eating, and shopping for that feeling of aliveness. Emerson saw
though the veil of the external, knowing that it is the inner domains
that reveal true riches, peace, and power. The only proper defense
against numbing conformity is to find and walk the trail of uniqueness.
In Self-Reliance there are many calls to that end:
“We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea
which each of us represents.”
In expressing this divine idea that is ourselves, the apparently strong
and necessary bonds to society and other people fall away; we no
longer need their approval to function. We stand in the same position
as Martin Luther, who said: “Here I stand—I can do no other”; this is
me, this is what I’m about.
Our primary duty is not ultimately to our family, to our job, to our
country, but only that which calls us to do or to be. Too often “duty”
hides a lack of responsibility in taking up a unique path. We can push
aside a calling for some years, choosing obvious sources of money or
satisfaction or a more comfortable situation, but it will eventually
make its claims.
For Emerson, genius was not owned by the great artists and
scientists. The genuine things we do, those that don’t refer to what others
are likely to think, are fragments of genius that must be expanded
to form all the days of our life. Only by finding and expressing this
essence is a person’s true nature revealed, whereas “Your conformity
explains nothing.”
Clarity and knowledge
Emerson was heavily influenced by the ancient eastern religious texts
(Upanishads, Vedas, The Bhagavad-Gita). Their philosophy is a revelation
of the oneness of all things; life is full of illusions and false ties
that prevent us from being reunited with what is eternal and unchanging.
Through awareness of our own thought processes we might hope
to clear the fog of self-deception and illusion, what we now call the
“scripting” of our lives by society. To be self-reliant is not to take anyone’s
word for anything. Emerson did not disagree with Thoreau’s contention
that Harvard, which they both attended, taught many
disciplines, but the roots of none of them.
Emerson was aware that conventional education was not really up
to this job of lifting the veil, as it mainly dealt in intellectual categorization.
We would achieve real awareness in meditative thought that,
instead of closing down knowledge into compartments, involved opening
up to receive whole, changeless wisdom. This primary knowing
Emerson called intuition, while all later teaching was merely tuition.
He tried to make us think twice about depending on the strength of our
will alone. Meditative thought, because it puts us in tune with universal
forces and laws, leads us to ways of being and doing that are inherently
right and “successful.”
Inner treasure
The people of his time saw Emerson as a sage or a prophet, with fewer
of the faults of human nature than anyone they knew. But Emerson
had, as does anyone, the hopes, the highs, the setbacks of which life
seems to consist. What made him stand out was a belief that we did
not have to have a seesawing emotional life reacting to good or bad
events. These are the final lines of Self-Reliance:
“A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick or the
return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event raises your
spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe
it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you
peace but the triumph of principles.”
This speaks to the very heart of the human condition and the ideas
about fortune by which we live. Yet Emerson believed that all
happiness was ultimately self-generated. It was not human nature to be
permanently hostage to events—we are quite capable of detachment or
Final comments
The reader may find no better writer than Emerson to help make the
leap into self-reliant freedom. It is difficult to read Self-Reliance simply
as a historical work, because you are easily pulled into Emerson’s orbit
of pure responsibility and self-awareness, a world in which there are no
excuses, only opportunities.
His message is that the wish to succeed is not about our steely will
against the universe. Rather, by becoming more fully aware of the patterns
and flow of nature, time, and space, by working with the grain of
the universe, we are part of an infinitely greater power. The principles
he talked of in the quote above are not restrictive, but our creative,
conscious response to the world; our lives should reflect this perfect
universe, rather than being shaped by the crooked turns and boxes of
culture. The self-reliant individual should be able to live in the world
and improve it, not be merely another product of it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Born in 1803 in Boston, Emerson was the second oldest of eight children.
Enrolled at Harvard at the age of 14, he graduated four years
later halfway down in his class. After some time as a schoolteacher, he
attended Divinity College at Harvard, became a Unitarian pastor, and
married, only to see his wife Ellen die of tuberculosis. After resigning
his post because of doctrinal disputes, Emerson traveled to Europe and
met Carlyle, Coleridge, and Wordsworth.
Returning to America in 1835, he settled in Concord and married
again, to Lydia Jackson, with whom he had five children. In 1836 he
published Nature, which set down transcendentalist principles; other
transcendentalists included Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Amos Bronson
Alcott, Elizabeth Peabody, and Jones Very. In the following two years
Emerson delivered controversial addresses at Harvard, the first asserting
American intellectual independence from Europe, the second
attracting the wrath of the religious establishment in its plea for independence
of belief above all creeds and churches.
In 1841 and 1844 two series of essays were published, including
“Self-Reliance,” “Spiritual Laws,” “Compensation and Experience”
and, in the decade 1850–60, “Representative Men,” “English Traits,”
and “The Conduct of Life.” Emerson stopped writing and lecturing ten
years before his death in 1882.
Women Who Run
with the Wolves
“Wildlife and the Wild Woman are both endangered species.
Over time, we have seen the feminine instinctive nature looted, driven
back, and overbuilt. For long periods it has been mismanaged like the
wildlife and the wildlands.”
“A healthy woman is much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life
force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving. Yet, separation
from the wildish nature causes a woman’s personality to become
meager, thin, ghostly, spectral … When women’s lives are in stasis, or
filled with ennui, it is always time for the wildish woman to emerge; it
is time for the creating function of the psyche to flood the delta.”
“The modern woman is a blur of activity. She is pressured to be all
things to all people. The old knowing is long overdue.”
In a nutshell
Reconnecting with your wild nature is not a mad indulgence but vital
to mental and physical health.
In a similar vein
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
Robert Bly, Iron John (p40)
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (p68)
James Hillman, The Soul’s Code (p170)
Carol S. Pearson, The Hero Within (p234)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Modern psychology does not really cater to the deeper side of
woman; it leaves no real explanation for her longings, it does
not shine light on her mysteries, it does not allow her time.
Estés has spent her life in the belief that the old stories from many cultural
traditions can reconnect women with their soul, their wilder
nature. She is what is known as a cantadora, a keeper of the old stories.
The title of the book came from the author’s study of wolves, whom
she realized had much in common with women in their spiritedness,
their intuitive and instinctive nature, and their travails. Like wolves,
women have been demonized for any sign of wildness and their homelands
concreted over; but just as many wild wolf populations have been
re-established, it is about time that women regained access to their wild
Women Who Run with the Wolves is, overall, a spectacular work
that has left many in its thrall. It has revolutionized many women’s
lives in the way that Iron John has for men. With myths and tales for
every conceivable aspect of life, to say it is rich is an understatement.
We can only really gloss over its contents, but the following couple of
stories, abstracted from the book, may give you some idea.
The seal woman
Once, in a very harsh place, a hunter was out in his kayak. It was past
dark and he had not found anything. He came upon the great spotted
rock in the sea, and in the half-light the rock appeared to be full of
graceful movement. As he drew closer, he saw a group of stunningly
beautiful women, and in his loneliness he felt pangs of love and longing.
He saw a sealskin on the edge of the rock and stole it. As the
women donned their skins and swam back into their watery home, one
of them realized she was without her skin.
The man called out to her to “Be my wife, I am lonely” but she said, “I
can’t, I am of the Temeqvanek, I live beneath.” But he said this to her:
“Be my wife, and in seven summers I’ll give you back your skin, and
you can do as you wish.” Relunctantly, the seal woman agreed.
They had a much-loved child, Ooruk, whom she taught all the stories
about the creatures of the sea that she knew. But after a time her flesh
started to dry out, she turned pale and her sight began to darken. The
day came when she asked for her skin back.
“No,” said the husband—did she want to leave the family motherless
and wifeless?
In the night Ooruk heard a giant seal calling in the wind, and he followed
the call to the water. In the rocks he found a sealskin and, on
smelling it, realized it was his mother’s. Taking it to her, she was
delighted, and took him with her under the water where she introduced
the boy to the great seal and all the others.
She regained her color and her health, because she had returned
home. She became known as the seal no one could kill, Tanquigcaq,
holy one. After a while she had to return the child to land, but when
he grew up he was often seen communing with a particular seal near
the water.
The seal, Estés says, is an old and beautiful symbol of the wild soul.
Seals are generally comfortable with humans, but like young or inexperienced
women they are sometimes not aware of potential harm or the
intentions of others. All of us at some point will experience a “loss of
our sealskin,” a robbing of innocence or spirit, a weakening of identity.
At the time it always seems horrible or at least difficult, but later you
will hear people say that it was the best thing that happened to them,
because it clarified who they are and what life is to them. It puts us in
touch with deeper things.
The story evokes the duality between the “above-water” world of
family and work, and the oceanic world of private thoughts, emotions,
and desires. The soul-home cannot be left unvisited for too long or, like
the seal woman, our personalities dry up and the body is leached of
energy. Many women lose their “soulskin” by giving too much or by
being too perfectionistic or ambitious, by constant dissatisfaction, or by
lacking the will to do anything about it.
Everyone wants a bit of the modern woman, but there has to be a
point where she says “no” and reclaims her soulskin. This might
involve anything from a weekend away in the woods, to a night with
friends, to setting side an hour a day when no one can ask for anything.
Others might not understand it, but in the long term it benefits
them as much as you, and you’ll come back refreshed and psychically
The skeleton woman
Once there was a lonely arctic fisherman who, one day, thought he had
hooked a big fish that would stop him having to hunt for a while. He
got excited when there was a big pull on the nets, but was shocked
when he saw what he’d pulled up: a woman’s skeleton.
The woman had been thrown over the cliffs by her father, and she had
sunk to the bottom. Appalled at his “catch,” the fisherman tried to
throw it back, but the skeleton came to some sort of life and pursued
him back to his ice-home.
He took pity on her and cleaned her up and let her rest, before falling
asleep himself. During the night she saw a tear coming from his eye,
and she drank and drank the tears, so thirsty was she. And in the night
she took his heart and used it to make her come alive again, as flesh
and blood. A person again, she crawled into his sack with him.
Thereafter, the couple were always well fed, thanks to the sea creatures
the woman knew when she was at the bottom of the sea.
Estés understands the story to be about relationships. When you are
single, you look for someone who is loving enough or rich enough so
that, like the fisherman, you “won’t have to hunt for a while.” You are
just after more life in your life, something enjoyable and fun.
However, once you get a good look at what you’ve pulled up
(maybe after the first flittery phase), like the fisherman you try to
“throw him or her back.” You realize that you’ve got more than you
bargained for, that this is getting serious. The other person stops meaning
good times to you, they become the skeleton woman—the horror of
settling down, mortality, long-term commitment, ups and downs, age,
ending of the current life. Yet if you are lucky, the “skeleton” will not
accept your rejection but chase you to your home (your limits and insecurities).
In time you realize that this being has a lot to offer, attractive
even if scary; for some reason you want do something for this person.
In return the being gives you abundance, but of things and from
sources that you didn’t know existed.
The skeleton woman story is about what Estés calls the “life/death/
life” cycle. In modern cultures we are terrified of any sort of death,
whereas in older ones everyone was aware that new life came as the
companion to death. When we shy away from serious relationships, it
is never the other person we can’t face up to, it is the unwillingness to
enter into the time-honored cycle. We will not grow in this relationship,
but seek another one and perhaps then another, so that we only experience
a continual high of “life.” This shrinks the psyche. Every relationship
has many endings and beginnings within it, and what to our
horror may seem like the final end is much more likely to be a necessary
change so that the relationship can renew itself.
A woman, and indeed a man, must become aware of and willingly
embrace the life/death/life cycle if they are ever to be in touch with
their wild nature. Estés says of the skeleton woman:
“She surfaces, like it or not, for without her there can be no real knowledge
of life, and without that knowing, there can be no fealty, no real
love or devotion.”
Final comments
Most people don’t read this book as they normally read. You will find
yourself taking in a chapter at a time then going away to ruminate on
it. This is how it should be. It seems too big to tackle at first (over 500
pages), but treat it as a family of voices that you listen to one by one.
Let it sink in slowly and you will begin to understand why it has
inspired so many people, not only women.
A final word. You may be thinking: “If I embrace the wild nature in
me, I will turn my world and my family upside down!” Not so, Estés
says: Doing this brings more integrity to your personal life and your
existence, because you will not be trying to walk around in a disguise,
you won’t be afraid of being a creator, a lover, someone who chases
after what is right, an intuition truster, a woman truly aware of her
power and attuned to nature. All these things are your birthright and
nothing to fear.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Fostered by immigrant Hungarians near the Great Lakes in Michigan,
Estés grew up amid nature and hearing stories from a long non-literate
tradition. Her roots are Mexican-Spanish.
She has a doctorate in ethno-clinical psychology, or the study of
tribes and groups, and is a Jungian psychoanalyst. She is also a
renowned poet.
The writing of Women Who Run with the Wolves was begun in
1971 and the stories collected from across North America. Other books
include The Gift of Story and The Faithful Gardener, which is based on
her childhood experiences.
Man’s Search for
“At times, lightning decisions had to be made, decisions which spelled
life or death. The prisoner would have preferred to let fate make the
choice for him. This escape from commitment was most apparent when
a prisoner had to make the decision for or against an escape attempt. In
those minutes in which he had to make up his mind—and it was
always a question of minutes—he suffered the tortures of Hell.”
“We were grateful for the smallest of mercies. We were glad when
there was time to delouse before going to bed, although this in itself
was no pleasure, as it meant standing naked in an unheated hut where
icicles hung from the ceiling.”
“If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a
Bavarian camp as we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits
glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of the
prison carriage, he would never have believed that those were the faces
of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty. Despite that
factor—or maybe because of it—we were carried away by nature’s
beauty, which we had missed for so long.”
In a nutshell
The meaning of life is the meaning that you decide to give it.
In a similar vein
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (p46)
Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl’s wife, father, mother, and brother died in the concentration
camps of Nazi Germany. Only his sister survived.
Enduring extreme hunger, cold, and brutality, first in Auschwitz
and then Dachau, Frankl himself was under constant threat of going to
the gas ovens. He lost every physical belonging on his first day in the
camps, and was forced to surrender a scientific manuscript that he considered
his life’s work.
This is, if there ever was one, a story that could excuse someone
believing that life is meaningless and suicide a reasonable option. Yet
having been lowered into the pits of humanity, Frankl emerged an optimist.
His reasoning was that even in the most terrible circumstances,
people still have the freedom to choose how they see their circumstances
and create meaning out of them. As Gordon Allport notes in
his preface to the third edition, this is what the ancient Stoics called the
“last freedom.” The evil of torture is not so much the physical torment,
but the active attempt to extinguish freedom.
Redefining human achievement
A favorite quote of Frankl’s was from Nietzsche, “He who has a why to
live can bear with almost any how.” The most poignant bits of this classic
are Frankl’s recollections of the thoughts that gave him the will to
live. Mental images of his wife provided the only light in the dark days of
the concentration camp, and there is a beautiful scene when he is thinking
of her with such intensity that when a bird hops on to a mound in
front of him, it appears to be her living embodiment. He also imagined
himself after liberation in lecture halls, telling people about what must
never happen again. This proved to be prophetic. Finally, there was the
desire to jot down notes remembered from his lost manuscript.
The men who had given up, in contrast, could be recognized
because they smoked their last cigarettes, which could otherwise have
been traded for a scrap of food. These men had decided that life held
nothing more for them. Yet this thinking struck Frankl as a terrible
mistake. We are not here to judge life according to what we expected
from it and what it has delivered. Rather, he realized, we must find the
courage to ask what life expects of us, day by day. Our task is not
merely to survive, but to find the guiding truth specific to us and our
situation, which can sometimes only be revealed in the worst suffering.
Indeed, Frankl says that “rather than being a symptom of neurosis, suffering
may well be a human achievement.”
The book’s impact
Man’s Search for Meaning has sold over nine million copies and been
translated into 24 languages. It was voted one of America’s ten most
influential books by the Library of Congress. Yet Frankl, who originally
wanted the book to be published with only his prisoner number on the
cover, stated that he did not see the work as a great achievement. Its
success was “an expression of the misery of our time,” revealing the
ravenous hunger for meaningful existence.
Apart from its bestseller status, Man’s Search for Meaning has been
a big influence on the major self-help writers. The emphasis on responsibility
that we find in Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
for example, is directly inspired by Frankl, and the work is referenced
in a number of books covered in this volume.
The current edition has three parts: the autobiographical “Experiences
in a concentration camp”; a theoretical essay “Logotherapy in a
nutshell” (1962); and a piece titled “The case for a tragic optimism”
(1984). With this structure, the unputdownable personal story leads the
reader on to its intellectual implications.
The will to meaning and logotherapy
What is amazing about Frankl’s experiences is that they caused him to
live out the ideas about which, as a doctor before the outbreak of the
Second World War, he had been theorizing. The theory and the practice
became the Third School of Viennese psychotherapy, logotherapy (from
the Greek logos, “meaning”), following Freud’s psychoanalysis and
Adler’s individual psychology. Whereas psychoanalysis requires introspection
and self-centeredness to reveal the basis of someone’s neurosis,
logotherapy tries to take the person out of themselves and see their life
in a broader perspective. Where psychoanalysis focuses on the “will to
pleasure” and Adlerian psychology on the “will to power,” logotherapy
sees the prime motivating force in human beings as a “will to meaning.”
Frankl remembers an American diplomat coming to his office in
Vienna who had spent five years in psychoanalysis. Discontented with
his job and uncomfortable about implementing US foreign policy, this
man’s analyst had laid the blame on the relationship with his father:
The United States government represented the father image and was
therefore the superficial object of his angst, but the real issue was his
feelings toward his biological father. Frankl, however, simply diagnosed
a lack of purpose in the man’s work and suggested a career change.
The diplomat took his advice and never looked back.
The point of the anecdote is that in logotherapy, existential distress
is not neurosis or mental disease, but a sign that we are becoming more
human in the desire for meaning. In contrast to Freud or Adler, Frankl
chose not to see life simply as the satisfaction of drives or instincts, or
even as becoming “well adjusted” to society. Instead, he (and humanistic
psychology in general, for example Abraham Maslow and Carl
Rogers) believed that the outstanding feature of human beings is their
free will.
Sources of meaning
Logotherapy says that mental health arises when we learn how to close
the gap between what we are and what we could become. But what if we
are yet to identify what we could become? Frankl noted that the modern
person has almost too much freedom to deal with. We no longer live
through instinct, but tradition is no guide either. This is the existential
vacuum, in which the frustrated will to meaning is compensated for in
the urge for money, sex, entertainment, even violence. We are not open to
the various sources of meaning, which according to Frankl are:
1 Creating a work or doing a deed.
2 Experiencing something or encountering someone (love).
3 The attitude we take to unavoidable suffering.
The first is a classic source, defined as “life purpose” in the self-help literature.
Our culture expects happiness, yet Frankl says that this is not
something that we should seek directly. He defines happiness as a byproduct
of forgetting ourselves in a task that draws on all our imagination
and talents.
The second is important as it makes experience (inner and outer) a
legitimate alternative to achievement in a society built around achieving.
The third gives suffering a meaning, but what meaning? Frankl admits
that we may never know, or at least not until later in life. Just because
we do not comprehend meaning, it does not mean that there is none.
To the people who say that life is meaningless because it is transitory,
Frankl’s response is “only the unfulfilment of potential is meaningless,
not life itself.” Our culture worships the young, yet it is age
that is to be admired, since the older person has loved, suffered, and
fulfilled so much. Fulfillment of your own potential, however humble,
will make a permanent imprint on the history of the world, and the
decision to make that imprint defines responsibility. Freedom is only
one half of the equation. The other half is responsibility to act on it.
Final comments
If there is a thread running through personal development writing, it is
a belief in the changeability of the individual. Determinism, in contrast,
says that we can never arise above our childhood or our genetic makeup.
Freud believed that if a group of people were all to be deprived of
food, their individual differences would lessen, to be replaced by a single
mass urge. But Frankl’s concentration camp experience often
revealed to him the opposite. The hunger, torture, and filth did serve to
desensitize the prisoners, but despite being herded as animals, many
somehow avoided a mob mentality. We can never predict the behavior
of an individual and can make few generalizations about what it means
to be human:
“Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he
really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of
Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers
upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”
What makes humans different as a species is that we can live for ideals
and values. How else, as Frankl noted, would you be able to hold your
head up as you entered the gas chamber? Aware that most of us would
never even come close to such a horrible fate, he used it as a reference
point, a symbol of personal responsibility that could guide the decisions
we make in our everyday lives. No matter what the circumstances, his
book says, we can be free.
Viktor Frankl
Frankl was born in 1905 in Vienna. Before the Second World War he
graduated with two doctorates in medicine and philosophy from the
University of Vienna. During the war he spent three years at Auschwitz,
Dachau, and other concentration camps. Man’s Search for Meaning
was written on Frankl’s return to Vienna after liberation, and was dictated
over nine days.
The ensuing years were spent as chief of the neurology department
of the Policlinic Hospital, Vienna, but in the 1960s he moved to the
United States. He held visiting professorships at Harvard and other US
universities and did over 50 American lecture tours. Throughout his life
he was a keen mountain climber.
Frankl wrote more than 30 books, including Psychotherapy and
Existentialism, The Unconscious God and The Unheard Cry for Meaning,
and in the year of his death published an autobiography, Victor
Frankl: Recollections. There have been at least 145 books and more
than 1,400 journal articles written about Frankl and logotherapy, and
Frankl himself received 28 honorary degrees.
He died in 1997, in the same week as Mother Teresa and Princess
“And I was not discourag’d by the seeming Magnitude of the Undertaking,
as I have always thought that one Man of tolerable Abilities may
work great Changes, & accomplish great Affairs among Mankind, if he
first forms a good Plan, and, cutting off all Amusements or other
Employments that would divert his Attention, makes the Execution of
that same Plan his sole Study and Business.”
“When another asserted something that I thought an Error, I deny’d
myself the Pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of immediately
showing some Absurdity in his Proposition; and in answering I began
by observing that in certain Cases or Circumstances his Opinion would
be right, but that in the present case there appear’d or seem’d to me
some Difference etc. I soon found the Advantage of this Change in my
Manners. The Conversations I engag’d in went on more pleasantly.”
In a nutshell
Constant self-improvement and a love of learning form your ticket to
unusual success.
In a similar vein
Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (p96)
Samuel Smiles, Self-Help (p270)
Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin is best known as a historical figure, for his role
in the American Revolution and experiments with electricity. But
as Franklin scholar Ormond Seavey notes in his introduction to
the Autobiography, his great influence on the affairs of the eighteenthcentury
western world in business, politics, and science was built on his
skill as a writer. In the history books he looms large as a co-drafter of
the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, but
the Autobiography has been lauded by biographer Richard Amacher as
“The first great book written in America.”
It helped to create the modern literary form of the autobiography
and has been a bestseller for two centuries, despite the fact that it was
never finished or properly edited. Franklin’s attitude to written work is
summed up in one of his own aphorisms:
“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten,
either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”
The book
The Autobiography was not a chronicle of Franklin’s brilliance; the
idea was to show how a person’s life and character could become a
noble one through constant self-assessment. Franklin, as a scientist,
wrote it almost as if it were a report on the failures and successes of
experiments in living.
At no point did he claim any special mastery over how to live life,
but he was committed to finding a formula that could assure a person
of some success. This motivation makes the Autobiography one of the
original self-help classics.
Franklin never tried to show superiority; he spoke directly to the
reader and laced the book with subtle humor, giving it the intimate feel
of a fireside chat. The first part detailed experiences with family, friends,
bosses, and work colleagues, in addition to travels and attempts to start
new businesses, all of which will strike chords with today’s reader.
Creating the best possible self
Franklin believed that virtue had worth for its own sake, whether or
not it was to the glory of God. His background was Puritan and culturally
he remained one, self-examining and self-improving. In his famous
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber names
Franklin as a key exponent of this ethic. Franklin was a printer by
trade and believed that character was the result of correcting the
“errata” that prevent us attaining perfection. Life is not something we
must suffer through, but is ripe for endless tinkering.
This is why Franklin is seminal in self-help literature—he disregarded
any religious conception that we are naturally bad or good people,
but saw humans rather as blank slates designed for success. Seavey
notes, “It was always natural for Franklin to be trying on a fresh identity,
as if he were putting on new clothes.” He was truly modern in seeing
that the individual was not a fixed proposition at all, but
Franklin’s law of constant self-improvement
Franklin wrote the Autobiography as an old man, considered a great
man. He had arrived in Philadelphia from Boston with a couple of
shillings and three bread rolls, two of which, characteristically, he gave
to a woman in need. Instinctively knowing that mastery of words
would be his ticket out of mediocrity, he would persuade a friend
working at a booksellers to “lend” him books overnight, devouring
them between finishing his day’s work and starting another. Franklin
would have agreed with the phrase “leaders are readers”: Read at least
a dozen non-fiction books a year and your life will be immeasurably
enriched and improved.
Nevertheless, as a young man Franklin never dreamed of becoming
an independence leader or ambassador to France. The reader of his life
should not dwell on his actual accomplishments; they are less important
than the efforts to achieve self-mastery that he described.
Franklin’s message is timeless: Greatness is not for the few, but is the
duty of all of us. We protest that we are not that special, that we don’t
have the talent or the drive, but Franklin knew that an ethic of constant
self-improvement is the yeast that makes an individual rise.
Franklin and the self-help ethic
The famous example of Franklin’s self-help ethic is what has become
known as The Art of Virtue, in which he listed the 12 qualities he
aimed to possess.
By a system of graphs and daily self-appraisal, he claimed to have
(mostly) achieved the desired virtues, having some difficulty with Order,
or what we might now call time management; but realizing he was too
proud at having lived up to his own standards, he created a thirteenth,
1 Temperance. Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.
2 Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid
trifling conversation.
3 Order. Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your
Business have its Time.
4 Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail
what you resolve.
5 Frugality. Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself;
that is, Waste nothing.
6 Industry. Lose no Time. Be always employed in something useful.
Cut off all unnecessary actions.
7 Sincerity. Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and if
you speak, speak accordingly.
8 Justice. Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are
your Duty.
9 Moderation. Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting injuries so much as
you think they deserve.
10 Cleanliness. Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.
11 Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or
12 Chastity. Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; never to
Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or
13 Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Franklin also advocated use of a “morning question”—“What good
shall I do this day?”—and an “evening question”—“What good have I
done today?”
The Autobiography has had a major influence on self-help writing.
Anthony Robbins’s blockbuster Awaken the Giant Within recommends
these questions as part of a daily success ritual. Franklin’s slightly
bizarre idea of writing one’s own epitaph early on in life, in order to
gain control of what you do in it, is now an established self-improvement
technique. Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective
People) makes no secret of his debt to Franklin, whose life he describes
as “the story of one person’s heroic effort to make principles the basis
of existence.” This attention to character, rather than personality techniques,
is the foundation of Covey’s seven habits.
The secret of influence
Finally, Franklin’s built-in skill at winning friends and influencing people
did not escape the attention of Dale Carnegie. As a young man,
Franklin believed himself to be highly skilled in argument, but came to
the conclusion that this “skill” actually stood in the way of getting
things done. He developed the habit of only ever expressing himself in
terms of “modest Diffidence,” never saying words like “undoubtedly”
or trying to correct people. Instead, he used measured phrases such as
“It appears to me...” or “If I am not mistaken...” The result was that,
even though he was not a great speaker, people focused on his ideas
and he was quick to gain credibility.
Final comments
Franklin’s Autobiography is an up-by-the-bootstraps story representing
the freedom to create and prosper that is the essence of American
morality. Yet given the author’s great sense of humor, his chameleon
qualities, and his skill at self-promotion, it would be naïve to take The
Art of Virtue or the Autobiography as one’s gospel. Reverence is not a
very Franklinesque trait.
His prescriptions have not gone without criticism. Thoreau believed
that they made for a dreary race against time to amount wealth, never
stopping to enjoy nature or the moment. Franklin scholar Russel B.
Nye termed his subject “the first apostle of frugality and the patron
saint of savings accounts.” This comment was probably more directed
at Franklin’s collections of aphorisms on money and thrift, The Way to
Wealth. The man’s life, however, did not fit the image of pennypinching
Puritanism, for it is obvious that he lived with panache.
Franklin appreciated that the self-help ethic is not about earnest striving,
but more about excitement at the prospect of a richer life.
Benjamin Franklin
Franklin was born in Boston in 1706, the son of a chandler and the
youngest of 17 children. His formal education lasted up until the age of
10. From age 12 to 17 he was an apprentice printer to his brother—
who produced one of America’s first newspapers—before settling in
Philadelphia. Eventually he set up his own printing shop, and by his
late 20s was publishing the highly successful Poor Richard’s
Almanacks, a mix of practical information with aphorisms, many of
which are still in use. By age 42 he was wealthy enough to retire but
pursued civic projects and experiments with electricity, inventing the
lightning rod.
Franklin’s party leadership in the Pennsylvania Assembly led to
involvement in negotiations between Britain and colonial America, and
he served on a committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence.
Made American ambassador to France at age 69, during a decade in
that post he negotiated France’s assistance for the US and a peace
accord with Britain. He was selected as a delegate to the Constitutional
Convention of 1787.
When he died in 1790, Franklin was arguably the most famous
American in the world. The Autobiography was then published, but
covered his life only up to 1758. It had been written in fits between
1771 and 1790 while he was living in France.
Franklin has been called America’s first entrepreneur. Apart from his
other successes, he charted the Gulf Stream, designed a domestic heater,
created a public library, originated a city fire department, and served on
a French committee looking into hypnotism.
Creative Visualization
“Creative visualization is magic in the truest and highest meaning of
the word. It involves understanding and aligning yourself with the natural
principles that govern the workings of our universe, and learning to
use these principles in the most conscious and creative way.”
“If you had never seen a gorgeous flower or a spectacular sunset
before, and someone described one to you, you might consider it to be
a miraculous thing (which it truly is!). Once you saw a few yourself,
and began to learn something about the natural laws involved, you
would begin to understand how they are formed and it would seem
natural to you and not particularly mysterious. The same is true of the
process of creative visualization. What at first might seem amazing or
impossible to the very limited type of education our rational minds
have received, becomes perfectly understandable once we learn and
practice with the underlying concepts involved.”
In a nutshell
Life tends to live up to the thoughts and images you have about it,
good or bad. Why not imagine your future the way you want it?
In a similar vein
Steve Andreas & Charles Faulkner, NLP (p14)
Wayne Dyer, Real Magic (p120)
Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life (p166)
Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind (p222)
Shakti Gawain
There is nothing weird or New Age about creative visualization.
We live out so much of our lives in our imaginations, making pictures
or movies of what we’d like to happen or what we fear will
happen. We visualize all the time, but in an unconscious way. With
creative visualization, you consciously decide and take responsibility
for what you want to manifest as reality in your life.
Practicing creative visualization is about appreciating the join
between imagination and reality, between the unseen laws that govern
the world and its physical reality. Could it be, then, that the failure to
bring about what you have wanted in life may simply be a lack of
knowledge or appreciation of the way the universe operates? This book
will be particularly useful if you are a “go with the flow” person yet
realize that you need to have more control over your future. This is the
paradox that Shakti Gawain appreciated when she sat down to write
the book, so you are not alone.
The technique
Think about things in your life that you want: a new job or to start a
business, a beautiful relationship, a feeling of peace or serenity,
improved mental skills, sporting prowess.
With creative visualization, the key to success is to quieten your mind
so that your brainwaves are at “alpha” level. You will often find this
state just before sleep, first thing in the morning, while meditating, or
perhaps sitting next to a river or in a forest. While your first instinct may
be to dream up nice “things” that you want, the real purpose is to peel
away the layers of your normal reactive self and let thoughts flow that
express the higher you. From this position you are only likely to think
about what is really best for you and what would make you truly happy.
If, for instance, you have been having trouble with someone at
work, instead of your usual feelings of spite and dislike, picture
yourself communicating in a relaxed and open way with that person.
Whatever has been said before between you, let it go and mentally
bless the person anyway. The next time you come into contact, the normal
barriers may seem to have evaporated and you may be surprised
how quickly things change for the better.
Gawain notes that the purpose of creative visualization is not to
“control” people with your mind—it doesn’t work if used for negative
or manipulative ends—but to “dissolve our internal barriers to natural
The science of creative visualization
How can creative visualization work?
❖ The physical universe is energy. All matter, when you break it down
to smaller and smaller bits, is made up of particles of energy that
when put together in a specific way create the illusion of “solidity.”
❖ Different types of matter have different levels of particle vibration. A
rock, a flower, or a person is energy moving at different vibrations.
Energy of a certain quality or vibration tends to attract that of a
similar vibration. A thought is a form of light, mobile energy that
tends to find physical expression.
❖ When we creatively visualize or make affirmations of positive outcomes
and states, we are radiating thought energy into the universe.
The universe responds in the form of matter or events. Creative visualization
is literally “sowing the seeds” of the life we want.
Some further points include the following:
❖ Affirmations. You don’t have to actually “see” images to be a creative
visualizer. Some people aren’t very good at this and find it more effective
merely to think about what they desire, or turn it into an affirmation
(e.g., “I deserve the best and the best is coming to me now.”)
Affirmations, Gawain says, “make firm what you are imaging.” They
must be in the present tense and should include verbs. Power also tends
to be added if you invoke God, infinite intelligence, or the universe.
❖ Accepting your good. You may feel that you are unworthy of getting
all that you’d like in life. Before you visualize, make sure that you
are willing to accept what comes to you. Love yourself first.
❖ Belief. You don’t need to believe in any spiritual or metaphysical
ideas for creative visualization to work; all the power you need to
do it successfully is already in you.
❖ Health and prosperity. You can heal yourself and others through
visualizing perfect health, and begin to gain an awareness of the true
abundance of the universe through picturing all that is constantly
being created.
Final comments
Creative Visualization is a rather slim volume and you may be disappointed
when first leafing through it, but its principles and many exercises have
changed a lot of lives. Consider that it has sold over three million copies
and been translated into 25 languages, and the term “creative visualization”
has entered the public vocabulary and become its own subject area.
While saying to yourself an affirmation such as “The divine light is
within me and is creating miracles in my life” may seem peculiar at
first, you may find that this, or another affirmation, brings a sense of
peace and confidence. Once an image or an affirmation becomes part of
you, miraculous things can indeed happen. The book has many affirmations
to guide you, so it’s worth buying if only for these.
Gawain says that, as you get deeper into it, creative visualization
becomes less of a technique and more a state of consciousness in which
you realize just how much you are the continuous creator of your world.
You can eliminate the need to worry, plan, or manipulate, because it dawns
on you that these things in fact have a lot less power to change than does
the relaxed visualization of outcomes that reflect your higher purpose.
Shakti Gawain
Gawain studied psychology and dance at Reed College and the University
of California, and after graduating traveled for two years in Europe
and Asia studying eastern philosophies, meditation, and yoga. After
returning to America she involved herself in the human potential movement,
reading intensively and working with various teachers.
Other books include Living in the Light: A Guide to Personal and
Planetary Transformation (1986), Return to the Garden (1989), Gawain’s
personal story, The Path of Transformation (1993), Creating True Prosperity
(1997), and The Creative Visualization Workbook (1995).
Emotional Intelligence:
Why It Can Matter
More than IQ
“Emotional life is a domain that, as surely as math or reading, can be
handled with greater or lesser skill, and requires its unique set of competencies.
And how adept a person is at those is crucial to understanding
why one person thrives in life while another, of equal intellect, deadends:
emotional aptitude is a meta-ability, determining how well we can
use whatever other skills we have, including raw intellect.”
“I have had to wait till now before the scientific harvest was full
enough to write this book. Now science is finally able to speak with
authority to these urgent and perplexing questions of the psyche at its
most irrational, to map with some precision the human heart.”
In a nutshell
The truly successful person will always have achieved emotional
In a similar vein
David D. Burns, Feeling Good (p62)
Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulness (p188)
Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism (p264)
Daniel Goleman
The book is almost 300 closely set pages long, with endless case
studies and footnoting, but the thrust of Emotional Intelligence
can be summed up in three points:
❖ Through the application of intelligence to emotion, we can improve
our lives immeasurably.
❖ Emotions are habits, and like any habit can undermine our best
❖ By unlearning some emotions and developing others, we gain control
of our lives.
If this were all there was it would not be a very interesting book, but
Emotional Intelligence is one of most successful self-help tomes of the last
decade and has reached well beyond what would normally be considered
a traditional self-help audience. Researchers had been expanding our idea
of what intelligence is for some time, but it took Goleman’s book to catapult
the idea of emotional intelligence (EQ) into the mainstream.
How much the average person hates the IQ test must have something
to do with the success of the work. Whether or not that test is a
good measure of anything, its effect has been to restrict choices and
damage self-esteem for millions. Saying that IQ is not a particularly
good predictor of achievement, that it is only one of many “intelligences,”
and that emotional skills are statistically more important in
life success, Emotional Intelligence was bound to be well received.
Following is a breakdown of the book and some of its key points.
Civilizing the brain
In looking at the way the brain is wired, the first part of the book
removes some of the mystery from our feelings, particularly the compulsive
ones. The physiology of our brains is a hangover from ancient
times when physical survival was everything. This brain structure was
designed for “acting before thinking,” useful when in the path of a flying
spear or in an encounter with an angry mammoth. We are still
walking around in the twenty-first century with the brains of cave
dwellers, and Goleman tells us about “emotional hijackings” (floodings
of the brain with intense, seemingly uncontrollable emotion) that can
trigger spur-of-the-moment murder, even of a longstanding spouse.
Using emotional intelligence
Parts Two and Three go into the elements of emotional intelligence and
its application in real life. Goleman notes that the problem is not the
emotions per se, but their appropriate use in given situations. He
quotes Aristotle:
“Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right
person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and
in the right way—this is not easy.”
Aristotle’s challenge becomes all the more important in a technologically
advanced world, because the meaning of “civilization” ceases to
be technological, defaulting to the nature of man and the quest for selfcontrol.
Part Three applies the lessons of emotional intelligence to intimate
relationships, work, and health. The relationships chapter alone is
worth more than many entire books on the subject, intricately describing
the neuroscience behind the Martian and Venusian worlds of the
Emotion and morality
In making the link between emotional life and ethics, Goleman notes
that if a person cannot control their impulsiveness, damage will be
done to their deepest sense of self. Control of impulse “is the base of
will and character,” he says. Compassion, that other benchmark of
character, is enabled by the ability to appreciate what others are feeling
and thinking. These two elements are fundamental to emotional intelligence,
and therefore are basic attributes of the moral person.
Emotional intelligence makes a winner
Other major qualities of emotional intelligence are persistence and the
ability to motivate oneself. These are not emotions per se but require
self-control and the ability to put negative emotions and experiences
into context.
Goleman validates the “power of positive thinking” as a scientifically
proven approach to achieving success, and says that an optimistic
outlook is a key clinical predictor of actual performance, borrowing
from research done by Martin Seligman (see Learned Optimism).
The obsession with IQ was a product of the twentieth century’s
model of mechanistic achievement. EQ, with its focus on empathic people
skills and relationships, is a basic success element in a more fluid
and creative twenty-first-century economy.
The world of work
Goleman’s book has had a significant impact on the workplace and
business world. Though he only devotes one chapter to management, it
is clear that the concept of emotional intelligence has struck a nerve
with workers angry or hurt by the low emotional capacities of their
bosses. Similarly, it has shone a light for many bosses and team leaders
who wonder what they can do to improve maddeningly poor performance.
As you suddenly see that half your organization is emotionally
stupid, your standards will inevitably rise.
One fascinating chapter, “When smart is dumb,” puts IQ in its place
among several other types of intelligence. As anyone who has worked
in an office environment will know, you may be producing the most
exciting product around but it will still be a miserable place to work if
it is also an arena for clashing egos. Business success is the result of
passion for a vision or a product. Though big egos are often associated
with such success, better companies are notable for their ability to
create harmony and excitement by focusing on the product or the
vision, not the organization. These ideas are further spelled out in the
spin-off Working with Emotional Intelligence.
Teaching EQ
Emotional Intelligence has its roots in the concept of “emotional literacy”
and in the final part of the book Goleman expounds on the need
for EQ skills to become part of the school curriculum. With facts and
figures he has no trouble convincing us of the high costs—monetary
and societal wellbeing—of not teaching children how to deal with their
emotions constructively and resolve conflict.
Final comments
Part of Goleman’s motivation in writing Emotional Intelligence was the
thought of millions of readers relying on self-help books that “lacked
scientific basis,” and indeed the book comes from an impeccable academic
and research milieu. Goleman appears to know all the key people
in the field, notably Harvard intelligence researcher Howard
Gardner, New York University’s Joseph LeDoux, and Yale’s Peter
Salovey, who first provided the concept of emotional intelligence.
Yet this is still a self-help book in the classic mold. Pointing to the
extraordinarily malleable circuitry of the brain and our ability to shape
the experience of our emotions, one of Goleman’s great points is that
“temperament is not destiny.” We are not beholden to our habits of
mind and emotion, even if they seem an unchangeable part of us.
The most alluring implication of Emotional Intelligence is that
greater awareness and control of our emotions on a large scale would
mean an evolution of the species. We believe that hate, rage, jealousy,
and so on are “only human,” but when we look at the finest human
beings of the twentieth century—Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother
Teresa—we find that such negative emotions were remarkably absent.
These people were able to express anger according to Aristotle’s dictum:
They could use their emotions instead of letting their emotions use
them. What could be a better definition of civility or humanity?
Daniel Goleman
Goleman grew up in Stockton, California. His doctorate in psychology
from Harvard University was supervised by David McClelland, who
wrote a groundbreaking paper arguing that traditional tests for occupational
hiring or college entrance (academic record and IQ) were inaccurate
predictors of how well a person actually would perform. Instead,
candidates should be tested for competencies in a core of emotional
and social skills—Goleman’s emotional intelligence.
For 12 years Goleman wrote a column for the New York Times in
the behavioral and brain sciences. He has also been senior editor of
Psychology Today. Previous books include The Meditative Mind, Vital
Lies, Simple Truths, The Creative Spirit (co-author), and Working With
Emotional Intelligence. He also edited Healing Emotions: Conversations
with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health.
Emotional Intelligence has been translated into 33 languages, Working
with Emotional Intelligence into 26.
Goleman is now CEO of Emotional Intelligence Services, which
offers services to business including an “emotional competence
Men Are from Mars,
Women Are from Venus
“To feel better, women talk about past problems, future problems,
potential problems, even problems that have no solutions. The more
talk and exploration, the better they feel. This is the way women operate.
To expect otherwise is to deny a woman her sense of self.”
“Just as a glass of water can be viewed as half full or half empty, when a
woman is on her way up she feels the fullness of her life. On the way down
she sees the emptiness. Whatever emptiness she overlooks on the way up
comes more into focus when she is on her way down into her well.”
“In Chuck’s mind, the more money he made at work, the less he
needed to do at home to fulfill his wife. He thought his hefty paycheck
at the end of the month scored him at least thirty points. When he
opened his own clinic and doubled his income, he assumed he was
now scoring sixty points a month. He had no idea that his paycheck
earned him only one point each month with Pam—no matter how big
it was.”
In a nutshell
Before we can treat each other as individuals, we must take into
account the behavior differences of the sexes.
John Gray
Before Men Are from Mars,Women Are from Venus, John Gray
wrote a book entitled Men,Women, and Relationships. He began
that book with a story.
His father had offered a lift to a hitchhiker, who promptly robbed
him before locking him in the trunk of the car. Police responded to two
reports of an abandoned car, but bad directions stopped them from
finding it. They made it to the car after the third call, but by then it
was too late. Gray Snr. had died of heat asphyxiation in the trunk of
his own car.
When coming back home for the funeral, Gray asked that he be
locked in the trunk to see what it must have felt like. In the darkness he
ran his fingers over the dents where his father’s fists had hammered,
and put his hand through the space where the tail-light had been
knocked out for air. His brother suggested that he extend his arm
further, to see if maybe he couldn’t touch the hood button. He
reached—and pressed it open.
Gray took the manner of his father’s death as a sign for what his
work was about: liberating people by telling them about the emotional
release buttons within their grasp.
Gray under the microscope
A good story, but do John Gray’s books in fact liberate? A feminist critique
of his writing is easy to make. Websites have sprung up with titles
like “A Rebuttal from Uranus” (Susan Hamson) arguing that Men Are
from Mars institutionalizes sexism.
Sex-role theory, of which Gray is a prime exponent, says that men
and women are by nature very different, and that gender forms the
core of a person’s identity. Gray is particularly insidious, these critics
say, because he never presents his views as a theory, simply saying “this
is the way things are” (biological fact). His millions of readers, caught
in a marketing blizzard, are blinded to the alternatives and the fact that
gender roles are actually culturally conditioned. Gray’s ultimate aim—
conscious or not—is to make women feel better about their subordinate
place in a hegemonic masculine culture.
Men Are from Mars in brief
Before taking sides, we must first describe the book. What are Gray’s
main points?
❖ The golden key to better relationships is the acceptance of differences.
In our parents’ day everyone accepted that men and women
were different, but the culture changed to the other extreme of there
being no differences.
❖ A woman aims to improve a man, but a man only wants acceptance.
Her unsolicited advice is never welcomed, being interpreted as negative
criticism. Rather than presenting a problem to a man, which is
often taken to mean that he is the problem, a man should be
approached as if he may embody the solution. Men are focused on
their competence and if they cannot solve problems they feel as if
they are wasting their time. Women, on the other hand, actually like
to discuss problems even without a solution in sight, because it gives
them the all-important chance to express their feelings.
❖ Women are like waves, rising to peaks, falling into troughs, then
back up again. Men must know that the trough time is when
women need men most. If he is supportive and does not try to get
the woman out of the trough immediately, she feels validated. In
order to be motivated a man must feel needed—but a woman must
feel cherished.
❖ Men alternate between the need for intimacy and the need for distance.
Men’s going away into their “cave” is not a conscious decision
but is instinctive. Women who don’t know about the need for
the cave and seek constant intimacy will see relationship turmoil.
Like a rubber band, a man needs to stretch—but will usually spring
❖ Arguments quickly descend into hurt feelings about the way a point
is being made, rather than its content. It is the uncaring sound of the
point being made that is upsetting. Men do not see how much their
comments hurt and provoke, because they focus on “the point.”
Most arguments start because a woman expresses a worry over
something and the man tells her that it is not worth worrying about.
This invalidates her and she gets upset with him. He then gets mad
because she seems to be getting angry at him for nothing. He will
not say sorry for something he believes he has not done, so the initial
argument goes into cruise control for hours or days.
❖ Men will argue because they do not feel trusted, admired, or encouraged
and are not spoken to with a tone of trust and acceptance.
Women will argue because they are not listened to or put high on a
man’s list of priorities.
The broader message
Gray suggests that at our time in history, we are right to expect maximum
fulfillment in our romantic life. However, our bodies and brains,
evolving over millennia, required the refinement of sex differences for
greater survival success. (As Daniel Goleman argues in Emotional Intelligence,
we are modern people walking around with brains built for the
plains and the forests of distant ancestors.) To wear the bright expectation
of perfect relationships, unarmed with any knowledge of the basic
differences between male and female thought patterns, is naïve and
unwittingly invites a saboteur aboard the loveship. Gray doesn’t focus
on the nature or nurture debate. He just says that this is how men and
women tend to act, and if we understand it there will be fewer relationship
In Gray’s defense
As we noted to begin with, the criticism that often greets this book is
that it increases the division between the sexes. We are, after all, in the
twenty-first century—can’t we see each other simply as people and not
by sex? Or skin color or nationality or anything else? And why doesn’t
Gray ever write about gay relationships? He does admit that he generalizes,
yet he writes as if what he is saying is fact.
These are all valid points, but they fail to see Gray’s basic intention.
He wrote for an audience of people who do not read genetics or sociology
textbooks—they want better relationships now. Men Are from
Mars does not advance cutting-edge theories, but neither does it say
that men and women are roped to the poles of their sex; we have
tendencies to action that, if recognized, need no longer be our master.
By highlighting sex differences, Gray may be guilty in some courts of
entrenching patriarchy, but nowhere in his writing does he go so far as
to say that gender determines the person. The public would not have
touched the book if he had. If the goal of focusing on sex differences is,
paradoxically, to move beyond them, then Gray is a liberator.
Final comments
There are thousands of books on relationships. What made Men Are
from Mars stand out?
Gray has said that he deliberately wrote Men Are from Mars in such
a way that people “would not have to think.” It seems made for
lunchtime television and “cheesy” probably sums up the book in many
people’s eyes. Readers interested in this whole area of intersex communication
who want something a little more brainy might like to read
the books of linguistics expert Deborah Tannen (for example You Just
Don’t Understand, That’s Not What I Meant). A page of Tannen may
be more interesting than ten of Gray, but the key to Gray’s success is
that his statements and analogies stick in the mind and many points
involve quite subtle distinctions.
Gray’s influence in the relationship realm is a lot like Dr. Benjamin
Spock’s in child rearing. Both authors’ books became the standard text
to have around the house on these subjects. Spock’s ideas were blamed
for producing a generation of spineless pacifists, but millions also
swore by him. What verdict will eventually be passed on Men Are from
Mars? Who knows, but it is clear that the book has been right for its
times, and perhaps we needed to be reminded of our differences before
we could move beyond them. As Emerson noted, the finest people are
able to marry the two sexes in the one person. We should not get
caught up in differences (gender or otherwise) if they will sidetrack our
consideration and wonder at people per se.
The healthy attitude to take to Gray would be to accept some of
what he says and disregard other parts. Both unquestioning embrace
and outright rejection would indicate a closed mind. It is very easy to
dismiss this book—but read it when you are miserable following a fight
with your partner and it may come alive for you. As a simple guide to
the ups and downs of living with a member of the opposite sex, it does
have touches of brilliance.
John Gray
Born in Houston, Texas, in 1951, after high school Gray attended St.
Thomas University and the University of Texas. He spent nine years as
a Hindu monk, working in the Transcendental Meditation (TM) organization
in Switzerland, as personal assistant to its leader, the Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi, and obtained a Master’s degree in eastern philosophy.
Back in the US, Gray became a doctoral student and received his PhD
in Psychology and Human Sexuality from Columbia Pacific University
in San Rafael, California. He is a certified family therapist.
Men Are from Mars has sold 13 million copies and remains on
many bestseller lists after nine years. It was the bestselling book of the
1990s in the US. Gray has sold 14 million books in total, large numbers
of audio and videotapes, and even a board game. He has been a
frequent guest on Oprah. Other books include Mars and Venus in
Love, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, and How to Get What You
Want, and Want What You Have: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to
Personal Success.
Gray lives with his wife Bonnie and three daughters in Northern
You Can Heal
Your Life
“If you want to understand your parents more, get them to talk about
their own childhoods; and if you listen with compassion, you will learn
where their fears and rigid patterns come from.”
“They will often tell me they can’t love themselves because they are so
fat, or as one girl put it, ‘too round at the edges.’ I explain that they are
fat because they don’t love themselves. When we begin to love and
approve of ourselves, it’s amazing how weight just disappears from our
“Be grateful for what you do have, and you will find that it increases. I
like to bless with love all that is in my life right now—my home, the
heat, water, light, telephone, furniture, plumbing, appliances, clothing,
transportation, jobs—the money I do have, friends, my ability to see
and feel and taste and touch and walk and to enjoy this incredible
In a nutshell
You will only begin to change your life when you learn how to love
yourself properly.
In a similar vein
James Allen, As a Man Thinketh (p10)
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (p258)
Louise Hay
With its almost child-like motif of a rainbow-colored heart on
the cover, You Can Heal Your Life offers a message of nonjudgmental
love and support that has endeared it to people
everywhere. In ten years it has sold three million copies in 30 countries,
and Hay is now a matriarch of the self-help, New Age, and holistic
healing movements. She attributes the book’s success simply to her ability
to “help people change without laying guilt on them” and the book
has the calmness of a person who has gone through the worst and survived.
The title only really makes sense when we read the final chapter,
a plain-speaking record of Hay’s personal history.
Hay’s story
Hay’s mother tried early on to foster her out. Raped by a neighbor at
five years old, she continued to be sexually abused until the age of 15,
when she left home and school to become a waitress in a diner. She
gave birth to a girl a year later, but the child was adopted and she
never saw her again. Hay left for Chicago, spending a few years in
menial work, before basing herself in New York, becoming a fashion
model. There she met an “educated, English gentleman” and married
him, leading an elegant and stable lifestyle until, 14 years on, he met
someone else and divorced her. A chance attendance at a Church of
Religious Science meeting changed Hay’s life. She became a certified
church counselor and subsequently a transcendental meditator, after
attending the Maharishi’s International University in Iowa.
After becoming a minister and developing her own counseling service,
Hay wrote a book called Heal Your Body, which detailed metaphysical
causes of bodily illness. At this point she was told that she had
cancer, but was healed through a combination of radically changed diet
and mental techniques. After spending most of her life on the East
Coast, she moved back to LA and was reunited with her mother before
the latter’s death. Now in her 70s, Hay is one of the world’s bestknown
motivational speakers and writers, often touring with the likes
of Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and James Redfield.
The book
You Can Heal Your Life is the message of a person who has crawled out
of victimhood, and this aspect of it has had enormous appeal, particularly
to women with similar histories. The essence of Hay’s teaching is love of
the self and evaporation of guilt, a process she believes makes us mentally
free and physically healthy, as the study of psycho-immunology attests.
All the familiar self-help messages are given attention, including
breaking free of limiting thoughts, replacing fear with faith, forgiveness,
and understanding that thoughts really do create experiences.
Some of the main points are:
❖ Disease (or “dis-ease,” as Hay calls it) is the product of states of mind.
She believes that the inability to forgive is the root cause of all illness.
❖ Healing requires us to release the pattern of thought that has led to
our present condition. The “problem” is rarely the real issue. The
superficial things that we don’t like about ourselves mask a deeper
belief that we are “not good enough.” Genuinely loving the self (but
not in a narcissistic way) is the basis for all self-healing. Chapter 15
lists just about every illness and its likely corresponding mental
“blockage.” Skeptics may find the list remarkably accurate if they
open their minds a little.
❖ Affirmations are about remembering our true self and utilizing its
power. Therefore, trust in the power of affirmations to manifest
what you want. They must always be positive and in the present
tense; for example, “I am totally healthy” or “Marvelous work
opportunities are coming to me.” The book contains many affirmations
to choose from.
❖ “Whatever we concentrate on increases, so don’t concentrate on
your bills.” You will only create more of them. Gratefulness for
what you do have makes it more abundant. Become aware of the
limitless supply of the universe—observe nature! Your income is
only a channel of prosperity, not its source.
❖ “Your security is not your job, or your bank account, or your
investments, or your spouse, or parents. Your security is your ability
to connect with the cosmic power that creates all things.” If you
have the ability to still your mind and invoke feelings of peace by
realizing you are not alone, you can never really feel insecure again.
❖ One of the first things Hay says to people who come to see her is
“Stop criticizing yourself!” We may have spent a lifetime doing this,
but the beginning of real self-love—one of the main ingredients in
healing your life—happens when we decide to give ourselves a break.
Final comments
You Can Heal Your Life will not be for everyone. It is quite New Age,
fitting into the “journey to wholeness” mold of writing that is now so
common, though Hay was a pioneer. For those who have read a number
of self-development books, it may seem a little simplistic and contain
nothing new; it is certainly no intellectual undertaking to read. On
the other hand, it has a directness and enthusiasm that help it stay in
the mind, and it intuitively makes sense.
In the true spirit of self-help, the book is not content to fix problems
but to strip all authority from them. This outlook, which on first consideration
seems naïve, is in fact philosophically rigorous: Dwell on your
problems and they become insurmountable; consider your possibilities
and they provide hope and motivation. Millions have had similarly difficult
lives to Hay, but not everyone has the will to leave their problems
behind or even the knowledge that they can; deprivation forms the illusion
that “this is all there is.” Hay’s insistence to herself that pain and
setbacks would not define her led her out of multiple psychological
black holes. Her book has the credibility of the successful escapee.
Louise Hay
Hay has spent a lot of time working with people with AIDS through
the Hayride Support Group. In 1988 she wrote The AIDS Book: Creating
a Positive Approach. Her first book was Heal Your Body and later
works include Gratitude: A Way of Life and Millennium 2000, both
with numerous contributors, and Empowering Women: Every Woman’s
Guide to Successful Living, along with many audio and videotapes.
Now a small farmer and organic gardener, Hay is still doing select
tours, and her “Dear Louise” syndicated column is published in over
30 magazines in the US and elsewhere.
The Soul’s Code: In
Search of Character
and Calling
“At the outset we need to make clear that today’s main paradigm for
understanding a human life, the interplay of genetics and environment,
omits something essential—the particularity you feel to be you. By
accepting the idea that I am the effect of a subtle buffetting between
hereditary and societal forces, I reduce myself to a result.”
“As democratic equality can find no other logical ground but the uniqueness
of each individual’s calling, so freedom is founded upon the full
independence of calling. When the writers of the Declaration of Independence
stated that all are born equal, they saw that the proposition necessarily
entailed a companion: All are born free. It is the fact of calling that
makes us equal, and the act of calling that demands we be free.”
In a nutshell
Not only celebrities and nuns have “callings.” All of us have in our
heart the image of the person we can be and the life we can live.
In a similar vein
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (p68)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves (p132)
Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (p216)
James Hillman
Is there a code to our souls, a DNA of destiny? The question compelled
Hillman to trawl through the lives of actress Judy Garland,
scientist Charles Darwin, industralist Henry Ford, musicians Kurt
Cobain and Tina Turner, and many others, searching for the “something”
that drove them on and made them live as they did. His premise
is that, just as the giant and majestic oak is embedded in the acorn, so
does a person carry inside them an active kernel of truth, or an image,
waiting to be lived. The idea is not a new one: The Greeks had the
word daimon to describe the invisible guiding force in our lives, the
Romans the genius.
We are a story, not a result
The idea of a soul image has a long history in most cultures, but contemporary
psychology and psychiatry ignore it completely. Image, character,
fate, genius, calling, daimon, soul, destiny—these are all big
words, Hillman admits, and we have become afraid to use them, but
this does not lessen their reality. Psychology can only seem to break
down the puzzle of the individual into traits of personality, types, and
complexes. The author mentions a psychological biography of Jackson
Pollock, which stated that the rhythmic lines and arcs of his paintings
were the result of being left out of his brothers’ competitions of
“creative urination” on the dust of their Wyoming farm!
Such interpretations kill the spirit, denying that inner visions, rather
than circumstances, are what drive people. The way we see our lives,
says Hillman, dulls them. We love romance and fiction, but don’t apply
enough romantic ideals or stories to ourselves. We cease to be a
creation and become more a result, in which life is reduced to the interplay
between genetics and environment.
Another way in which we restrict our existence is in how we see
time, or cause and effect. That is, “This happened, which caused me
to...” or “I am the product of...” The book looks rather at what is
timeless about us, whether we are just born, middle-aged, or old.
Who are our parents?
Hillman is brilliant at exposition of what he calls the “parental
fallacy,” the belief that the way we are is because of how our parents
were. Childhood, The Soul’s Code argues, is best understood in terms
of the image with which we are born coming into contact with the
environment in which we find ourselves. The child’s tantrums and
strange obsessions should be seen in this context, rather than trying to
“correct” them in therapy.
Yehudi Menuhin was given a toy violin for his fourth birthday,
which he promptly dashed to the ground. Even at this age, it was an
insult to the great violinist-in-waiting. We treat children as if they are a
blank slate, without their own authenticity, and the child is therefore
denied the possibility that they may have an agenda for their life,
guided by their genius.
In terms of our daimon, a parental union results from our
necessity: The daimon selected the egg and the sperm as well as their
carriers, called “parents.” This certainly turns the tables, but Hillman
suggests that it explains the impossible marriages, quick conceptions,
and sudden desertions that form the stories of so many of our
He goes further to point out the poverty of seeing our mothers and
fathers as, literally, mum and dad, when nature could be our mother,
books our father—whatever connects us to the world and teaches us.
Quoting Alfred North Whitehead, who said that “religion is world loyalty,”
Hillman says that we must believe in the world’s ability to provide
for us and lovingly reveal to us its mysteries.
“I must have you”
The Soul’s Code shows how the daimon will assert itself in love, giving
rise to obsessions and torments of romantic agony that defy the logic of
evolutionary biology. Identical twins separated at birth are often later
found to be wearing the same aftershave or smoking the same brand of
cigarette, but in the most important choice of choosing a mate there
can be great differences.
When Michelangelo sculpted portraits of gods or of his contemporaries,
he tried to see what he called the immagine del cuor, the heart’s
image; the sculpture aimed to reveal the inner soul of the subject. Hillman
says that the same heart’s image lies within each person. When we
fall in love, we feel super-important because we are able to reveal who
we truly are, giving a glimpse of our soul’s genius. The meeting
between lovers is a meeting of images, an exchange of imaginations.
You are in love because your imagination is on fire. By freeing imagination,
even identical twins are freed of their sameness.
The bad seed
The Soul’s Code is engrossing when it comes to love’s opposite, the
“bad seed.” Hillman devotes most of a chapter to the phenomenon of
Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s habits, reported by reliable informants, give evidence
of possession by a “bad” daimon. The principal difference to
other lives discussed in the book is the combination of acorn and personality:
Not only was Hitler’s acorn a bad seed, but it was wrapped in
a personality that offered no doubts or resistance to it. From a single
seed, we can see how the fascinating power in this man charmed millions
into a collective demonic state. We can apply the same idea to
modern psychopaths like Jeffrey Dahmer to understand how they can
enchant their victims.
This is not to suggest in any way that the terrible actions arising
from a bad seed are justified. However, appreciating the criminal mind
in terms of the daimon/acorn gives us a better understanding of it than
our conventional idea of evil (that is, something to be eradicated or
“loved away”). What makes the seed demonic is its single-track obsession,
but its ultimate aim is glory. As a society, we should be willing to
recognize this drive and find ways of channeling it to less destructive
We live in a culture of innocence that despises darkness. American
popular culture in particular, with its Disneylands and Sesame Street,
cannot accept seeds that are not sugar coated. Nevertheless, innocence
actually attracts evil, Hillman says, and “Natural Born Killers are the
secret companions of Forrest Gumps.”
The soul mystery
Having spent the book looking at the lives of the famous, Hillman
raises the question of mediocrity—can there be a mediocre daimon?
His answer is that there are no mediocre souls, a truth reflected in our
sayings. We speak of someone having a beautiful soul, a wounded soul,
a deep soul, or a child-like soul. We do not say that people have a
“middle-class,” “average,” or “regular” soul, he notes.
Souls come from the non-material realm, yet they yearn for the
experience of this very physical world. Hillman recalls the film Wings
of Desire, in which an angel falls in love with life, the normal life of
regular people and their predicaments. To the angels and the gods,
there is nothing “everyday” or ordinary about our lives.
Final comments
Picasso said, “I don’t develop; I am.” Life is not about becoming something,
but about making real the image already there. We are obsessed
with personal growth, reaching toward some imaginary heaven, but
instead of trying to transcend human existence, it makes more sense to
“grow down” into the world and our place in it. Hillman is not surprised
that the people we call “stars” often find life so difficult and
painful. The self-image that the public gives them is an illusion and
inevitably leads to tragic falls to earth.
The twists and turns of your life may not be as extreme as those of
the celebrities, but they may have a greater positive effect. For character,
Hillman says, we now look as much to “the soldier’s letter back
home on the eve of battle, as the plans laid out in the general’s tent.”
One’s calling becomes a calling to honesty rather than to success, to
caring and loving rather than to achieving. In this definition, life itself
is the great work.
James Hillman
Hillman was born in a hotel room in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in
1926. He served in the Hospital Corps of the US Navy from 1944–6
and as a news writer with the US Forces Network in Germany. After
the war he attended the Sorbonne in Paris and Trinity College, Dublin,
and established a private practice as an analyst. In 1959 he was
awarded his PhD by the University of Zurich, and for the following
decade worked at the Jung Institute in Zurich, developing the concept
of psychic ecology (later archetypal psychology), which places the individual
within a larger context of mythology, art, and ideas.
Hillman has lectured and held positions at Yale, Harvard, Syracuse,
Chicago, Princeton, and Dallas universities. Books include Suicide and
the Soul, Re-visioning Psychology, The Dream and the Underworld,
Healing Fiction, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the
World’s Getting Worse (with M. Ventura), and The Force of Character
and the Lasting Life, exploring old age within a youth-driven culture.
He founded the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture and is
involved with the Pacifica Graduate University in California. He lives in
Feel the Fear and
Do It Anyway
“I remember a time in my life when I was frightened by just about
everything—fearful that I would fail in all my attempts to fulfill my
dreams. So I just stayed at home, a victim of my insecurities. I’d like to
report that it was an ancient Zen master who snapped me back into
awareness. But it wasn’t. it was actually an Eastern Airlines commercial
that used the slogan ‘Get into this world.’ When I saw this commercial,
I suddenly realized I had stopped participating in the world.”
“Are you a ‘victim’ or are you taking responsibility for your life? So
many of us think we are taking responsibility for our lives when we
simply are not. The ‘victim’ mentality is subtle and takes many forms.”
In a nutshell
The presence of fear is an indicator that you are growing and
accepting life’s challenges.
In a similar vein
Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (p228)
Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within (p252)
Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism (p264)
Susan Jeffers
Self-help ideas expand our idea of what is possible. They make us
believe in our dreams and think big. “I’m going to do this!” we
say, “I’m going to be that!” No longer will we sell ourselves short.
Nevertheless, waking up to another day and the weight of “reality,”
those dreams suddenly seem more fiction than biography. In two minutes
flat we are rationalizing the life we have now, and the fear that
took a brief holiday is back.
How do we get to the point where pursuit of the dream is our daily
norm? Between the experience of today and the vision is a Grand
Canyon of doubt and fear that stops us dead, and it seems a great deal
easier to turn around and go back to security and routine. But Susan
Jeffers says that people see fear in totally the wrong way. Rather than
being an indicator that you are reaching your limits, it is a green light
to keep going; if you are not feeling any fear, you may not be growing.
Don’t deny the trepidation, but take the step anyway—ships were not
designed to stay in harbor!
Following are some key points in Jeffers’s philosophy of fearlessness.
Handling fear
There are different types of fear, but one is the killer: the simple but allpowerful
belief that you won’t be able to handle something. We won’t
be able to handle it if our partner leaves us, we won’t be able to handle
it if we don’t have a certain income, and so on. The basic work to be
done is to get to a point where you know you can handle anything that
comes your way, bad and good. This sounds like an empty platitude,
but Jeffers’ point is that fear is not a psychological problem but an educational
one. You must re-educate yourself to accept fear as a necessary
part of growth, then move on.
Saying “yes” to your universe
Refreshingly, Jeffers does not say that you can totally control your
world. Things happen for reasons of their own. The key to not getting
bogged down in fear is to affirm what is. This not only applies to small
things like losing a wallet, but to more significant ones like pain. Positive
thinking may not make pain disappear, but if you include it as part
of your universe—if you don’t deny its right to be—it loses its terror.
Jeffers mentions Viktor Frankl’s concentration camp classic Man’s
Search for Meaning, which describes some of the most hideous conditions
that humans have had to endure, yet within the barbed-wire
fences the author could still find people who were saying “yes” to it all,
choosing responsibility instead of giving up.
Throughout our lives we are told to take responsibility. We interpret
this as meaning going to college, getting a job, getting a mortgage, marriage.
Jeffers’ understanding of it is closer to Emerson’s ideal of selfreliance,
that is, being responsible for how you interpret your life
experiences. Hate your job? Then either take a conscious decision to
stay and make something out of it (an emphatic “yes”), or go.
Why positive thinking works
Positive thinking is fine, but it does not reflect reality. It’s too
“Pollyanna.” This is the common accusation, but Jeffers asks: If 90
percent of what we worry about never happens (as studies demonstrate),
how is negativity more “realistic” than positivity? The fact is
that what is realistic is up to us, depending on how we shape our
A positive mindset will not save you from bad news, but your reactions
to it can be different. Replace “It’s terrible!” with “It’s a learning
experience.” OK, but what about serious stuff, like getting cancer?
Jeffers says that this attitude made all the difference in her own cancer
experience. If the rule applies in such extreme situations, then there is
no excuse for overreaction on a day-to-day basis. We love to denounce
things and be drama queens, but Jeffers says to look at how it
weakens us.
The key to positive thinking, the most elemental yet most overlooked
aspect to it, is that you must practice it all the time. Even Susan
Jeffers, a famous motivational figure, cannot afford to go a day without
positive mental refueling. We won’t go without breakfast, or a morning
jog, or a child’s hug, she says, so why do we think that a program of
daily positive energizing is optional? Build a collection of inspirational
books and tapes and read/play them daily, she advises. The effect will
probably be greater than you think, both on yourself and the world
you inhabit. Write out your favorite inspirational quotes and keep them
next to your computer, in your car, by your bed. The positivity you
create will start to seem closer to how things should be (to “reality”)
than the way you are used to being. The former life will begin to
appear as if it was lived in a gray fog.
Program the subconscious
You can be sure that whatever exists in your subconscious mind will
find a way to express itself in real life. It is therefore crucial to take control
of your mental inputs at every level. One important way of generating
change and overcoming fear, which requires little work or courage,
is affirmations. Jeffers defines these as positive statements affirming that
something is already happening. A statement like “I will not put myself
down any more” won’t work. It must be both positive and present. For
example, “I am a confident person in every situation.” You don’t even
have to believe in affirmations for them to work, as long as they become
your mantra. The mind reacts to what it is fed, whether it is true or
false. We can either listen to our “chatterbox” or to our higher self.
Other points
There are many other good messages in the book, including:
❖ There is always plenty of time. “The biggest pitfall as you make
your way through life is impatience.” Impatience is merely selfpunishment,
creating stress, dissatisfaction, and fear. One has to
trust that whatever one is doing, it is all unfolding perfectly and in
the right time.
❖ How to make “no-lose” decisions: Stop believing that there is usually
only one “right” or “wrong” way to go. We have to get into a position
where we are no longer hostage to a single outcome, knowing
that the world has endless opportunities for achieving what we want.
❖ Never be fearful of mistakes. Remember that even the very best
baseball hitters have a .400 average. The best miss six times out of
ten! Lighten up and be happy that you’ve had the experience, even if
it isn’t successful this time. You’re a success because you tried.
❖ On the fear of commitment in relationships: We have to realize that
we are committing to the person and their advancement and wellbeing,
not necessarily to an inflexible union for all time.
Final comments
At the beginning of the book, Jeffers sets out a number of “fear
truths.” The most profound is number five:
“Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying
fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.”
In other words, those who never take any risks ironically live with a
dread of something going wrong. They seek security above all else, but
the effect is chronic insecurity. It is actually easier (and infinitely more
life fulfilling) to try new things. The decision to incorporate more challenge
into your life brings a feeling of security because you know that
you can tackle anything.
This type of straightforward insight is typical of Feel the Fear. It has
an empathy that makes you feel you’re not alone, crucial given the
sense of isolation that fear causes. And there is a lightness of touch to
the writing that invigorates as you get into the book.
Embarrassed to buy a self-help book? Feel the fear and walk up to
the counter anyway...
Susan Jeffers
Jeffers was a young mother of two when she decided to go to college,
and she eventually gained a doctorate in psychology from Columbia
University. On graduation she became the executive director of the
Floating Hospital (a hospital on a boat) in New York City, where she
remained for almost a decade.
Feel the Fear evolved out of a course at the New School for Social
Research in New York. The manuscript received many rejection letters,
the worst stating that “Lady Di could be bicycling nude down the
street giving this book away and nobody would read it” (as noted on
Jeffers’ website).
Other books include Feel the Fear… and Beyond, End the Struggle
and Dance with Life, Dare to Connect, Opening Our Hearts to Men,
and The Journey from Lost to Found. The most recent, on parenting, is
titled (in homage to Thomas Harris’ classic) I’m Okay…You’re a Brat.
Known for her inspirational fear-busting seminars and courses, the
author has appeared many times on Oprah. She lives in Los Angeles.
The 80/20 Principle:
The Secret of Achieving
More with Less
“The 80/20 principle has helped to shape the modern world. Yet it has
remained one of the great secrets of our time—and even the select
band of cognoscenti who know and use the 80/20 principle only
exploit a tiny proportion of its power.”
“Conventional wisdom is to not put all your eggs in one basket. 80/20
wisdom is to choose a basket carefully, load all your eggs into it, and
then watch it like a hawk.”
“The 80/20 principle, like the truth, can make you free. You can work
less. At the same time, you can earn and enjoy more.”
In a nutshell
By identifying what you’re good at, then doing more of it, success
will come easily.
In a similar vein
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow (p102)
Richard Koch
This fascinating book could revolutionize your life. Koch writes
about the well-documented but counterintuitive principle that 80
percent of effects or results come from only 20 percent of efforts.
Most sales will come from only 20 percent of the product line. 20 percent
of a carpet gets the majority of its wear and tear. And applied to
personal life, 80 percent of happiness comes from less than 20 percent
of your time.
While the specific ratios will vary, the principle aims to show us the
fundamentally unbalanced way the world works. This is the first book
exclusively on the 80/20 principle, and the first to apply it to personal
life. Originally pointed out by the Italian economist Pareto (and also
known as Pareto’s Law), the principle has been the mainstay of strategic
management consultants and the secret of more successful companies.
Its results may seem like magic for those not aware of it, because
it defies conventional economic theory. Not surprisingly, it has also
been termed the “Law of least effort.”
Yet the principle is not a theory but simply an observation of reality.
Unlike the spiritual or philosophical laws of many of the self-help classics,
the 80/20 principle, Koch says, works whether you believe in it or
The 50:50 belief vs. the 80:20 rule
At an intellectual level, a ratio of 50:50 makes sense in relation to
effort put in and results gained. If you put in a “good” effort, you will
get a “good” result. If you “work hard,” you can expect a certain level
of reward. This is the mentality that has driven society for generations,
and there is a certain merit in it in terms of maintaining societal coherence.
A clear work–reward equation creates a stable society, within
which mediocrity is accepted and conformity rewarded. Unfortunately,
as Koch illustrates, this is no longer the world in which we live.
The new world says that merely “keeping up” will no longer be
enough, that mere competence at something can no longer be rewarded
with success. You must do something that comes easily to you and that
you love, so that you have a tremendous advantage over others and can
rise to the top of your field.
Only this type of effort, which may not really seem like “work”
compared to what others do, will bring big rewards. In the 80/20
world, unlike the old one, those who apply its logic can expect exponentially
greater returns compared to input. However, that input must
be of a uniquely high standard and reflect the uniqueness of the giver.
According to the 80/20 principle, it makes perfect sense that
Michael Jordan could earn more than half a dozen basketball teams
put together, because of the supreme skills displayed and the corresponding
entertainment provided. Stars are earning much more now relative
to the past (look at the top actors), but this is almost beside the
point. Koch refers to them merely to demonstrate the applicability of
his principle to all of us, that “only by fulfilling oneself is anything of
extraordinary value created.”
Becoming a time revolutionary
Most of what we consider valuable comes from only a fraction of how
we spend our time. In order greatly to increase our effectiveness, or our
happiness, or what we earn, we must expand that fraction beyond 10
or 20 percent to a much greater share of our time. Koch says that our
society’s appreciation of time is poor. “We don’t need time management,”
he says, “we need a time revolution.”
Conventional time management is about increasing the efficiency of
what we do and becoming better at prioritization. Koch believes that
the failing of all types of time management is the assumption that we
know what is and what isn’t a good use of our time in the first place.
Its second fault is the assumption that time is short, that we have many
important things to do and are constantly under pressure.
To get phenomenally better in our use of time, however, the 80/20
principle requires us to go back to our “priorities” and see if they really
reflect the best use of our life in general. Koch is blunt about it: “Most
people try too hard at the wrong things.” Since the principle reflects
nature’s imbalance in the way things actually operate, there is no use
thinking about time rationally. To seek improvements of 15–25 percent
in our use of time (as time management organizers promise) constitutes
“tinkering around the edges.” The unexpected and irrational reality is
that there is an abundance of time once we start spending it on the 20
percent that matters. Instead of being always short of time, the author
notes, the dangerous truth is that we are actually awash with it but
“profligate in its abuse.”
It’s OK to be lazy if you are intelligent about it
Do you constantly strive while not really getting anywhere? Koch introduces
us to the Von Manstein matrix. Von Manstein was a German
general who concluded that the best officers, those who made the least
mistakes and were the most far-sighted, were both intelligent and, by
inclination, lazy. Koch applies the matrix to today’s economy, stating
that the key to becoming a star is to “simulate, manufacture, and
deploy lazy intelligence.” Instead of choosing the difficult, or a generic
goal that we think will bring us respect, we should focus on what
comes easily.
Amazingly, capitalism allows a person to become successful and rich
just by being themselves: In fulfilling their highest expression, they
automatically create a very small but highly valuable niche. This is in
full accord with an information economy demanding ever-greater specialization,
because no one does what we do, quite like we do. This
applies even in markets where there appears to be endless supply and
small demand, such as acting and sport. There are hundreds of professional
tennis players, but only one is Andre Agassi, whose unique
appearance and attitude win him many times the endorsements of players
of similar rank. In all fields, the key to leadership is enthusiasm,
inveterate curiosity, and continual learning. Yet these things are not
80/20 thinking is the combination of ambition with a relaxed and
confident manner. It involves reflective thinking (allowing insights to
come, rather than leaping into action), unconventional use of time, and
a hedonistic philosophy. Koch believes that in our “work equals success”
culture, hedonism has been smeared. Hedonism is not selfishness:
The more we love doing something the better we will be at it, increasing
the likelihood that it will benefit others.
Final comments
The 80/20 Principle is a recipe book for getting out of the rat race and
living up to one’s potential. It shows how trivia clogs up life and how
protestations of “busyness” often hide the absence of purpose. These
are familiar themes in self-help writing, but it is Koch’s application of
one of the universe’s “power laws” that gives these insights special
weight. Who could ignore a logic of action based on “working with the
grain of the universe instead of against it”?
The book is particularly good for understanding the alchemy of success
in today’s economic world, managing to be both business book
and exciting life guide. Koch refers to Joseph Ford’s statement that
while God may play dice with the universe, the dice are loaded. In
showing us how the universe is “predictably unbalanced,” the 80/20
principle allows us to rig the odds naturally in our favor. Expressing
and finessing our unique talents, rather than pursuing “excellence” in
something we do not love, is the key point. The great rewards never go
to the merely excellent, but to the outstanding.
Richard Koch
Koch is both a successful entrepreneur and a bestselling author. His
background is in management consulting (Bain & Co., Boston Consulting
Group, co-founder of LEK Partnership) and he has advised many
well-known corporations in Europe and the US. Business interests have
included hotels, premium gin, restaurants, personal organizers, and
most recently person-to-person betting through the Sporting Exchange.
He continues to advise venture capital groups in the UK and South
Books include Managing Without Management, Smart Things to
Know about Strategy, and The Third Revolution, on the relationship
between capitalism and democracy. The 80/20 Principle has been a
bestseller in the US, Asia, and Europe and translated into 18 languages.
Sequels include The Power Laws: The Science of Success, which uses
scientific laws to explain business success, and The 80/20 Revolution, a
manual to help individuals create wealth and wellbeing.
Koch has homes in London, Marbella, and Cape Town.
Choice and Control
in Everyday Life
“Unlike the exotic ‘altered states of consciousness’ that we read so
much about, mindfulness and mindlessness are so common that few of
us appreciate their importance or make use of their power to change
our lives. This book is about the price we pay for mindlessness: the psychological
and the physical costs. More important, it is about the benefits
of mindfulness. Those benefits are greater control over our lives,
wider choice, and making the seemingly impossible possible.”
“When we are behaving mindlessly, that is to say, relying on categories
drawn in the past, endpoints to development seem fixed. We are then
like projectiles moving along a predetermined course. When we are
mindful, we see all sorts of choices and generate new endpoints.”
In a nutshell
Mental habits dull our lives. By regaining control of your thinking
you can experience life anew.
In a similar vein
The Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler, The Art of Happiness (p104)
The Dhammapada (p114)
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (p154)
Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism (p264)
Ellen J. Langer
Have you ever said “excuse me” to a store mannequin or written
a cheque in January with the previous year’s date? For most of
us the answer is probably “yes,” but these small mistakes, Ellen
Langer believes, are the tip of a mindlessness iceberg. A Harvard psychology
professor, her research into rigidity of mind led to observations
about mental fluidity, or mindfulness.
One of the great themes of self-help literature is the need to be free
of unconsciously accepted habits and norms. Langer’s classic shows
how we can actually accomplish this. The book is in the best tradition
of western scientific research, filled with the results of fascinating
experiments that should appeal to those readers who enjoy Emotional
Intelligence or Learned Optimism.
Who or what is a mindful person? Langer suggests that their qualities
will include:
❖ Ability to create new categories.
❖ Openness to new information.
❖ Awareness of more than one perspective.
❖ Attention to process (doing) rather than outcome (results).
❖ Trust of intuition.
New categories
Langer says that we live and experience reality in a conceptual form.
We don’t see things afresh and anew every time we look at them;
instead, we create categories and let things fall into them, which is a
more convenient way of dealing with the world. Apart from the smaller
things, such as defining a vase as a Japanese vase, a flower as an
orchid, or a person as a boss, there are the wider categorizations under
which we live, including religions, ideologies, and systems of government.
Each gives us a level of psychological certainty and saves us from
the effort of constantly challenging our own beliefs. We divide animals
into “pets” and “livestock” so that we can feel OK loving one and eating
the other, for example.
Mindlessness results when we don’t know that the categories to
which we subscribe are categories and have accepted them as our own
without really thinking. Creating new categories, and reassessing old
ones, is mindfulness. Or, as William James put it:
“Genius ... means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an
unhabitual way.”
New information
Langer talks about “premature cognitive commitments,” which are like
photographs in which meaning, rather than motion, is frozen. To evoke
the dangers of false, frozen images, she reminds us of Miss Havisham
in Dickens’ Great Expectations, who still wore the wedding dress she
had donned the day she was abandoned at the altar, but which now
hung like faded curtains over her aged body.
At a more prosaic level, a child may know an elderly person who is
grumpy and will hold on to a picture of “old people are grumps,” taking
it with him into adulthood. In not bothering to replace that picture
with different images of later life, the person is locked into a false perception
that is likely to be reflected in their own experience. They will
turn into an old grump too.
This of course applies to other aspects of life: If we are mindful, we
will be less willing to take “genes” as an excuse for our behavior or
lack of action. Just because a parent never rose above middle management
level, we don’t assume that we couldn’t become president of the
Perspective and context
Mindlessness occurs when people accept information in a context-free
way. The ability to transcend context, Langer says, is the mark of
mindfulness and creativity.
She notes that much pain is context dependent. Getting a bruise out
on the football field will matter much less to us than if we sustain one
at home. Imagination is the key to perceiving differently. The Birdman
of Alcatraz, stuck in a cell for over 40 years, managed to make his life
a rich one by his care of injured birds.
The personal development implication of these vignettes is clear: We
can put up with anything as long as it is within a positive context.
Without a defined personal vision, life might seem like a mass of constant
worries and annoyances; with one, everything is put into perspective.
As Nietzsche said, if you have a “why,” you can put up with any
Process orientation
Another key characteristic of mindfulness is a focus on process before
outcome, or “doing rather than achieving.” We look at a scientist’s
breakthrough and say “genius,” as if what he or she discovered happened
overnight. With the rare exception, like Einstein’s great year of
discovery, most scientific success is the result of years of work that can
be broken down into steps. A college student looks at a professor’s
book in awe, thinking “I could never write something that good,”
assuming it must be higher intelligence, not years of study and work,
that delivered up the weighty tome. These are all faulty comparisons.
The process orientation requires us to ask not “Can I do it?” but
“How can I do it?” This “not only sharpens our judgment, it makes us
feel better about ourselves,” says Langer.
Intuition is an important path to mindfulness, because its very use
requires ignoring old habits and expectations to try something that may
go against reason. Yet the best scientists are intuitive, many spending
years methodically validating what appeared to them in a flash of intuitive
The amazing thing about mindfulness and intuition is that they are
both relatively effortless: “Both are reached by escaping the heavy,
single-minded striving of most ordinary life.” But intuition will give us
valuable information about our survival and success; we cannot explain
where it comes from, but we ignore it at our cost. The mindful person
will go with what works, even if it doesn’t make sense.
Final comments
In essence, mindfulness is about preserving our individuality. By choosing
the mindset of limited resources, by opting to focus on outcomes
rather than doing (process), and by making faulty comparisons with
others, we become little more than robots. The true individual is characterized
by openness to the new, is always reclassifying the meaning of
knowledge and experience, and has the ability to see their daily actions
in a bigger, consciously chosen perspective.
Langer recognizes the parallels with eastern religion in her work, for
example the Buddhist understanding that meditation is about enjoying
a mindful state that leads to “right action.” Mindfulness, Langer hopes,
has the same effect, and therefore has important implications for the
health of society, not merely the individual. The beauty of mindfulness
is that it is not work; in fact, because it leads to greater control of our
own thinking, it is, to use Langer’s word, “exhilarating,” in a quiet
way creating excitement about what is possible.
Its ideas may seem difficult, but Mindfulness was written for a popular
audience and is not long. It may be more understated than most
self-help books, but its insights tend to stay in the mind.
Ellen Langer
Langer obtained a BA in Psychology from New York University in
1970, and her PhD from Yale in 1974. From her position as Professor
of Psychology at Harvard University, she has produced several scholarly
works, numerous journal articles, and chapters in edited collections.
Mindfulness was the product of over 50 experiments, mostly with
elderly people. The experiments led Langer to believe that the protectiveness
of nursing homes leads to reduced autonomy and responsibility,
which hasten aging. The book has been translated into 13 languages
and has gone through 10 printings.
Langer’s other popular works are Personal Politics (with Carol
Dweck, 1973), The Psychology of Control (1983), and The Power of
Mindful Learning (1997). Her entry on “Mindfulness/Mindlessness”
appears in Encyclopaedia of Psychology (R. Cosini (ed.), 1994). She
lives in Massachussetts.
Tao Te Ching
5th–3rd century BC
“Flow around obstacles, don’t confront them.
Don’t struggle to succeed.
Wait for the right moment.”
“Trying to understand
is like straining to see through muddy water.
Be still, and allow the mud to settle.
Remain still, until it is the time to act.”
“Stop clinging to your personality,
and see all beings as yourself.
Such a person could be entrusted with the whole world.”
“Whether faced with friend or enemy,
loss or gain,
fame or shame,
the Wise remain equanimous.
This is what makes them so extraordinary.”
In a nutshell
Make your life easier and more effective by attunement with the
natural “flow” of the universe.
In a similar vein
Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (p86)
Lao Tzu
The Tao Te Ching is one of the world’s great philosophical and
spiritual classics, revered by millions. The oldest scripture of
Taoism and a meditational text, it is also a timeless philosophy of
power based on harmony with nature. It has been adopted as a modern
leadership manual and is well suited to contemporary life.
The title means “The Way of Power” or “The Classic (Ching) of the
Way (Tao) and Virtue (Te).” The tao determines the te, or the manner
in which a person might act who is attuned to the tao. Whatever can
be defined is not tao—it is the timeless spirit that runs through all life,
creating the essential oneness of the universe. The tao is not even
“god,” god being an entity that has sprung from the tao.
The Tao Te Ching paints a picture of a person in full attunement with
the tao, and therefore with the universe. Martin Palmer, in his introduction
to Timothy Freke’s excellent translation, says that it represents “a
world of order that we must work with, not a world where we must just
fend for ourselves.” In this world we no longer struggle, finding that it is
attunement, rather than mindless striving, that delivers us what we need.
The idea of the tao is that as you get in harmony with it, your
actions cease to seem like “action.” Csikszentmihalyi has documented
this feeling as “flow” and the physicist Bohm talks of it as being part of
“the unfolding.” In contrast, regular action involves an effort of will to
accomplish something, usually involving manipulation or even exploitation.
While tao action makes whole, its alternative fragments.
Tao leadership
Lao Tzu saw two types of leader: the conventional one, a warrior who
uses force to achieve his ends, symbolized by the yang or masculine
aspect; and the healer-leader, symbolized by the feminine yin. The latter
is the concept of “servant leadership,” in which the leader blends into
the background so that their people can star.
Some in the business world say that the more power a boss has, the
less they should use. This is borne out by the teamwork, synergy, and
flat hierarchies of today’s best-run companies, which aim to increase
effectiveness by sharing power; these organizations have a better chance
of creating ideas or products that genuinely improve life.
By 2020 the ideal leader may be very hard to spot, position or
wealth no longer being good guides to impact or influence. In Lao
Tzu’s words:
“The wise stand out,
because they see themselves as part of the Whole.
They shine,
because they don’t want to impress.
They achieve great things,
because they don’t look for recognition.
Their wisdom is contained in what they are,
not their opinions.
They refuse to argue,
so no-one argues with them.”
Listening, yielding, cooperating, being open, seeking the best possible
outcomes—these yin aspects must balance the go-getting yang force
that has given us civilization as we know it. The integration of the two
will be a mark of the new leader, whose credibility rests not on what
they say or even what they have so far achieved: “Their wisdom is contained
in what they are.”
Tao success
For a book essentially about leading a successful life, the Tao Te Ching
offers what seems to be very strange advice. Consider: “Give up, and
you will succeed.”
How can we reconcile such a statement with so many other messages
in self-help about the active steps one must take for success? Take
Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within, the archetypal modern personal
development book. Subtitled “How to take control of your mental,
emotional, physical, and financial destiny!” it encapsulates the ethic of
total self-creation, based on the belief that we know what we want,
what will make us happy, and our limitless potential.
The Tao Te Ching, on the other hand, is about how to lead a very
simple life, not seeking power, fame, or riches. There is a quiet ecstasy
to living in the moment, not trying to force anything to happen or get
others to do things our way. This is a book about the power of timing:
“Be still, and allow the mud to settle.
Remain still, until it is the time to act.”
Which way is better? Using focus and never-give-up intensity to achieve
something, or going with the flow and “allowing” something to manifest
itself? Ultimately, it boils down to where one’s faith lies: either in
ourselves (reasonable enough), or in the intelligence governing the universe
(tao). In Lao Tzu’s mind, the tao that created everything is capable
of giving us peace, joy, and personal power. The compulsion to
strive surely arises out of a perception that we must gain mastery of the
world, or a little section of it, in order to feel whole. It is therefore
more probable that striving, while a natural way to express our identity
through creating something, is not actually the best path to success.
Instead, the goal for which we strive should be readily admitted to be
only a symbol of the greater unity that the Tao Te Ching suggests. This
unity is described as “the way of heaven.”
Final comments
At first the Tao Te Ching seems a strange voice, but it will change and
probably enlarge your current ideas of life and success. You may find
yourself needing to incorporate your world view into its, rather than
the other way around.
Don’t read it from start to finish. There is no narrative, just meditations
broken up into short chapters of a few lines, which don’t seem to
relate to each other. Its hypnotic power is summed up in one of its own
“A traveler may stop for nice food and good music,
but a description of Tao seems bland and tasteless.
It looks like nothing special.
It sounds like nothing special.
But live by it, and you will never tire of it.”
“Man is by nature a goal-striving being. And because man is ‘built that
way’ he is not happy unless he is functioning as he was made to function—
as a goal-striver. Thus true success and true happiness not only go
together but each enhances the other.”
“Insofar as function is concerned, the brain and nervous system constitute
a marvelous and complex ‘goal-striving mechanism,’ a sort of builtin
automatic guidance system which works for you as a ‘success
mechanism,’ or against you as a ‘failure mechanism,’ depending on
how ‘YOU,’ the operator, operate it and the goals you set for it.”
In a nutshell
Our body/brain is a brilliant self-contained system for achieving
goals. Use it.
In a similar vein
Steve Andreas & Charles Faulkner, NLP (p14)
Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within (p252)
Maxwell Maltz
According to the non-profit Psycho-Cybernetics Foundation,
worldwide sales of this book, including the editions of five US
publishers and the many foreign translations issued since 1960,
exceed 25 million copies.
This huge readership alone would make the book worth investigating,
but it becomes an enigma when you appreciate that Dr. Maltz
never became famous in the way that Dale Carnegie or Norman
Vincent Peale did. What was it that drew people to this unremarkablelooking
What is cybernetics?
The word comes from the Greek for “steersman,” and in the modern
sense usually refers to systems of control and communication in
machines and animals; how, for instance, a computer or a mouse organizes
itself to achieve a task. Maltz applied the science to humans to
form psycho-cybernetics. However, while inspired by the development
of sophisticated machines, his book denounced the idea that man can
be reduced to a machine. Psycho-cybernetics bridges the gap between
our mechanistic models of the brain’s functioning (clichés like “Your
brain is a wonderful computer”) and the knowledge of ourselves as
being a lot more than machines.
Maltz said that human beings have an “essence” or life force that
cannot be reduced to a mere brain and physical body. Jung called it
the “libido,” Bergson the “elan vital.” A person cannot be defined by
their physical body or brain, just as electricity cannot be defined by
the wire through which it travels. We are, rather, systems in constant
Some readers will be uncomfortable with this distinction between
the brain and the mind, but it does make sense in relation to Maltz’s
key statement: “Man is not a machine, but has and uses a machine.”
This distinction is crucial to understanding the larger subject of the
book: setting and achieving goals.
Guided missile technology applied to humans
The founder of cybernetics was American mathematician Norbert
Wiener, who spent the Second World War refining guided missile technology.
Stressing the similarities between machines, animals, human
brains, and societies, Wiener was way ahead of his time in predicting
that there was nothing to prevent machines “thinking” in the way that
humans do. He saw both computers and the human brain as systems
that take in low-energy data and create new connections to be used in
interactions with the external world. Feedback from the external environment
is used to enhance subsequent communications with it.
This virtuous loop of control, communication, and feedback is the
key feature of a “servo-mechanism” that needs to arrive at a preset
goal. Once it knows where it is going, a guided missile hits its target
via constant feedback and communication with itself.
Maltz thought: Why couldn’t this technology be applied to human
achievement? He realized that the key point about the loop is that it
gains an automaticity when the target or goal is very clearly fixed. When
you first learn to drive, you have to worry about every car and process
every sign ahead of you on the road—the result is that you move slowly
and are liable to get lost. In time, however, driving becomes easy
because you know your destination when you sit behind the wheel, and
body and mind automatically do what is necessary to reach it.
Cybernetics appeared such a breakthrough to Maltz because its
implication was that achievement was a matter of choice. Most important
to the dynamic of achieving was the “what” (the target), rather
than the “how” (the path). The frontal lobes or conscious thinking part
of the brain could devise the goal, or create the image of the person
you wanted to be, and the subconscious mind would deliver its attainment.
The “set and forget” mechanism of guided missiles would also
work for our deepest desires.
The importance of the self-image
Maltz was a plastic surgeon. Distinguished as he was in his field, he
was at a loss to explain why a minority of patients were no happier
after their operations than before, even if disfiguring scars or other malformations
had been removed. He found himself drawn into the new
self-image psychology, which held that we generally conform in action
and thought to a deep image of ourselves. Without a change to this
inner image, patients would still feel themselves to be ugly, however
excellent the cosmetic work.
He came to believe that self-image was the “golden key” to a better
life. Without an understanding of it, we might forever be fiddling
around the “circumference of the self,” instead of at its center. Positive
thinking, for instance, could be of no use if it simply related to particular
external circumstances. Saying “I will get this job” will not do anything
if the idea of being in the job is not consistent with how you see
yourself deep down.
How it works
We acquire our self-image through our beliefs about ourselves, which
grow out of past experience of success and failure and of how others
see us. Maltz argued that both are unworthy of the privilege of determining
our basic psychological template. The crucial and fascinating
point about the self-image is that it is value neutral, that is, it doesn’t
care if it is empowering or destructive, but will form itself simply
according to what psychological food it is fed. We can either create an
image of the self that can accommodate prosperity, peace, and greatness,
or we can stick with a defective one that can’t even get us out of
bed in the morning. The point is that a positive self-image that can see
you fulfill your dreams does not happen by accident—it must be
thought about and manufactured.
Nevertheless, how is the self-image actually changed? What of the
person who has experienced little but failure? This was a disturbing
question for Maltz, since the evidence was that the self-image was
changed by experiencing, not by intellectual means. However, this was
not the case in reality because—and this is one of the book’s most significant
points—experimental and clinical psychologists had established
beyond doubt that the brain is not great at telling the difference
between an actual experience and one imagined in full and vivid detail.
(Such results had been understood years before by William James.) This
meant that winning images of the self could replace negative ones,
denying any authority to past events. The beauty of self-image was that
while it was the supreme factor in determining success or failure, it was
also extremely malleable.
Living out the image
The brain thinks in terms of images, therefore if you can consciously
create the desired image of yourself the brain and nervous system will
automatically provide continual feedback to ensure that it “lives up to”
the preordained image. In a well-known clinical experiment, one group
of basketball players was physically trained to throw more balls
through the hoop, while another was taught merely to visualize throwing
goals. Despite the absence of any physical practice, the second
group far outscored the first.
The brain, nervous system, and muscles are obedient servants of pictures
placed in your head. But the ability of your body and brain to
manifest the desired self-image depends on its indelibility. It must be
tattooed on the brain. With such a strong image of ourselves, it is difficult
not to live out and manifest all that is associated with the selfimage.
Instead of just “having goals,” we become them.
Final comments
Much of self-help writing is about goals, but how does goal setting
work? Why does it work? Maltz was the first to explore its actual
machinery, and in doing this he has been a key influence to a generation
of success writers. The emphasis on positive self-image paved the
way for hundreds of books on the power of affirmation and visualization
techniques. Psycho-Cybernetics has sold in its millions because it
provides a scientific rationale for dream fulfillment.
Notwithstanding its Reader’s Digest style of writing, this is, in fact,
a textbook. The science and computing references are now outdated,
but the principles of cybernetics have only grown in influence. Complexity
theory, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science all grew out
of the cybernetic understanding of how the non-physical, the “ghost in
the machine,” guides matter. This makes Psycho-Cybernetics the perfect
self-help book for a technological culture.
It is admirable because it was written at a time when behaviorism
and time-and-motion studies, which tended to reduce people to the
mechanical, were at their zenith. Maltz’s genius was in saying that
while we were “machines,” and while the dynamics of goal setting and
self-image might best be described in mechanistic terms, the fantastic
variety of our desires and our ability to create new worlds were
uniquely human. What could never be reduced to machine analogies
were the fires of imagination, ambition, and will.
Maxwell Maltz
Born and educated in Europe, Maltz spent most of his adult life in
New York where he established a reconstructive cosmetic surgery practice.
His New Faces, New Futures was a collection of case histories of
patients whose lives had been transformed by facial surgery. Maltz’s
subsequent research into the few patients whose lives did not radically
improve led him to the psychologist Prescott Lecky’s work on “selfconsistency.”
He was in his 60s by the time Psycho-Cybernetics was
With its success, Maltz became a popular motivational speaker
throughout the 1960s and the early 1970s. The wide audience for the
book included Salvador Dali, who painted a “psycho-cybernetics” work
as a gift to the author. Maltz died in 1971, aged 76.
Though rather overshadowed, other Maltz titles include The Magic
Powers of the Self-Image, Live and Be Free through Psycho-
Cybernetics, three novels and an autobiography, Dr. Pygmalion. Psycho-
Cybernetics 2000, edited by Bobbe Summer and Anna Maltz, is an
updated version of the book. The Psycho-Cybernetics Foundation
(www.psycho-cybernetics.com) now promotes his work.
Motivation and
“Being a human being—in the sense of being born to the human
species—must be defined also in terms of becoming a human being. In
this sense a baby is only potentially a human being, and must grow into
“I certainly accepted and built upon the available data of experimental
psychology and psychoanalysis. I accepted also the empirical and
experimental spirit of the one, and the unmasking and depth-probing of
the other, while yet rejecting the images of man which they generated.
That is, this book represented a different philosophy of human nature, a
new image of man.”
In a nutshell
Full mental health is not the absence of neurosis but the fulfillment of
our potential.
In a similar vein
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (p276)
Abraham Maslow
In the summer of 1962, Abraham Maslow was driving through heavy
fog on the treacherous Big Sur coastal highway in California. Noticing
an interesting sign, he decided to pull over. The place he had
stumbled on turned out to be the world’s first personal growth center,
Esalen, where serendipitously staff were unpacking copies of his latest
book, Towards a Psychology of Being.
With such a beginning, it was perhaps inevitable that Maslow would
become the high priest of the 1960s human potential movement.
Through the core idea of the “self-actualizing person,” his Motivation
and Personality had presented a new image of human nature that
excited a whole generation. With Rollo May and Carl Rogers, Maslow
founded the “third force” humanistic branch of psychology, and its
extension, transpersonal psychology, which went beyond the regular
needs and interests of people to their spiritual and cosmological
Yet Maslow was not an obvious revolutionary. As an academic psychologist
his work was essentially a reaction against behaviorism,
which broke people down to mechanistic parts, and Freudian psychoanalysis,
which imagined us controlled by subterranean urges. Still
working within the boundaries of the scientific method, Motivation and
Personality instead sought to form a holistic view of people, one not
dissimilar to how artists and poets have always imagined us. Rather
than being simply the sum of our needs and impulses, Maslow saw us
as whole people with limitless room for growth. It was this clear belief
in human possibility and the organizations and cultures we could build
that has made his work so influential.
The key concepts: Hierarchy of needs and self-actualization
Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” is a famous concept in psychology. He
organized human needs into three broad levels: the physiological—air,
food and water—the psychological—safety, love, self-esteem—and,
finally, self-actualization. His insight was that the higher needs were as
much a part of our nature as the lower, indeed were instinctive and biological.
Most civilizations had mistakenly put the higher and lower
needs at odds with each other, seeing the animalistic basic drives as
conflicting with the finer things to which we aspire like truth, love, and
beauty. In contrast, Maslow saw needs as a continuum, in which the
satisfaction of the lower needs came before a person’s higher mental
and moral development. Having met the basic bodily requirements, and
reached a state where we feel we are loved, respected, and enjoy a sense
of belonging, including philosophical or religious identity, we seek selfactualization.
Self-actualizing people have attained “the full use and exploitation
of talents, capacities, potentialities and the like.” These are the people
who are successful as a person, aside from any obvious external success;
by no means perfect, but seemingly without major flaws. Since
Daniel Goleman wrote his bestseller on emotional intelligence people
have “discovered” it as a key to success, yet for self-actualized people
this type of intelligence is ingrained.
Maslow’s research involved the study of seven contemporaries and
nine historical figures: US Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson,
scientist Albert Einstein, First Lady and philanthropist Eleanor
Roosevelt, pioneer social worker Jane Addams, psychologist William
James, doctor and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, writer Aldous
Huxley, and philosopher Baruch Spinoza. He identified 19 characteristics
of the self-actualized person, including:
❖ Clear perception of reality (including a heightened ability to detect
falseness and be a good judge of character).
❖ Acceptance (of themselves and things as they are).
❖ Spontaneity (a rich, unconventional inner life with a child-like ability
to constantly see the world anew and appreciate beauty in the
❖ Problem-centeredness (focus on questions or challenges outside
themselves—a sense of mission or purpose—resulting in an absence
of pettiness, introspection, and ego games).
❖ Solitude seeking (enjoyed for its own sake, solitude also brings
serenity and detachment from misfortune/crisis, and allows for independence
of thought and decision).
❖ Autonomy (independence of the good opinion of other people, more
interest in inner satisfaction than status or rewards).
❖ Peak or mystical experiences (experiences when time seems to stand
❖ Human kinship (a genuine love for, and desire to help, all people).
❖ Humility and respect (belief that we can learn from anyone, and that
even the worst person has redeeming features).
❖ Ethics (clear, if not conventional, notions of right and wrong).
❖ Sense of humor (not amused by jokes that hurt or imply inferiority,
but humor that highlights the foolishness of human beings in
❖ Creativity (not the Mozart type of genius that is inborn, but in all
that is done, said, or acted).
❖ Resistance to enculturation (ability to see beyond the confines of culture
and era).
❖ Imperfections (all the guilt, anxiety, self-blame, jealousy, and so on
that regular people experience, but these do not stem from neurosis).
❖ Values (based on a positive view of the world; the universe is not
seen as a jungle but an essentially abundant place, providing whatever
we need to be able to make our contribution).
A further subtle difference sets these people apart. Most of us see life as
striving to get this or that, whether it be material things or having a
family or doing well career-wise. Psychologists call this “deficiency motivation.”
Self-actualizers, in contrast, do not strive as much as develop.
They are only ambitious to the extent of being able to express themselves
more fully and perfectly, delighting in what they are able to do.
Another general point is their profound freedom of mind. Despite
the circumstances in which they may have been, and in contrast to the
conforming pressures all around them, self-actualizers are walking
examples of free will, the quintessential human quality. They fully
grasp what Stephen Covey calls the gap between stimulus and response,
the concept that no response should be automatic. In contrast, the
merely “well-adjusted” (that is, neurosis-free) person may not really
know who they are or have a defined purpose in life. As Theodore
Rozsak saw it in Person/Planet:
“Maslow asked the key question in posing self-actualization as the
proper objective of therapy: Why do we set our standard of sanity so
cautiously low? Can we imagine no better model than the dutiful consumer,
the well-adjusted breadwinner? Why not the saint, the sage, the
artist? Why not all that is highest and finest in our species?”
Maslow made the intriguing observation that, although his selfactualizers
shared the above traits and therefore could be grouped as a
type, they were more completely individualized than any control group
ever described. This is the paradox of the self-actualizer: the more of
these traits a person has, the more likely they are to be truly unique.
Final comments
Maslow’s greatness was in re-imagining what a human being could be.
Moving us away from the idea of mental health as merely the “absence
of neurosis,” he insisted that psychological health required the presence
of self-actualizing traits. Such a fundamental recasting of psychology
has had implications for all areas of human activity.
At the time he wrote Motivation and Personality, Maslow believed
that only a tiny percentage of the population was self-actualized, but
that these few could change the whole culture. Given the impact of the
concept on the 1960s counter-culturalists, a generation that has changed
the world in its image, you would have to say that Maslow was right.
Certainly, his hierarchy of needs has been seminal to understanding
motivation in the workplace, and the self-actualization of the employee
has become a serious concern in business. He foresaw the trend toward
personal growth and excitement replacing money as the highest motivator
in a person’s working life.
The principle clearly sets higher standards for individuals and society,
and the main criticism of Maslow has been that he was Utopian,
creating an ideal human nature that does not exist. He died before he
could address the problem that some say he ignored: evil. The desire
for self-actualization may be a factor in the spread of democracy and
the growth in recognition of human rights, but what light does it shine
on horrors like the genocide in Rwanda and Kosovo?
If self-actualization is a facet of human nature, then its absence
creates a vacuum that becomes filled by repression, poverty, and
nationalism, making the world ripe for evil. Seen in this way, the fulfillment
of the self should never be thought of as a luxury. The evolution
of the species depends on it.
Abraham Maslow
Born in 1908 to Russian-Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York,
Maslow was the oldest of seven children. He was said to be shy, neurotic,
and depressive, but with a passionate curiosity and incredible
native intelligence (an IQ of 195) he excelled in school.
At college, Maslow’s early influences were Harry Harlow, the distinguished
primate researcher, and the behaviorist Edward Thorndike.
While at Columbia University, Maslow’s research into the sex lives of
college women attracted controversy. During his 14-year professorship
at Brooklyn College, his mentors included Alfred Adler, Karen Horney,
Eric Fromm, and Margaret Mead. The anthropologist Ruth Benedict
and founder of Gestalt therapy Max Wertheimer became friends and
models for the idea of the self-actualizing person. In 1951 Maslow
moved to Brandeis University, where he stayed until a year before his
death, and where Motivation and Personality was written.
In 1962 Maslow held a visiting fellowship at a Californian high-tech
company, which resulted in his adaptation of the self-actualization concept
to the business setting, related in Eupsychian Management: A
Journal (1965). Towards a Psychology of Being was published in 1962
and the classic The Farther Reaches of Human Nature a year after
Maslow’s death in 1970.
Life Strategies: Doing
What Works, Doing
What Matters
“The winners in this life know the rules of the game and have a plan,
so that their efficiency is comparatively exponential to that of people
who don’t. No big mystery, just fact.”
“Become one of those who get it. Break the code of human nature,
and find out what makes other people tick. Learn why you and other
people do what they do, and don’t do what they don’t.”
“Fact: Life is a competition. They are keeping the score, and there is a
time clock.”
In a nutshell
Get realistic about yourself and smart about the world. No one can
do this for you.
In a similar vein
Steve Andreas & Charles Faulkner, NLP (p14)
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within (p252)
Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (p258)
Philip C. McGraw
Echoing the Chinese proverb “The beginning of wisdom is to call
things by their right names,” Phil McGraw is famous as the man
who “tells it like it is.” He frequently reduces people to tears by
his frank assessments of their situation, but few of these individuals
truly resent it.
Amid the earnest, sympathetic tone of most self-help writers,
McGraw is a breath of fresh air. He introduces himself in the book by
noting: “Everything has something they do. Some people build houses.
I build strategies for living.”
Dr. Phil and Oprah
In 1999, television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey had civil charges
filed against her for fraud, slander, and defamation for statements she
had made about the dangers of “mad cow disease” (bovine spongiform
encephalopathy) in the beef industry and her unwillingness to eat hamburgers.
Forced to stand trial in the white-male-dominated “beef capital
of the world,” Amarillo, Texas, she hired courtroom strategist Dr.
Phil McGraw to help with the defense.
Oprah could not believe what was happening to her. She believed
the trial to be totally wrong, yet stood to lose $100 million in addition
to her reputation if she did not win. Despite what was at stake,
McGraw felt that she was not really coming to terms with it. As he
recounts in Life Strategies, he felt forced to look her in the eye one
night and tell her to “wake up,” to “get in the game, or these good ol’
boys are going to hand you your ass on a platter.”
McGraw realized that this was quite a thing to say to probably the
most influential woman in America, but it had the desired effect. From
that point Oprah resolved to win on the court’s terms. She won the
case, McGraw believes, at that moment.
The message
Oprah indeed credited McGraw as crucial to her victory, and rewarded
him with endless airtime on her show. But he relates the story only to
demonstrate his belief that the courtroom is a microcosm of life: People
will take things away from you unless you stand up for what is rightfully
yours, but because life unfolds over a much longer timeframe, you
may not notice that, lacking a clear strategy, you are losing.
The very effective purpose of Life Strategies is to jolt you into realizing
that the “trial” is permanently on and that there is no recess. If it
could be boiled down to nine words, the book’s message would be: Life
is serious and you are judged by results.
The life laws
Before he was a court strategist and a writer, McGraw was a student of
what he calls the “life laws.” He says:
“No one is going to ask you if you think these laws are fair, or if you
think they should exist. Like the law of gravity, they simply are.”
There isn’t space to cover all of them here, but the following are a taste.
You either get it or you don’t
If you don’t “get” what behaviors create what results, if you don’t have
a plan for your life (as opposed to wishes or hopes), you are not even
in the race with those who do have these basic skills and strategies.
Part of having this plan is to become a person who “knows the system.”
You must become a scholar of human nature and the way things
are done if you are going to get what you want.
McGraw lists the 10 most significant characteristics of how people
think and act that you need to know to get what you want. The first
two are “The number one fear among all people is rejection” and “The
number one need among all people is acceptance.”
You create your own experience
You are accountable for your life. If you are in a job you don’t like, it’s
your fault. If you are in a bad relationship, you got into it. If you don’t
trust members of the opposite sex, even if you were abused as a child,
it is you who are not doing the trusting. Stop being a victim and start
being responsible for all the results and situations in your life. McGraw
“You have to be a steely-eyed realist who calls it like it is, not like you
want it to be.”
To be anything less will prevent you from properly diagnosing your situation
and making the right changes to your life.
People do what works
Why do we end up doing precisely the things we have told ourselves we
don’t want to do? Though a certain behavior seems to defy rationality,
there will always be a hidden “payoff” for doing it. Only when you
have discovered what the payoff is will you be able to alter the behavior.
Nevertheless, when a behavior “works” it doesn’t necessarily mean
that it is healthy—it works to the extent that by doing it you avoid
some form of risk or rejection.
A young woman came to McGraw with a serious weight problem. It
turned out that she had been sexually abused as a child and that each
time she lost weight, male attention would remind her of horrible past
situations and she would start eating again. Identifying this subtle payoff
alone was enough to break her cycle of self-sabotage. Identify your
payoffs and you’ll gain control of your behavior and your life.
You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge
Psychologists use the term “perceptual defense” to describe those things
our minds cannot face up to. This is commonly called “denial” and
damages every aspect of our lives. Why? Without first being able to see
and name the problem, you’ll never be able to deal with it; over time it
consumes you.
Follow the way of Alcoholics Anonymous when looking at your life:
You can only get better once you admit you have a problem. “What
most people want is not truth, but validation,” McGraw says. We desperately
want to be right, even if what we are doing is not working.
But to have change, you must do differently.
Life rewards action
We should learn, McGraw says, that “the world couldn’t care less
about thoughts without actions.” Judging your own life by its results
may seem hard-nosed, but it doesn’t actually matter whether you like
this approach or not or whether you’d prefer to live by your own set of
rules—the world already has its own. Living by outcomes requires
change and risk, but you get the crucial satisfaction of knowing you are
in control.
“The difference between winners and losers is that winners do
things losers don’t want to do,” notes McGraw. It maybe a cliché, but
you really do have to do what it takes to get what you want, otherwise
you will remain a “passenger.” This applies to family life as much as
career. Be a person who tells someone close what they mean to you—
don’t presume that they know. Act on the love you feel or you will
regret it.
There is no reality, only perception
Understand that the world is not necessarily as you perceive it. Everyone
has “filters” and only by acknowledging them can you begin to get
a clearer picture. Even in a close relationship the same simple act can
be viewed differently. A man will see taking out the trash as a duty,
while his wife, because she finds it distasteful, will perceive it as a small
act of love. Try to cultivate a more mindful attitude, make new categories
and connections, appreciate that your “views” might be prejudices.
Most importantly, make sure that the perceptions you do retain
or adopt are grounded in verifiable fact, can be tested. Otherwise, any
actions you take based on your beliefs will be on shaky ground.
The last four life laws are:
❖ Life is managed; it is not cured.
❖ We teach people how to treat us.
❖ There is power in forgiveness.
❖ You have to name it to claim it.
Final comments
What makes Life Strategies stand out from the crowd of contemporary
self-help books is not just that McGraw “tells it like it is,” but that he
is genuinely funny. Consider the “Rut Test”:
“Question 9: ‘Do you only eat out at places where you have to look up
rather than down at the menu?’
“Question 20: ‘In order for you to meet someone new, would they have
to throw themselves on the hood of your car, or pull a chair up in front
of your TV set?’”
McGraw refuses to let the reader be part of the “epidemic” of tough
decision avoidance and jelly-like consistency of most twenty-firstcentury
lives. He quotes Mark Twain: “We do not deal much in facts
when we are contemplating ourselves.” Yet your life clearly does rest
on facts (who you are with, what you do, the conditions in which you
live), and while it may be fashionable to say that “the most important
thing is that you tried,” the world will only take note of success.
Phil McGraw
McGraw had a Texas upbringing. His parents grew up poor but his
father, with the help of the GI Bill, went to college and eventually
received a PhD in psychology and practiced for 25 years. McGraw himself
won a football scholarship to college and trained as a psychologist.
In his spare time he sought out forums where he could talk about “life
A trial strategist with over 15 years’ experience and president of a
litigation consulting firm, the author appeared as a key member of
Oprah Winfrey’s “Change Your Life TV” team. Life Strategies continues
to be a bestseller around the world, and has been followed by Self
Matters and Relationship Rescue.
McGraw is married and has two sons.
Care of the Soul:
A Guide for Cultivating
Depth and Sacredness
in Everyday Life
“Care of the soul is a fundamentally different way of regarding daily
life and the quest for happiness … Care of the soul is a continous process
that concerns itself not so much with ‘fixing’ a central flaw as with
attending to the small details of everyday life, as well as to major decisions
and changes.”
“Soul cannot thrive in a fast-paced life because being affected, taking
things in and chewing on them, requires time.”
In a nutshell
Fill your emptiness by living soulfully. Let your individuality out by
accepting your idiosyncrasies and dark side.
In a similar vein
Robert Bly, Iron John (p40)
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (p68)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves (p132)
James Hillman, The Soul’s Code (p170)
Henry David Thoreau, Walden (p282)
Thomas Moore
Care of the Soul was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and
spent almost a year on that list. It is rare for a self-help title to
have also received critical acclaim. This is a popular self-help
book, but not like any you may have read. Steeped in a sense of the
sacred and the profound, Moore’s thesis is that modern lives lack
mystery, and the success of the book would seem to indicate that most
of us agree.
You should also find it a peaceful experience, almost like a letter
from a forgiving friend; while knowing everything about you, they are
unfazed in their belief in your godliness. This effect may derive from a
combination of Moore’s experience as a psychotherapist, his years as a
monk, and his wide learning. Inspired by myth, history, and art, the
book exudes the richness of human experience. Moore’s chief influences
are Freud (delvings into the psychic underworld), Jung (the belief that
psychology and religion are indistinguishable), James Hillman (see The
Soul’s Code), and the Renaissance men Ficino and Paracelsus.
What is care of the soul?
Care of the soul is “an application of poetics to everyday life,” bringing
imagination back into those areas of our lives that are devoid of it, and
re-imagining the things that we believe we already understand. Rewarding
relationships, fulfilling work, personal power, and peace of mind
are all gifts of the soul. They are so difficult to achieve because the idea
of soul does not exist for most of us, instead making itself known
through physical symptoms and complaints, anguish, emptiness, or a
general unease.
Soulwork can be deceptively simple. Often you feel better just by
accepting and going more deeply into what you apparently hate, for
example a job, a marriage, a place. The book contains a quote by the
poet Wallace Stevens: “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around a
lake.” Instead of trying to remove any bad feeling or experience surgically
from our mind, it is more human and honest to look squarely at
the “bad thing” and see what it says to us. We will not receive the
soul’s messages if it is moved out of sight. An intent to heal, either on
the part of the sufferer or the helper, may obscure insight into what is
actually going on.
Conventional self-help and psychotherapy are problem solving. The
literature on the soul, exemplified by Moore, is “problem-noticing and
wondering.” The soul has to do with turns of fate, which are often
counter to expectations and against the desires of the ego and the will.
This is a frightening idea, yet the only way it becomes less frightening is
when we start to make space for its movements and respect its power.
As Victor Hugo put it in Les Misérables:
“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is
one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”
Enjoying our depth and complexity
Moore asks us to re-examine the myth of Narcissus, the beautiful
young man in love with an image of himself in a pond. His soulless and
loveless self-absorption results in tragedy, but its intensity eventually
pushes him into a new life of reflection and love for his deeper self and
nature around him. “The narcissistic person simply does not know how
profound and interesting his nature is,” Moore suggests. Narcissus is
like ivory: beautiful, but cold and hard. What he could become is a
flower, with roots and part of a whole world of beauty. However,
killing the Narcissus in us is not the way to go; instead of moving to
the other extreme of false humility, it is best to keep our high ideals
and dreams and find more effective ways to express them.
With the analysis of myths such as these, Moore counsels that we
should avoid the simplistic single-mindedness of some self-help writing.
There are many aspects to the self, and by accommodating its competing
demands (for example solitariness vs. social life) life expands into
something fuller. We can sometimes entertain our ego, at other times be
the detached sage. Both are valid, and we don’t always have to be making
sure that life makes sense.
No one has a soul like ours
“The uniqueness of a person is made up of the insane and the twisted
as much as it is of the rational and normal,” Moore notes. This is
attested to by the biographies of just about everyone you have ever
admired—even Abraham Lincoln is getting the revisionist treatment.
Why should you be any different? Care of the Soul warns us to be particularly
careful that our efforts to “iron out the bumps” may only be a
drive toward conformity and a sad loss of ourselves.
Most therapists now focus on specific problems that can be tackled
in a short timeframe, that can restore you to “normality.” Through
drugs, cognitive therapy, and sciences like neuro-linguistic programming,
there is no need for introspection. Care of the soul never ends,
however, as the soul itself is outside of time. Only such things as
mythology, nature, the fine arts, and dreams—which all defy time—can
give us proper insight into our mystery.
The book has four parts and thirteen chapters, covering the gamut
of the human condition. The following themes are from the first half.
We should try not to see love in terms of “making relationships work.”
Rather, love is an “event of the soul” that may have surprisingly little
to do with who you are with. Love is relief from the mundane, sanitized
nature of modern life, a door into mystery, which is why we seize
it with such force.
Moore had a young client who had whipped himself into a frenzy
about his girlfriend’s suspected affairs. Yet the man also believed that
romantic attachment was not modern or acceptable. This purity of
ideals had shunted out the possibility of real attachment, and the result
was an ugly externalization of jealousy.
Nevertheless, jealousy is not all bad, serving the soul through the
creation of limits and rootedness. Flying in the face of modern ideas
about “co-dependency,” Moore says that it is OK to find one’s identity
in relation to another.
The soul’s power is quite different to the ego’s. With the ego we plan,
direct, and work toward an end. The soul’s power is more like a current
of water: Though we may never understand its source, we still
have to accommodate it and let it guide our existence. With the soul we
have to abandon the “consumer logic” of cause and effect and the efficient
use of time.
The soul loves power, but violence breaks out when the dark imagination
is given no outlet. When a community or a whole culture lacks
soulfulness, the soul is fetishized into objects, for example guns. As
Oscar Wilde suggested, virtue cannot be genuine when it sets itself
apart from evil.
Moore says that any culture that tries to protect itself against the tragic
side of life will make depression the enemy, but that in any type of society
“devoted to light” depression will be unusually strong in order to
compensate for its unnatural covering up. Moore describes depression
as a gift: It unwraps our neat little values and aims, giving us a chance
to get to know the soul.
Final comments
Late in the book, Moore tells of the summer he spent working in a laboratory,
having left the monastic life where he had been cloistered for
12 years. Enjoying his new-found freedom, he was shocked when a
workmate said to him with conviction, “You will always do the work
of a priest.” The success of Care of the Soul is a perfect example of
how self-help literature has taken the place of traditional carers-of-thesoul,
to whose rituals and religious instruction we once would have
turned automatically.
In place of the “salvation fantasy” that he believes characterizes
contemporary self-help, Moore tries to return us to a self-knowledge
quest that can encompass our shadows and complexities. His book is
modeled on the less ambitious self-help manuals of the Middle Ages
and Renaissance, which offered philosophical comfort for the trials of
life. Care of the Soul may stand out from today’s self-help writing, but
in fact continues an old and venerable tradition.
Renaissance doctors, Moore tells us, believed that each individual
soul originated as a star in the night sky. The modern idea, he notes, is
that a person is “what he makes himself to be.” We have to value the
self-creating freedom that is enjoyed in our time, but Moore’s book
gives us something altogether different: the encouragement to wonder
what is eternal in us.
Thomas Moore
As well as the 12 years he spent as a monk in a Catholic religious
order, Moore obtained four degrees: a PhD in religious studies from
Syracuse University, an MA in theology from the University of Windsor,
an MA in musicology from the University of Michigan, and a BA in
music and philosophy from DePaul University.
A writer and psychotherapist, he has been a leading exponent of the
archetypal school of psychology, which seeks to reintroduce a mythic
dimension to the discipline. Other books include The Planets Within,
Rituals of the Imagination, Dark Eros, Café of the Soul, Soul Mates,
and The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life. He also edited A Blue Fire,
an anthology of the writings of James Hillman. More recent works
include The Book of Job (1998), Original Self: Living with Paradox
and Uncertainty (2000), meditations accompanied by woodblock
prints, and The Soul’s Religion (2002).
Moore lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children.
The Power of Your
Subconscious Mind
“The result of the affirmative process of prayer depends on your conforming
to the principles of life, regardless of appearances. Consider for
a moment that there is a principle of mathematics and none of error;
there is a principle of truth but none of dishonesty. There is a principle
of intelligence but none of ignorance; there is a principle of harmony
and none of discord. There is a principle of health but none of disease,
and there is a principle of abundance but none of poverty.”
“Whatever is impressed in your subconscious mind is expressed on the
screen of space. This same truth was proclaimed by Moses, Isaiah,
Jesus, Buddha, Zoroaster, Laotze, and all the illumined seers of the
ages. Whatever you feel as true subjectively is expressed as conditions,
experiences, and events. As in heaven [your own mind], so on earth [in
your body and environment]. This is the great law of life.”
“The law of your mind is the law of belief. This means to believe in the
way your mind works, to believe in belief itself.”
In a nutshell
By understanding how the subconscious mind works, you can learn
how dreams become reality.
In a similar vein
Shakti Gawain, Creative Visualization (p150)
Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (p258)
Joseph Murphy
Dr. Joseph Murphy spent a good part of his life studying eastern
religions and was a scholar of the I-Ching, the Chinese book of
divination whose origins are lost in history. He was also, for 28
years, Minister at the Los Angeles branch of the Church of Divine
Science, a New Thought church that promotes a practical spirituality,
free of the usual religious creed and dogma.
It is a long way from the ancient East to LA, but Murphy felt that
there were secrets he had found concerning the subconscious that were
beyond time and culture, and that should find a wider audience.
How the subconscious works and what it can do
Murphy saw the subconscious mind as a darkroom within which we
develop the images that are to be lived out in real life. While the conscious
mind sees an event, takes a picture of it, and remembers it, the
subconscious mind works backwards, “seeing” something before it
happens (this is why intuition is infallible).
The subconscious responds to habit and habitual thinking. Being
totally neutral in a moral sense, it is happy to adopt any habit as “normal”—
good or bad. We blithely let negative thoughts drop into the
subconscious every minute of our lives, then are surprised when they
find expression in day-to-day experiences and relationships. While there
are some things that will happen to us that we had no role in creating,
in fact these are rare. Mostly the bad that happens is in us already,
waiting for the light of day.
This is the harsh reality, but knowledge of the subconscious also
delivers us a breakthrough: It means that we can remake ourselves
anew simply by controlling the thoughts and images with which we
feed it. This makes Murphy’s book, with its instructions and affirmations
that will have the greatest effect on the subconscious, a tool of
liberation. Understanding your subconscious mind as a photographic
mechanism removes the emotion and struggle from changing your life,
because if it is simply a matter of replacing existing mental images with
new ones, you begin to see the ease with which you may change.
Relaxed faith = Results
The subconscious is an entirely different kettle of fish to the conscious
mind. It cannot be coerced, responding best to relaxed faith that it will
do its transforming work with ease. Trying hard, which may work for
a task given to the conscious mind, is a cause of failure with its subterranean
other half. It suggests to your subconscious that there is a lot of
opposition to what you want done.
Along with relaxed faith, the ease with which the subconscious
accomplishes things increases with emotion. An idea or a thought alone
may excite the rational, conscious mind, but the subconscious likes
things to be “emotionalized.” When a thought becomes a feeling, and
imagination becomes desire, it will deliver what you want with speed
and abundance.
Yet Murphy said that it is less important to know how your subconscious
works than to develop the faith that it can. William James, the
father of American psychology, believed that the greatest discovery of
the nineteenth century was the power of the subconscious mind added
to faith. The idea that you can change your life by changing the landscape
of your mind may not have appeared in history books alongside
the discovery of new continents or electricity or steam, but all the great
minds have known it.
Believing it to be so
“The law of your mind is the law of belief itself,” Murphy noted. What
we believe makes us who we are. William James observed that whatever
people expect to be true will be so, irrespective of whether the object of
their belief exists. In the West we have made “the truth” our highest
value; this motivation, while important, is weak next to the actual
power of belief in shaping our lives. Whatever you give your subconscious—
false or true, good or evil—it will register as fact. Be careful not
to joke about misfortune, as the subconscious has no sense of humor.
A mentally disturbed person and a healthy person share the same
power of belief; the sane differ from the insane only in that they retain
objectivity about their beliefs. When a man in a hospital says he is Elvis
Presley, he is not “making it up,” he knows he is Elvis. We must use
this same power for constructive ends, not wishing but knowing that
we are a perfect spouse or a business genius. The trick is to choose to
know something that seems almost mad but not quite—something that
seemed impossible to us a year ago, yet at the same time would be an
enactment of our heart’s desire.
Health and prosperity
In the rituals of ancient times, with their weird mixtures and incantations,
it was the power of suggestion and acceptance in the subconscious
mind that healed. Even today, doctors report the power of
placebos to produce miraculous recoveries if they are accompanied by
doubt-free instructions that “this will do the trick.” Miracles of healing,
Murphy said, are simply the body obeying the subconscious mind’s
knowledge of “perfect health” when the questioning nature of the normal
conscious mind is silenced.
The other aspect of mental healing is the premise that our individual
minds are part of a larger human mind (as Emerson believed), which
itself is linked to “infinite intelligence.” This is why it is not crazy,
Murphy claimed, to believe that you can heal people who are not even
physically near to you, by visualizing all the health, energy, and love in
the universe applied to that person, the life force pulsing through every
cell of their body, cleaning and invigorating as it goes.
As there is a principle of health and harmony in the universe, so
there is a principle of abundance. “The trouble with most people is that
they have no invisible means of support,” commented Murphy. Others,
aware of the law of abundance, will not be thrown into a nervous
breakdown if their bank account goes into the red or their business is
lost. They will understand it as a message to get re-attuned and reacquainted
with the fact of a prosperous universe.
The “feeling of wealth,” Murphy said, produces wealth in reality.
The subconscious mind understands and follows the idea of compound
interest. That is, little thought deposits made regularly over time compound
to produce a large principal of mental abundance. He showed
the reader exactly how to send the right signals to their subconscious to
make sure that these abundant images manifest themselves in the real
Why prayers are usually in vain
Our universe is one of law and order, Murphy wrote, therefore there
should be nothing “mystical” about getting answers to our prayers. It
is a process no more mysterious than the erection of a building. One
who knows the workings of the subconscious mind will learn how to
pray “scientifically.”
What does this mean? Prayers traditionally consist of earnest utterances
to God followed by “hoping for the best.” Logically, however,
such prayers will carry little weight or power because they are framed
in doubt. It is the great irony of conventional prayer (the pleading,
wishing, hoping variety) that it involves no faith. Real faith is simple:
the knowledge that something is happening, is being provided, present
tense. When prayers become occasions to give thanks for the fact of
assistance (even if it has yet to materialize), they cease to be a mystical
ritual that we hope God will notice, and become a co-creating process
with definite ends.
Final comments
The Power of Your Subconscious Mind is simply written and tries to be
free of culture or religion. It is slightly repetitive, but this in itself mirrors
the book’s idea of subconscious programming. The first half is the
best, as it explains how the subconscious works. The second half deals
with its role and power to transform in areas like marriage, human
relations, scientific discovery, sleep, fear, forgiveness, and “eternal
youth.” For full effect, the author’s advice that it be read at least twice
should be taken.
To some the book will be somewhat “way out,” but many people
say that their life was not the same after reading it. The subconscious is
a powerful thing, and what you get from Murphy is the realization that
if you refuse to try to understand the non-rational mind, your rational
desires and plans will be forever sabotaged.
Joseph Murphy
Murphy always refused requests for profiles and biographies, saying
that his life was to be found in his books. He wrote over 30, including
The Amazing Laws of Cosmic Mind, Secrets of the I-Ching, The Miracle
of Mind Dynamics, Your Infinite Power to be Rich and The Cosmic
Power Within You. There is a new edition of The Power of Your
Subconscious Mind, revised by Ian McMahan.
Murphy was influenced by Ernest Holmes and Emmet Fox, both
well-known writers on New Thought principles, but his academic background
was in eastern religion. He spent many years in India and was
an Andhra Research Fellow at the University of India.
The Power of
Positive Thinking
“Faith is the one power against which fear cannot stand. Day by day,
as you fill your mind with faith, there will ultimately be no room left for
fear. This is the one great fact that no one should forget. Master faith
and you will automatically master fear.”
“There was a time when I acquiesced in the silly idea that there is no
relationship between faith and prosperity; that when one talked about
religion he should never relate it to achievement, that it dealt only
with ethics and morals and social values. But now I realize that such a
viewpoint limits the power of God and the development of the individual.
Religion teaches that there is a tremendous power in the universe
and that this power can dwell in personality. It is a power that can
blast out all defeat and lift a person above all difficult situations.”
In a nutshell
You can achieve anything if you have faith.
In a similar vein
Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (p258)
Norman Vincent Peale
If it were not for Peale’s wife’s persistence, this book—which is one of
the all-time bestselling self-help titles and made him a founder of the
human potential movement—might never have been published. He
was in his 50s when he wrote it and had received nothing but a stack
of rejection slips. Dejected, he threw the manuscript into the wastebasket
and forbade his wife to remove it. She took him literally, next
day presenting the manuscript, inside the wastebasket, to what became
the successful publisher.
The book has sold around 20 million copies in 42 languages. Along
with How to Win Friends and Influence People it was one of the original
twentieth-century self-help classics.
The perception
If likened to a television character, Peale’s book might be Ned Flanders
from The Simpsons, the Christian dad always ready with a cheery word
for his neighbor Homer Simpson. Through Homer we see the world as
it “really” is, through Ned Flanders the world as the do-gooders perceive
it. The book has become linked with a Pollyanna-ish attitude to
the world that sees no evil and hears no evil, and believes that a happy
smile can melt all obstacles. “Every day, in every way, I am getting better
and better” is Emile Coué’s famous positive thinking mantra, which
to most ears is superficial and even idiotic.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey criticizes
positive thinking by saying that before we can justifiably take on a positive
frame of mind, we first have to accept that things are not OK, and
then take responsibility. Otherwise we are fudging reality.
The reality
However, when we open up Peale’s book, we read:
“The book is written with deep concern for the pain, difficulty and
struggle of human existence.”
He went on to say:
“It teaches positive thinking, not as a means to fame, riches or power,
but as the practical application of faith to overcome defeat and
accomplish worthwhile creative values in life.”
These are not the ideas of someone with an unrealistic take on life.
Peale saw plenty of human misery in his daily life as a minister in New
York City, but he was not content to provide a weekly sermon; he
wanted measurable change in the life of the people he met. Over many
years, he created a “simple yet scientific system of practical techniques
for successful living that works,” tested and refined among thousands
of people within and outside his ministry. And like Carnegie with How
to Win Friends and Influence People, Peale ran the ideas as an adult
course long before they were distilled into book form.
The source of positive thinking
For Peale there was no greater source of personal power or guidance
than the Bible. Biblical quotes are the mainstay of the book (supplemented
by the likes of Emerson, William James, and Marcus Aurelius)
and perhaps because it is based on this timeless wisdom, Peale’s classic
has amazing power. When statements such as the following are highlighted
for us, it is difficult to argue with Peale’s conviction:
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
“If thou can believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”
(Mark 9:23)
“According to your faith, be it unto you.” (Matthew 9:29)
Peale’s theme was that we don’t have to depend on ourselves; there are
incredible sources of power open to us if we only believe in their existence.
We make life hard, but an appreciation of the universe’s ability
to make good and to provide would lead us to see life as flowing and
abundant. Life seems difficult because we only believe in ourselves. He
expressed the great secret of self-help that, in order to gain personal
power and peace, we have to be willing to go beyond the merely personal
to something greater than ourselves.
The book proceeds by cases and stories, some of them incredibly
touching. Filled with the struggle of humanity, its aim is to show that
defeat is not permanent. Some of the chapters, with examples of their
content, are described below.
“How to have constant energy”
Peale revealed the secret source of energy of every great person he had
known: attunement with the infinite. The knowledge that what one is
doing is supported outside oneself and is serving a divine end provides
a constantly renewable source of energy. Working only by oneself and
for oneself leads to burnout.
“Try prayer power”
Prayer is different to what you may have thought. It is a space to say
whatever is on your mind, in whatever language you choose. Instead of
asking for things, give thanks in advance for what you desire, leave it
in God’s hands, and visualize the good outcome. The Peale formula is
“Prayerize, Picturize, Actualize.” Be surprised at its effectiveness.
“Expect the best and get it”
Fearful creatures that we are, we tend to expect the worst. But an
expectation of the best has a way of organizing forces in your favor.
You are less likely to keep anything in reserve. The subconscious,
which regulates many of our actions, merely reflects your beliefs. Alter
the belief about an outcome and your actions will seem to be shaped in
order to achieve it. Peale’s phrase is: “Doubt closes the power flow.
Faith opens it.”
“New thoughts can remake you”
Use only positive and hopeful language for a 24-hour period. Then go
back to being “realistic” the next day. Repeat this over a week and you
find that what you considered realistic a week ago now seems pessimistic.
In golfing terms, discover that “the rough is only mental.”
Your new understanding of what is realistic moves up to a higher, permanently
positive level.
Final comments
To really appreciate The Power of Positive Thinking you have to understand
its background. Peale came from plain Mid-Western stock, and
he believed he was writing, in his words, “for the plain people of this
world.” Most readers will find it quaint or amusing because the
language conjures up simple church-going folk in the 1950s. It might
be old-fashioned, but only a cynic would find it redundant—the book’s
principles are easily moved from its original time and place and applied
to your life, as you would expect of a classic. It is refreshing because
there are no gimmicky techniques; expect to find only a bag of wellworn
tools for chiseling away cynicism and hopelessness.
Although the book contains things like a “prayer for salesmen,” it is
something more than a hotchpotch of Christian and capitalist morals.
Consistent with most of the self-help classics, it says that the highest
morality is fulfillment of potential; to “give up” is to deny yourself all
the spiritual and material rewards that are rightfully yours.
If you are feeling down, there is an unassailable logic to Peale’s book
that can forcefully restore life again and again, clearing all doubt from
the mind.
Norman Vincent Peale
Peale was born in Bowersville, Ohio, in 1898. Following college (Ohio
Wesleyan University) and work on newspapers (Detroit Journal), he
studied theology at Boston University. After ordination he quickly
became a popular preacher who could swell congregation numbers tenfold.
During his time at University Methodist Church in Syracuse, New
York, he met and married Ruth Stafford, his life-long partner and
At 34, Peale moved to Marble Collegiate Church in New York City,
where he stayed through the Depression and the Second World War
until the early 1980s. His sermons became so well known that they
attracted tourists. In the 1930s he also began a radio broadcast, “The
Art of Living,” that was to be heard weekly for 54 years, and established
a clinic of Christian psychotherapy with psychiatrist Smiley
Blanton. In 1945 he established the inspirational magazine Guideposts,
which is still popular. Politically he was conservative: He traveled to
Vietnam at President Nixon’s request and was given the Presidential
Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan.
Peale was a prolific speaker; he was still addressing around 100
groups a year in his 90s. He died on Christmas Eve, 1993, aged 95, but
the Peale Center in New York State carries on his work. Peale’s life has
been chronicled in Carol V. R. George’s God’s Salesman: Normal
Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking.
The Hero Within: Six
Archetypes We Live By
“Each of the archetypes carries with it a worldview, and with that different
life goals and theories about what gives life meaning. Orphans seek safety
and fear exploitation and abandonment. Martyrs want to be good, and see
the world as a conflict between good (care and responsibility) and bad
(selfishness and exploitation). Wanderers want independence and fear
conformity. Warriors strive to be strong, to have an impact upon the world,
and to avoid ineffectiveness and passivity. Magicians aim to be true to
their inner wisdom and to be in balance with the energies of the universe.
Conversely, they try to avoid the inauthentic and the superficial.”
“There is a paradigm shift that occurs when people move from being
Warriors to being Magicians: their perception of reality actually
changes. They come to realize that seing the world as a place full of
danger, pain and isolation is not how the world is, but only their perception
of it during the formative parts of their journey.”
In a nutshell
Each of us tends to think and act according to patterns or “archetypes.”
Become aware of their power and use them to your advantage.
In a similar vein
Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star (p26)
Robert Bly, Iron John (p40)
Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (p68)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves (p132)
James Hillman, The Soul’s Code (p170)
Carol S. Pearson
Most self-help books tell you what is wrong with you, Pearson
notes in her Introduction, then try to tell you what you
should do about it. The Hero Within tries to show how you
can be more of who you already are, by seeing your life in terms of a
mythic story or journey.
Pearson describes her bestseller as “an operating manual for the psyche.”
It grew out of a belief that individual and societal problems
would not be solved if people continued to see heroism as something
external to them. She has said that she wrote it for ordinary people
who feel that they could live extraordinary lives, and convincingly sets
out to show how harnessing the power of mythic archetypes (for example
the Warrior, the Altruist) is a key to personal transformation.
The Hero Within is no learned treatise, but its sheer accessibility has
made Jungian archetypal psychology understandable to a popular audience.
Apart from Jung, Pearson admits her large debt to Joseph
Campbell, the mythologist who made popular the idea of the “hero’s
journey” (see The Power of Myth) and James Hillman (see The Soul’s
What is an archetype?
Carl Jung pioneered the description of archetypes, patterns in the
human psyche that reveal themselves over time. They are permanent
imprints of possibility, yet we can’t access them if we don’t know about
them. For instance, the realization that we have spent our life being an
Altruist may be what we need to integrate more of the Wanderer into
our thought and behavior. Recognition of the Orphan or Innocent in us
may provoke a desire to awaken the Warrior.
The archetypes are not a progression from worse to better—each
represents an aspect of ourselves that comes to the fore in response to
situations, or that we must develop in different stages of our life.
The archetypes in a nutshell
Archetype Task Motto
Orphan Survive difficulty Life is suffering
Wanderer Find yourself Life is an adventure
Warrior Prove your worth Life is a battle
Altruist Show generosity Commitment to the greater good
Innocent Achieve happiness Life is joy
Magician Transform your life Creating the world I want
The Orphan
Ever felt betrayed, abandoned, victimized? Pearson tells us not to
despair, for such experiences are a “mythic event calling you to the
quest.” In many myths and stories, the hero overcomes their background
to rise up and live a rich life. Cinderella has a wicked stepmother
and is treated as a servant, Oedipus as a newborn was left on a
hillside to die, and Dickens’ Oliver Twist must escape the horrible
We are all born in innocence, but the job of the orphan is to face life
head on instead of becoming attached to the victim mindset and states
of dependency. You have integrated your Orphan when you stop craving
protection and security and are willing to let others be freer as well;
when you can balance wariness with hope, avoiding the conclusion that
“life is suffering.” You know about pain, but you also assert that it is
not everything.
The Wanderer
The Wanderer becomes central when we feel misunderstood, alienated,
or are cast into an unknown situation. It is a call to move into another
life that is less restricting and more “us.” The Wanderer sees life as an
adventure, symbolized by the knight, the explorer, the cowboy, or the
hippie who hits the road, but the impulse for new frontiers applies to
the mind and heart as well as the physical world.
The archetype may make itself known in adolescence, when we start
to look objectively at our place within the family and community, but
another key point is mid-life, when many people reject being “responsible
performance machines.” Even if a person realizes that their sanctuary
has become their cage, the call to be a Wanderer may cause guilt
feelings. If you choose no longer to take on the protector role, who
The vital question for the Wanderer is whether they are simply
escaping from trouble or searching for a new self. The call to wander
may mean painful breaks and terrifying leaps into the unknown, but
without them we don’t grow.
The Warrior
Pearson says that it is possible to tap into the “intense aliveness” and
force of this archetype without becoming a mindless aggressor. Perhaps
because of its negative image, many will have avoided taking on aspects
of the Warrior. Nevertheless, without it we are weakened. The Orphan
or the Innocent may fear the Warrior archetype and the changes it may
wreak in them, but sometimes it becomes clear that we have to take a
stand and in these situations only the Warrior will do. By embracing it
we don’t become a monster, but in fact open up to “the dance of life,”
as Pearson phrases it.
Archetypal poet Robert Bly (see Iron John) perfectly sums up the
worth of the archetype: “Each time we use the warrior well, we are not
so much fighting battles as awakening the King.”
The Warrior of today is less in competition with enemies than they
are with themselves, aiming to vanquish personal limitations and
achieve excellence. Instead of advantage over others, the new Warrior
seeks better and more creative solutions.
The Altruist
In a Warrior culture achievement is everything, yet we all like to be valued
as people, separate to our achievements. Subtract the people in
society who work for nothing, who give out love and care without
expectation of getting it back, and it would not be much of a society.
We need to have a larger meaning to guide our actions, so that they do
not come simply from a desire for personal power or money—this is
the worth of the Altruist.
The negative side of the archetype is unnecessary sacrifice. Many
people will go through their lives giving up their own ambitions and
desires for the sake of others, yet sacrifice often goes unrewarded and
can be taken for granted. The Altruist symbolizes giving and
abundance, but only that type of giving about which you are passionate,
not what you think the world expects of you.
The Innocent
Though we are born innocent, part of us continues to look for Utopian
possibilities, despite all the contrary “reality” we come across. We can
return to this place, Pearson says, but only after we have taken our
own heroic journeys. In Paulo Coelho’s fable The Alchemist, for
instance, the character Santiago finds his treasure chest only after a
series of life-enriching adventures. The sense of trust in the universe
that we had as infants can be regained by reawakening the Innocent.
While the Warrior learns that “life is all up to me,” the Innocent
lives on a cushion of faith and belief in the essential abundance of the
universe. The Warrior believes that life is a race against time, in competition
with others for limited resources, but the Innocent believes that
synchronicity will provide whatever is needed.
The Magician
The Magician sees life in a similar way to the Innocent, but claims
more power. While the Innocent will trust the universe to make things
happen, the Magician will be a more active change maker. Magicians
are willing to take a stand, even if it is risky or revolutionary. Yet
unlike the Warrior they also give up the illusion of total control over
their lives, and in doing so take on an ability to read the flow and move
with greater effect. This is why they can appear to do “magical” things.
In their personal journeys, Magicians have allowed themselves to be
transformed and the reward is power. Famous Magicians include
Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Final comments
Pearson’s most interesting observation is that we are moving from a
Warrior to a Magician culture. The former is characterized by the ethos
of “getting ahead,” even if what we get ceases to mean much or do us
much good. The Magician culture is more open to change and transformation,
less set in its ways, and instead of trying to be a winner in the
existing, less than perfect world, is willing to create a new world.
Where Warriors strategize, using will and tenacity to make change,
the Magician envisions, believing that the power of the vision will
create its own momentum. Which is better? To the extent that Magicians
are enlisting forces greater than themselves, Magicianship would
ultimately seem more powerful. Most people would prefer to produce
magic than fight battles.
The Hero Within was first published in 1986. Later editions show
how readers can adapt and integrate the archetypes into their everyday
lives and have contemporary references, but if you can only find the
original edition don’t worry—the essential part of the book is appreciating
the archetypes, which are not subject to much change.
Carol Pearson
Pearson grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family in the American
South. In college, reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand
Faces changed her life. Taking up the book’s suggestion to “follow your
bliss,” she immersed herself in writings on mythology and archetypal
psychology, and eventually turned her knowledge in these areas into a
career. Pearson wrote The Hero Within while on sabbatical from the
University of Maryland, where she taught in the Women’s Studies
A long-time corporate consultant, Pearson also wrote Magic at
Work: Camelot, Creative Leadership and Everyday Miracles (with
Sharon Seivert, 1995) and founded the Center for Archetypal Studies
and Applications in Washington DC. Her most recent books are The
Hero and the Outlaw (2001), the first major study of how firms can use
archetypes in corporate image and branding, and Mapping the Organizational
Psyche (2002).
The Road Less
“Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan
more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their
problems, their burdens, and their difficulties in life as if life were generally
easy, as if life should be easy.”
“As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Those things that hurt, instruct.’ It is for
this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome
problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.”
“What are these tools, these techniques of suffering, these means of
experiencing the pain of problems constructively that I call discipline?
There are four: delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility,
dedication to truth, and balancing … they are simple tools, and almost
all children are adept in their use by the age of ten. Yet presidents and
kings will often forget to use them, to their downfall.”
In a nutshell
Once you admit that “life is difficult,” the fact is no longer of great
consequence. Once you accept responsibility, you can make better
In a similar vein
Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life (p50)
Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (p216)
Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love (p288)
M. Scott Peck
This is the self-help book read by people who don’t read self-help
books. It contains none of the alluring promises of boundless joy
and happiness that are the feature of personal development writing,
yet has still been a massive bestseller. Famously beginning with the
words “Life is difficult,” it covers such gloomy topics as the myth of
romantic love, evil, mental illness, and the author’s psychological and
spiritual crises.
Perhaps because of its lack of rosiness, it is easy to give this book
our confidence—it works on the premise that once we know the worst,
we are free to see what is beyond it. The Road Less Traveled is inspirational
but in an old-fashioned way, putting self-discipline at the top of
the list of values for a good life. If you believe that there are no easy
ways to enlightenment or even full mental health, that factors like commitment
and responsibility are the seeds of fulfillment, then you belong
in Dr. Peck’s territory.
Peck is a conventionally trained psychotherapist, but has been influential
in the movement to have psychology recognize the stages of spiritual
growth. He sees the great feature of our times as being the
reconciliation of the scientific and the spiritual worldviews. The Road
Less Traveled is his attempt to bridge the gap further, and it has clearly
been successful. The book is welcomed by anyone who has found
themselves torn between the science of psychology and the spiritual
Self-control is the essence of Peck’s brand of self-help. He says:
“Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some discipline
we can solve only some problems. With total discipline we can solve
all problems.”
A person who has the ability to delay gratification has the key to psychological
maturity, whereas impulsiveness is a mental habit that, in
denying opportunities to experience pain, creates neuroses. Most large
problems we have are the result of not facing up to earlier, smaller
problems, of failing to be “dedicated to the truth.” The great mistake
that most people make is believing that problems will go away of their
own accord.
This lack of responsibility will damage us in other ways. Our culture
puts freedom on a pedestal, yet as Eric Fromm showed in Escape from
Freedom, people have a natural willingness to embrace political authoritarianism
and give up their personal power. When it comes down to it,
we shy away from real freedom and choice just as much as we avoid
obviously negative things. Discipline is not only about “growing up” in
terms of accepting reality, but in the appreciation of the tremendous
range of choices before us.
The road and its rewards
One of the great insights of the book is how few people actually choose
the spiritual path. Just as there are many well-qualified sergeants who
baulk at becoming an officer, Peck observes, people in psychotherapy
often have little taste for the power that comes with genuine mental
health. Life on autopilot is preferable to any major challenge.
The Road Less Traveled is rich with the stories of real people.
Some of the vignettes demonstrate the transformation of a life, but in
other cases people merely refuse to change, or in the end can’t be
bothered. Does this ring true? It is in these less extreme cases that we
are more likely to see our own quiet turning away from a bolder,
richer life. Rather than the horror of a mental illness, Peck says, most
of us have to deal with the straightforward anguish of missed
Yet why is this so, when the rewards are so great? The road less
traveled might be the spiritual path, but it is also much rockier and
dimly lit next to the regular highway of life, on which other people
seem happy enough. However, Peck says that to ask this question of
“Why bother?” we must know nothing about joy. The rewards of spiritual
life are enormous: Peace of mind and freedom from real worry
that most people never imagine is possible. Burdens are always ready to
be lifted, since they are no longer solely ours.
Nevertheless, deepened spirituality also brings responsibility; this is
inevitable as we move from spiritual childhood to adulthood. Peck
remembers St Augustine, who said: “If you are loving and diligent, you
may do whatever you want.” Just as our previous spiritual timidity and
laziness resulted (as we can now see) in a very limited existence, so discipline
opens the door to limitlessness in our experience of life. Only
the more enlightened can be amused by the fact that others think they
must lead a boring and restrained life; the walls that look stark from
without may simply be shielding us from the glow of rapture within.
Love is a decision
What is the fuel on the road less traveled? Love, of course, and Peck is
at his best discussing this thing that cannot be adequately defined. We
tend to think of love as effortless, the freefall of “falling in love.” While
it may be mysterious, love is also effortful; love is a decision: “The
desire to love is not itself love. Love is as love does.”
The ecstatic state of being in love is in part a regression to infancy, a
time when we felt our mother and ourselves to be one; we are back in
communion with the world and anything seems possible. Yet just as the
baby comes to realize that he or she is an individual, so the lover eventually
returns to his or her self. At this point, Peck says, the work of
“real” love begins. Anyone can fall in love, but not everyone can decide
to love. We may never control love’s onset, but we may—with discipline—
remain in charge of our response. And once these “muscles” of
love have been used they tend to stay, increasing our power to channel
love in the most life-giving and appropriate way.
Final comments
The discerning reader will note the contrast between Peck’s belief that
psychological change is necessarily slow, and the cognitive psychology
view that our limitations can be removed without much trouble if we
know how (see Martin Seligman, David D. Burns, Anthony Robbins).
This is a basic divide in the self-help literature: the hard work ethic,
components of which include building character and discovering soul;
and the belief in mental technology, that our problems are not deepseated
and can be addressed by practical psycho-technological methods.
If the former way is characterized by discipline and self-knowledge, the
latter says that if we only have the right tools, we can create whoever
we want to be.
Those readers who exclusively cheer for the latter should balance
themselves by reading Peck. He discusses, for instance, an experience
that is not referred to in modern psychology at all: “grace.” A surprise
burst of peace, gratitude, and freedom, Peck feels this to be the highest
point of human experience, fruit of a life of discipline and purpose.
In his insistence on morality, discipline, and admiration of longsuffering,
Peck’s writing can seem old-fashioned. Yet he is no conformist
in his denouncement of the failure of psychotherapy to
recognize people as spiritual beings, and the book has surprised many
readers by its embrace of the Jungian, New Age concepts of the collective
unconscious and synchronicity. Somehow, the blend of Christianity,
the New Age, and academic psychology does work.
Peck’s classic will seem a little earnest to some, to others it will be
full of life-changing insights. It is one of the giants of the self-help
canon, having sold over seven million copies, and its title has entered
the public idiom. In spite of what Peck says about resistance to spirituality,
the less traveled road is clearly getting more traffic.
M. Scott Peck
Born in 1936, Scott Peck had a privileged upbringing in New York and
went to exclusive prep schools and Harvard. He gained his MD at Case
Western Reserve University in 1963, after which he began a nine-year
service in the Army Medical Corps. Over the following decade he established
his own psychiatric practice.
Though The Road Less Traveled was written in the mid-1970s,
when Peck was 39, it did not make it on to the New York Times bestseller
list until 1983. Thereafter it stayed on the list for so long that it
entered the Guinness Book of Records. The sequel is Further Along the
Road Less Traveled (1993).
Peck’s other books include People of the Lie (1983) on healing
human evil and The Different Drum (1987) on community life. A
World Waiting to Be Born (1993) looks at the idea of civility at the personal
and societal level, while Denial of the Soul (1998) concerns
euthanasia and terminal illness.
As a chain-smoking martini drinker, the author does not fit the usual
profile of the self-help guru and has also written on his other passion,
golf (Golf and the Spirit). He lives with his wife Lily in Connecticut
and Bodega Bay, California.
Atlas Shrugged
“She looked ahead, at a haze that melted rail and distance, a haze that
could rip apart at any moment to some shape of disaster. She wondered
why she felt safer than she had ever felt in a car behind the engine,
safer here, where it seemed as if, should an obstacle rise, her breast and
the glass shield would be first to smash against it. She smiled, grasping
the answer: it was the security of being first, with full sight and full
knowledge of one’s course—not the blind sense of being pulled into the
unknown by some unknown power ahead. It was the greatest sensation
of existence: not to trust, but to know.”
“Why had she always felt that joyous sense of confidence when looking
at machines? ... The motors were a moral code cast in steel.”
“Do not cry, when you reach it, that life is frustration and that happiness
is impossible to man; check your fuel: it brought you to where you
wanted to go.”
In a nutshell
Forge your own destiny, create something of value, enable a higher
form of humankind by daring to think.
In a similar vein
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (p126)
Samuel Smiles, Self-Help (p270)
Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged is a book about which there are raging debates in
review pages and discussion groups. It seems that people love it
or hate it, and if there were a list for “most fascinating book of
the twentieth century” Rand’s classic would have to be in the top ten.
Rand was a philosopher who used fiction to influence the masses. A
Russian emigrant who had seen at first hand the restrictions placed on
individual freedom after the Bolshevik revolution, her magnum opus
may get you thinking for the first time about what it means to be free
and the nature of capitalism. The book addresses one of the basic
issues of existence: the degree to which one should be selfish. At a
higher level, it is a treatise on the heights that human beings can and
should reach for.
What is Atlas Shrugged?
A mystery, raunchy romance, and work of philosophy all in one. Its
protagonist, Dagny Taggart, is a driven young railroad executive who
tries to run Taggart Transcontinental while fighting off corruption on a
national scale. She is joined in the cast by the ruthless industrialist
Hank Rearden and the flamboyant and aristocratic mining baron
Francisco D’Anconia.
However, the key character does not reveal himself until late in the
book, when we get answers to some intriguing questions: Why is the
greatest living philosopher working as a short-order cook in a diner in
the Rocky Mountains? How did the most important inventor of our
time come to be an underground ganger on the railways? What happens
when the people who might save the world choose not to save it?
Who is John Galt?
Reason (or the responsibility to live according to a purpose)
Atlas Shrugged was inspired by the author’s fury that people wasted the
one capacity distinguishing them from other animals: reason. Those
who no longer asked “Why am I alive?” or “What am I going to do or
create that can justify my existence?” were to Rand as good as dead.
“Society” amounted to a protection racket for all sorts of mediocrities,
with people agreeing not to point out others’ lack of effort if theirs was
not likewise exposed. This willingness to accept less, in order to accommodate
“human nature,” Rand saw as actually anti-human. One of her
characters says that most people don’t really want to live, but “to get
away with living.” And when Dagny Taggart asks Francisco D’Anconia
what he thinks is the worst type of human being, he shoots back: “The
man without a purpose.”
Dagny’s role in managing Taggart Transcontinental is, in her eyes, a
sacred trust. Only when out on the tracks or poring over figures does
she feel really alive. The trains are a metaphor for her whole understanding
of life—they run at high speed on undeviating courses toward
a fixed destination. In one scene, as she pushes a locomotive up to 100
miles an hour on the newly built John Galt line, Dagny gets a flash of
insight above the roar of the engines: Wasn’t it evil to wish without
moving—or to move without aim?
The nobility of making money
For Rand, wealth was a sign that significant individual thought had
taken place. To create something and to make money out of it was
nothing less than the essence of human morality. Napoleon Hill said it
in cruder words: “Think and grow rich.” Money obtained by any other
means (including inheritance, fraud, or public directive) is “looting,”
yet in the book the people who advance civilization and keep the world
turning are sneered at as being “vulgar materialists” and “robbers of
the people.”
The big question that Dagny faces is why she should still try to save
her railway while the looters, in the name of the “public good,”
emaciate it. “Wealth creators be proud!” is the book’s cry. Fight for
your freedom to innovate and produce, and never accept the guilt of
the non-productive.
The best society is one in which people trade the best they have
created for the best that others have created. Alan Greenspan, the
famous chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board, is probably Rand’s
best-known disciple and was part of her New York circle in the 1950s.
In The Greenspan Effect, Sicilia and Cruickshank refer to a statement
by the man whom many hail as an architect of America’s long boom.
Before he met Rand, Greenspan comments, he was an “Adam Smith”
economist, appreciating the technical basis of capitalism; after Rand he
became convinced of its moral force.
Atlas Shrugged and the individual
For so long an object of ridicule, many of Rand’s ideas are now conventional
wisdom. We now worship the entrepreneur just as she did
and today it seems obvious that a purer brand of capitalism makes the
best use of each person’s talents and delivers ever more refined products
and services. Economic life in the twenty-first century is not simply a
triumph of technology, but a culture of invention generated by individual
The motif running through Atlas Shrugged is the dollar sign. For
Rand, an immigrant to the United States who loved its ideals, this
sacred symbol represented the triumph of the creative mind over the
state, religion, and tradition. It meant freedom from mediocrity and its
strangling power. This worship of the dollar and self-interest looks
unpleasant and unseemly, yet Atlas Shrugged brilliantly portrays what
happens when the ethic of the “greater good” is pursued to its logical
ends. It very effectively annexes the spirit from an entire nation. Selfinterest,
as Adam Smith noted, is actually in full accordance with
nature and therefore brings the more moral end.
Rand is a patron saint of the twenty-first-century entrepreneur
because she provides a morality of powerful creation. A person with a
Randian frame of mind is opposed in principle to “equality” if it means
sacrificing their dreams for the sake of others. The pursuit of equal
rights may be noble, but ultimately suffocates the life spirit that has
always fired human advance.
Atlas Shrugged holds a person’s greatest duty to be the appreciation
of the joy of being alive. Dagny Taggart’s whole existence seems to be a
struggle, yet she refuses to give suffering authority over her life; she is
not willing to say “that’s life” like everyone else.
Final comments
Atlas Shrugged has attracted its fair share of damnation. It is usually
painted as extreme, simplistic, or naïve, but the best word to describe it
is uncompromising. Rand was a genuine radical who created an ideal
of humanity that is uncomfortable for most, and her ideas are still
being digested.
Atlas Shrugged runs to 1,080 pages and, like the greatest novels, is a
world you enter rather than a book you read. It would certainly make
a great opera and it is no surprise that Rand’s literary hero was Victor
Hugo. She may have been a ranting, chain-smoking, homophobic commie
hater, yet her star continues to rise. Her philosophy of maximum
self-expression teamed with a lust for technological progress, though
frightening to some, certainly fits with our times.
The book will probably outlive its wry-smiling critics, continuing to
inspire while other works classified as “literature” become of only academic
interest. Rand’s might not be the most brilliant prose: There are
many lines that will have the discerning reader shaking their head or
chuckling and there is a fair amount of repetition. Like many books of
this length, it could be much shorter and better edited. Nevertheless,
there is a spirit behind the words that makes you certain that you are
reading something important.
Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum in 1905 in St Petersburg. Her
father took the family away to the Crimea as the Bolshevik Revolution
erupted; when they returned the family business had been taken over by
the state. Alissa graduated from the University of Petrograd (Leningrad)
in 1924, before beginning a screenwriting course. The following year
she traveled to Chicago to visit a cousin, never returning. After six
months she moved to Hollywood to become a screenwriter, changing
her name to Ayn Rand. Ayn was the first name of a Finnish writer,
Rand the model of her Remington typewriter. On her second day in
Los Angeles she famously met Cecil B. de Mille, who offered her work
as an extra on a film where her future husband, Frank O’Connor, was
on the set.
Rand never broke in to screenwriting, but in 1935 her play Woman
on Trial was mounted on Broadway as Night of January 16th. Her first
novels We the Living (1936) and Anthem (1938) were well received
critically but did not become bestsellers. Rand’s fortunes changed with
the success of The Fountainhead (1943), a 700-page story of a modernist
architect who battles to realize his vision. Then Atlas Shrugged
was an instant bestseller.
In 1958 Rand and Nathaniel Branden opened an institute in New
York to spread objectivist philosophy. Rand’s non-fiction output in
these years included newsletters, the objectivist journal For the New
Intellectual (1961), and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966).
Having railed against government anti-smoking campaigns, the
author died in 1982 of lung cancer. A dollar sign was placed over her
Awaken the Giant
“Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you
must do is raise your standards. When people ask me what really
changed my life eight years ago, I tell them that absolutely the most
important thing was changing what I demanded of myself. I wrote down
all the things I would no longer accept in my life, all the things I would
no longer tolerate, and all the things that I aspired to becoming.”
“We don’t have to allow the programming of our past to control our
present and future. With this book, you can reinvent yourself by systematically
organizing your beliefs and values in a way that pulls you in the
direction of your life’s design.”
“Though we’d like to deny it, the fact remains that what drives our
behavior is instinctive reaction to pain or pleasure, not intellectual calculation.
Intellectually, we may believe that eating chocolate is bad for
us, but we’ll still reach for it. Why? Because we’re not driven so much
by what we intellectually know, but rather what we’ve linked pain and
pleasure to in our nervous systems.”
In a nutshell
It is time to seize the day and live the life you’ve imagined. This is
your starter kit.
In a similar vein
Steve Andreas and Charles Faulker, NLP (p14)
Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (p176)
Anthony Robbins
Anthony Robbins is the embodiment of the personal transformation
guru. In the United States at least he is a household name
and it would be difficult not to have seen one of his television
infomercials there. He has personally coached presidents, royalty, top
sports stars, and corporate leaders, and has reached huge new audiences
through a combination of legendary personal energy and marketing
prowess. Other self-help titans like Deepak Chopra and Wayne
Dyer are low key in comparison. Lots of people are willing to pay over
$1,000 to attend a Robbins weekend seminar, which features walks
across hot coals and the hysteria normally seen at pop concerts or
evangelical meetings.
Awaken the Giant Within begins with Robbins in a jet helicopter on
his way to a sellout seminar. Below he spots the building where, a
decade before, he was working as a janitor, and remembers the Robbins
of that period: overweight, broke, and lonely. Now svelte, happily
married, and a millionaire with a mansion by the sea, this is the
moment Robbins realizes that he is living his dream.
Such details are part of the enjoyment of Awaken the Giant Within
and Robbins knows that the best advertisement for his products is his
life itself. But let’s go back to the beginning…
Robbins and NLP
Robbins’s first book, written while still in his mid-20s, was Unlimited
Power. Itself a bestseller, this laid the groundwork for its successor,
revealing the source of many of Robbins’ methods: neuro-linguistic
programming (NLP).
As we saw in Chapter 2, NLP was pioneered by John Grinder and
Richard Bandler and arose out of the study of how language, verbal
and non-verbal, can affect the nervous system. Its premise is that we
can control our nervous system so that our responses and actions,
though seeming to be “natural,” are in fact programmed. Another key
premise is that if we “model” the actions and behavior of successful
people we can achieve at least the same results as they have.
Robbins’s genius has been to refine and market NLP to a general
audience. His catchphrase “Change happens in an instant,” for example,
comes directly from NLP, as do his points about linking our motivations
to pain or pleasure.
Some points from Awaken the Giant Within
The book gets the reader’s imagination going by the questions it asks,
the possibilities it creates in your mind. Robbins is the master of unlimitedness,
yet is careful to provide the practical steps and details for goal
achievement. The book is 500 pages long. The following list covers
some of the themes, all are of which are backed up by copious references,
stories, and facts.
Pain and pleasure
These are the key shaping forces in life. We can either let them control
us or understand them to suit ourselves. Be careful what you link pleasure
to: Some people equate pleasure with heroin, others with helping
people. Do you want to be like Jimi Hendrix, minus the talent, or
Mother Teresa? By linking massive pain or massive pleasure with an
activity or thought, we change who we are.
The power of belief
Two men are chained to a wall in a prison. One commits suicide, the
other goes on to tell people about the power of the human spirit.
Rather than the events of our lives shaping us, it is our beliefs about
what those events mean that do so. Global beliefs (how we see the
world and people in general), if changed, can alter virtually everything
about the rest of our lives. All great leaders create a sense of certainty,
never believing that their problems are permanent. The CIA has techniques
to change a person’s core beliefs in a very short period. You can
apply the same techniques to your own limiting beliefs.
The power of questions
All human progress occurs through questioning current limitations. We
don’t need to have an answer prepared; ask a quality question and you
will get a quality answer.
The power of words
Use the power of words and enlarged vocabulary to transform thinking
and action. Appreciate also that “leaders are readers”—reading allows
us to make crucial distinctions based on others’ experience.
Clarity is power
Determine exactly what you want to achieve and write it down, creating
a future so amazing that you are compelled to realize it. You must
“focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.” Create a tenyear
plan then work backwards; most people overestimate what they
can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in a decade.
Raise your standards, change your rules
Make decisions rather than wishes about what you are and take action.
Figure out the hidden personal rules by which you currently live and
create new ones that will drive you to live out your destiny.
A closer look…
Awaken the Giant Within is the popular bible of psycho-technology.
Converts will feel that if everyone read and applied Robbins, the world
would be a vastly more empowered, fulfilled, and happy place.
For some readers, however, Robbins’ world may seem too black and
white. It shows you how to get out of any sort of negative state,
hygienically removing the bad mood, depression, and so on. Other selfhelp
writers like Thomas Moore and Robert Bly see great value in
depression and even grief. It teaches us about ourselves, they say, and is
part of a soulful existence.
Awaken the Giant Within is subtitled “How to Take Immediate
Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Financial Destiny!”
Can we really control our destiny? Are the goals that Robbins inspires
people to dream up really unique to them? His own life might appear
to be living fantasy, but does this mean that all our desires should be
fulfilled too? The tools he provides to achieve anything we want are
indeed impressive, but there is no caveat about the reasons for wanting
People can be turned off by the superman aura around the book and
its conviction that the fantasy we might have about ourselves can be
realized. To a critic, everything is about “achieving your goals.” Eric
Fromm wrote about the “marketized individual,” the person who ends
up as a mere reflection of the capitalist economy, pursuing selfimprovement
only to the extent that it may bring higher status.
In Robbins’ defense
To address these criticisms, it is true that some people may use
Robbins’ mental technology to achieve banal materialistic ends, but
what he actually says challenges the very hold of materialism in our
lives. The core of his philosophy is defying the culture that surrounds
us by refusing to be just another mole, burrowing away at our job so
that we can keep in step. In his world, everyone should be amazing.
And the book does have us question our idea of success: Is it, Robbins
asks, a product of our deepest creativity and highest vision? His philosophy
holds that pursuing a dream is the only way of keeping ourselves
truly alive, and money is always secondary to that.
What Robbins does is get people to “step over the edge,” to change
their beliefs about themselves, identify their core values, move on from
jobs or relationships that do nothing for them, and reveal that their
limitations are largely illusory.
Final comments
The Robbins message has mass appeal because we all believe that there
is much more to us than others recognize. The world is fond of putting
our ideas in the “unreasonable, unrealistic” category. We are taught
that we can’t do what our heart desires and after a while we accept it
as fact. But Robbins’ truly successful person refuses to be reasonable.
Awaken the Giant Within has been called “plastic surgery for the
mind,” meaning if you’re not happy with your identity, change it.
Though that idea will sound far-fetched or even distasteful to one per-
son, the reassurance that it is possible can be a lifeline for another. Reinvention,
let’s not forget, is the very basis of American culture, and
Awaken the Giant Within could not have surfaced in any other place.
Look on it as a sort of Statue of Liberty in words.
Anthony Robbins
Born in 1960, Robbins grew up in a low-rent suburb of Los Angeles,
but was thrown out of home by his mother at age 17 for being “too
intense.” He obtained a reputation as a super-salesman, selling tickets
to other motivational speakers’ events. Claiming to have read over 700
personal growth books, he came across NLP in 1983 and went on the
road to promote his brand of it, promising to heal people of phobias in
15 minutes. He was a millionaire by age 24, lost his money, then
regained it. These incidents and others are related in The Life Story of
Anthony Robbins, by former Robbins associate Michael Bolduc.
Robbins is now America’s best-known “peak performance consultant”
and has worked with IBM, AT&T, American Express, and the US
Army, as well as professional sports teams and Olympic athletes. He
has been a private coach to Bill Clinton (who apparently relied on
Robbins for support during the Monica Lewinsky crisis), Andre Agassi,
Mikhail Gorbachev, and he even had some sessions with Princess
The Anthony Robbins companies (dreamlife.com) run seminars and
events around the world, including a “Mastery University.” His
Foundation runs programs to help youth, the elderly, the homeless, and
people in prison. Robbins lives in California with his wife and children.
The Game of Life and
How to Play It
“Most people consider life a battle, but it is not a battle, it is a game.”
“The superconscious mind is the God mind within each man, and is
the realm of perfect ideas. In it, is the ‘perfect pattern’ spoken of by
Plato, The Divine Design for each person.”
“A person knowing the power of the word, becomes very careful in his
conversation. He has only to watch the reaction of his words to know
that they do not ‘return void’. Through his spoken word, man is continually
making laws for himself.”
“God’s plan for each man transcends the limitation of the reasoning
mind, and is always the square of life, containing health, wealth, love
and perfect self-expression. Many a man is building for himself in imagination
a bungalow when he should be building a palace.”
In a nutshell
If life is thought of as a game, we are motivated to learn and apply
the rules for our own happiness.
In a similar vein
Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (p86)
Shakti Gawain, Creative Visualization (p150)
Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind (p222)
Florence Scovell Shinn
Until now, you may have conceived of life as a battle—your
might and will against the rest, or alternatively the pain of constant
However, if you were to see life as a game, you would worry less
about the outcomes and focus on the rules and laws that can lead you
to success. This is the path of less resistance and more time for worldwonder.
By taking it, you choose to be a person of faith instead of fear.
For Florence Scovell Shinn, the rules were to be found in the Old
and New Testaments. Much of what is presented in her 100-page classic,
however, such as the Laws of Nonresistance, Karma, and Forgiveness,
are to be found in eastern holy books, and indeed the stated goal
of her work is universal: An individual can achieve the “square of life,”
the four points of Health, Wealth, Love, and Perfect Self-Expression, if
only they can attune themselves with the unchanging principles that
govern life. This total wellbeing was, she believed, our “divine right.”
Some of the principles from the book are described below.
The divine design
Do you ever get an inspirational flash across your mind, a picture of
what you could achieve or the person you could be? You have received
a snapshot of your “divine design” from the universe, showing you that
this image is actually within yourself. Plato called it the “perfect pattern,”
the place you are to fill that no one else can.
Don’t be like most people and pursue things that really have nothing
to do with the real you, and would only make you dissatisfied if you
were to achieve them. Ask for a sign or a message to tell you what your
divine design is and it will be revealed. Don’t be scared that it won’t be
what you want—it will most probably fulfill your deepest longing.
Divine right and selection
We should only ever ask for something if it is to be “by divine right.”
A woman was infatuated with a man who from an outsider’s perspective
did not treat her very well. Scovell Shinn made her repeat to herself
something to the effect of: “If he is divinely selected for me, he will be
mine. If he is not, I will not want him anyway.” Sure enough, she fell
for someone else who matched all her ideals and promptly forgot the
first man.
Another woman had a strong wish to live in a house owned by an
acquaintance. This man died and she moved into the house, only to
have her own husband die and the house become a white elephant for
her. This was the karmic effect of a want that had not first been put
before God, or infinite intelligence. It is good that we desire, but it is
better that we seek what is ours “by divine right,” for when it is
received we will know beyond any doubt that it is ours.
Playing the game of life successfully involves following what works,
instead of battling what you don’t like. The book contains this insight,
which intuitively we can all recognize:
“So long as a man resists a situation, he will have it with him. If he runs
away from it, it will run after him.”
The simple change from a view of life in terms of struggle and fight for
victory to a simple faith in good outcomes will transform your life.
You will get everything you want, and probably very quickly, if you
don’t doubt it and you can “wish without worrying,” that is, you know
that your wishes are being fulfilled. Fear is “sin,” it goes against nature,
whereas faith is real, solid, and is what infinite intelligence or God
requires from us in return for delivering our wishes. Faith is what links
you to the universe: It expands your cosmic footprint, while fear can
only shrink you.
Continually send out messages of goodwill and blessing to those
close to you, to your work colleagues, even to your nation. This not
only gives you a feeling of great peace, but you will find yourself “protected”
from harm and wrath.
Faith over fear
“Cast thy burden upon the Lord.” Many times the Bible says that the
battle is not humankind’s but God’s. What we must learn to do is
“stand still” and let God, or the superconscious mind within, go to
work. This bears a startling resemblance to the sayings of the Tao Te
Ching, which suggests to us that if we are in tune with the tao (or God,
or universal intelligence), we need not worry or fear. In stillness we can
see what must be done, if anything.
In Scovell Shinn’s world, “man violates law if he carries a burden.”
It is actually wrong to fret and be cast down, as this is living by a false
reality and can attract disaster and disease. Once we have cast the burden
off, however, we are suddenly able to see clearly again. We feel
reminded that we must live by faith, not fear.
Real love
A woman came to Scovell Shinn in desperation that the man she loved
had left her for other women, and said he had no intention of marrying
her. She did not like it when Scovell Shinn said to her, “You are not loving
this man, you are hating him. Perfect yourself on this man, give him
unselfish love, and bless him wherever he is.” The woman went away and
nothing changed, but one day she started thinking of him with more love.
He was a captain and she always called him “the Cap.” She began to say,
“God bless the Cap wherever he is.” Some time later a letter arrived on
Scovell Shinn’s desk: At the moment when the woman’s suffering had
ceased, the man returned. The two were then very happily married.
What the woman had learned was selfless love, a trait that all of us
must acquire if we are to succeed in the game of life.
The power of words
Anyone who does not know the power of words, the author said, “is
behind the times.” Each of us has an ongoing conversation with ourselves,
never realizing how it affects, for better or worse, the way we
live out our life. Whatever words we say to ourselves fall into the blank
slate of our subconscious mind as “fact,” therefore we must take
supreme care about the internal and external words we utter.
The people who came to see Scovell Shinn asked her to “speak the
word.” She gave them an affirmation for their particular situation that
they were to repeat until their “good” manifested itself. She quoted
Proverbs 18.21: “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.”
“God is my supply”
Many of Scovell Shinn’s clients came to her in desperation—one needed
$3,000 by the first of the month to repay a debt, another had to find an
apartment soon or would be on the streets. She would remind them
that “God is my supply,” to stop worrying and fretting.
She made them affirm: “Spirit is never too late. I give thanks that I
have received the money on the invisible plain and that it manifests on
time.” One woman had only a day to go until a payment was due, and
a cousin happened to visit her who asked, as he was leaving, “By the
way, how are your finances?” Her payment was made the next day.
Nevertheless, it is not enough merely to say the right words and
have faith: We need to demonstrate to our subconscious mind that we
seriously expect to receive. “Man must prepare for the thing he has
asked for, when there isn’t the slightest sign of it in sight.” Open the
bank account, buy the furniture, prepare for rain when there is no
cloud in sight—“acting as if” opens the way for the moment of gain.
The knowledge that “a feeling of opulence must precede its manifestation”
will reinforce to you that God is your supply.
Final comments
Although written in the New York of the 1920s and full of religious
references, this shortish book now has cult status. The anecdotes may
be of people now long gone but the wisdom is timeless, and the book
can have a soothing effect that brings us back to the right principles.
To borrow one of the author’s phrases, the book “salutes the divinity”
in us and has the knack of restoring a sense of direction and confidence.
If you are willing to keep an open mind as you read it, its
insights and affirmations can have great effects.
Florence Scovell Shinn
By profession an artist and book illustrator, Scovell Shinn also taught
metaphysics in New York for many years.
Her down-to-earth style and humor endeared her to many people
who might not otherwise have listened to spiritual advice. She wrote a
number of books, but The Game of Life was her classic work.
Learned Optimism
“The traditional view of achievement, like the traditional view of
depression, needs overhauling. Our workplaces and our schools operate
on the conventional assumption that success results from a combination
of talent and desire. When failure occurs, it is because either
talent or desire is missing. But failure can also occur when talent and
desire are present in abundance but optimism is missing.”
“The commonness of being knocked flat by troubles, however, does
not mean it is acceptable or that life has to be this way. If you use a different
explanatory style, you’ll be better equipped to cope with troubled
times and keep them from propelling you towards depression.”
“What we want is not blind optimism but flexible optimism—optimism
with its eyes open. We must be able to use pessimism’s keen sense of
reality when we need it, but without having to dwell in its dark
In a nutshell
Cultivation of an optimistic mindset significantly increases your
chances of health, wealth, and happiness.
In a similar vein
David D. Burns, Feeling Good (p62)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow (p102)
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (p154)
Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman is a cognitive psychologist who spent many
years clinically testing the idea of “learned helplessness.” His
experiments giving mild electric shocks to dogs proved that
dogs would give up trying to escape if they believed that, whatever they
did, the shocks would keep coming. Another researcher tested the principle
on people, using noise instead of shocks, and found that learned
helplessness can be engineered in human minds just as easily. Yet the
experiments contained an anomaly: As with the dog experiments, one
in every three human subjects would not “give up,” they kept trying to
press buttons on a panel in an attempt to shut off the noise. What
made these subjects different from the others?
Seligman applied the question to real life: What makes someone pick
themselves up after rejection by a lover, or another keep going when
their life’s work comes to nothing? He found that the ability of some
people to bounce back from apparent defeat is not, as we sentimentally
like to say, a “triumph of the human will.” Rather than having an
inborn trait of greatness, such people have developed a way of explaining
events that does not see defeat as permanent or affecting their basic
values. Nor is this trait something that “we either have or we don’t”—
optimism involves a set of skills that can be learned.
Positive explanatory style
Pessimistic people tend to think that misfortune is their fault. The cause
of their specific misfortune or general misery is, they believe, permanent—
stupidity, lack of talent, ugliness—therefore they do not bother
to change it. Few of us are wholly pessimistic, but most of us will have
given pessimism free reign in reaction to particular past events. In psychology
textbooks, such reactions are considered “normal.” But Seligman
says that it does not have to be this way, that a different way of
explaining setbacks to yourself (“explanatory style”) will protect you
from letting crises cast you into depression. If you have even an average
level of pessimism, Seligman says, it will drag down your success in
every arena of life: work, relationships, health.
The author undertook groundbreaking work for life insurance company
MetLife. Life insurance is considered one of the most difficult of
all sales jobs, a real spirit crusher. The company was spending millions
of dollars a year training its agents, only to see most of them move on.
Instead of the usual criteria by which MetLife hired (career background
and so on), Seligman suggested that applicants be hired if they
tested well for optimism and explanatory style. The result: Agents
hired on this basis did 20 percent better than the regular recruits in
the first year, and 57 percent better in the second. They clearly had
better ways to deal with the nine out of ten rejections that would
make the others give up.
Optimism and success
Conventional thinking is that success creates optimism, but the evidence
laid out by Seligman shows the reverse to be true. On a repeat
basis optimism tends to deliver success, as the experience of the life
insurance agents demonstrated. At the exact same point that a pessimist
will wilt, an optimist perseveres and breaks through an invisible
Not getting through this barrier is often misinterpreted as laziness or
lack of talent. Seligman found that people who give up easily never dispute
their own interpretation of failure or disparagement. Those who
regularly “vault the wall” listen to their internal dialog and argue
against their own limiting thoughts, quickly finding positive reasons for
The value of pessimism
Yet Learned Optimism admits that there is one area in which pessimists
excel: their ability to see a situation more accurately. Some professions
(financial control and accounting or safety engineering, for
example) and all firms could do with a few bring-us-down-to-earth pessimists.
In Business @ the Speed of Thought (1999) Bill Gates discusses
this very trait, lauding the Microsoft employees who can tell him what
is going wrong and do so quickly.
Nevertheless, let’s not forget that Gates is also a dreamer par excellence,
who at a very young age imagined a world in which every home
and office would be using his Windows software. Seligman is clear on
the point that success in work and life results when we can both perceive
present reality accurately and visualize a compelling future. Many
people are good at one and not the other. Someone who wishes to learn
optimism must keep the former skill, while becoming a better dreamer.
The combination is unbeatable.
Most depression results from thinking badly
It is slightly ironic that Learned Optimism draws much of its data from
studies of depression. Before cognitive therapy, depression was always
thought of being either “anger turned in upon itself” (Freud) or a
chemical malfunction in the brain. However, pioneering cognitive
researchers Albert Ellis and Aaron T. Beck (see Feeling Good) set out to
prove that negative thoughts are not a symptom of depression, they
cause it. Most of us know this at a common-sense level, but
psychotherapy allows us to believe that we are dealing with something
beyond our control.
Seligman is a leading authority on sex differences in depression. He
says that women are twice as likely to suffer from it because, although
men and women experience mild depression at the same rate, how
women think about problems tends to amplify them. Rumination on a
problem, always connecting it back to some “unchangeable” aspect of
ourselves, is a recipe for the blues. Millions of dollars have been spent
by America’s National Institute of Mental Health to test this idea that
depression (i.e., the standard variety, not bipolar or manic) results from
habits of thought. Seligman tells us the results in two words: “It does.”
Moreover, developing the mental muscles of optimism significantly
reduces the likelihood that we will become depressed.
Habitual optimism
This brings us to a bigger question: Why is there so much depression
around? Seligman argues that our recent preoccupation with individualism
creates its own form of mental shackles. If we are invited to
believe in our own endless possibilities, any form of failure becomes
devastating. Combine this with the crumbling of previously solid
psychological supports—the nation, God, the extended family—and we
have an epidemic of depression.
However, while drugs like Prozac can be effective in eliminating it,
there is a gap between successfully treated depression and habitual
optimism. With the positive explanatory style that Seligman recommends
problems are seen as temporary, specific, and external, rather
than inevitable expressions of our failure as a person. Cognitive therapy
changes the basic way a person sees the world and that altered perception
tends to be permanent.
Final comments
Learned Optimism is a product of the sea change that occurred in psychology
in the mid-1960s. Until then, a person’s behavior was considered
to be either “pushed” by internal urges (Freudianism) or “pulled”
by the rewards or punishments that society provided (behaviorism).
Cognitive therapy, in contrast, showed that people could actually
change the way they think, in spite of unconscious leanings or societal
conditioning. As Seligman notes toward the end of the book, the
upheavals of the modern era, such as mass migration, made rapid personal
change necessary; now it is desirable. Yet we are a culture of selfimprovers
because we know self-improvement is possible—not just
experience but psychological science proves it.
Learned Optimism is an important work within the self-help field
because it provides a scientific foundation for many claims. It became a
bestseller because it attracted readers who normally would consider
personal development ideas as, to use the author’s phrase, “metaphysical
boosterism.” The book is therefore not simply about optimism
(though it may well turn you into an optimist) but about the validity of
personal change itself and the dynamic nature of the human condition.
Seligman’s latest work, Authentic Happiness, incorporates many of the
findings and ideas of Learned Optimism but takes the idea of “positive
psychology” further. It is highly recommended.
Martin Seligman
Seligman was raised in Albany, New York. As an undergraduate he
majored in modern philosophy at Princeton, then psychology. Licensed
as a psychologist in Pennsylvania in 1973, for 14 years he directed the
clinical training program of the University of Pennsylvania psychology
Seligman’s bibliography includes 14 books and 140 articles. Apart
from Learned Optimism, his other most popular works are What You
Can Change… and What You Can’t (1994) and The Optimistic Child
(with Reivich, Jaycox, & Gillham, 1995). More scholarly works include
Helplessness (1975) and Abnormal Psychology (1982).
He is a former President of the American Psychological Association,
from which he has received two awards for Distinguished Scientific
Contribution. He is currently Kogod Professor of Psychology at the
University of Pennsylvania and is at the forefront of the “positive
psychology” movement.
“Thus the brave and aspiring life of one man lights a flame in the
minds of others of like faculties and impulse; and where there is equally
vigorous effort, like distinction and success will almost surely follow.
Thus the chain of example is carried down through time in an endless
succession of links—admiration exciting imitation, and perpetuating the
true aristocracy of genius.”
“There are many counterfeits of character, but the genuine article is difficult
to be mistaken. Some, knowing its money value, would assume its
disguise for the purpose of imposing among the unwary. Colonel
Charteris said to a man distinguished for his honesty, ‘I would give a
thousand pounds for your good name.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I could make
ten thousand by it,’ was the knave’s reply.”
“No laws, however stringent, can make the idle industrious, the thriftless
provident, or the drunken sober. Such reforms can only be effected
by means of individual action, economy and self-denial; by better
habits, rather than by greater rights.”
In a nutshell
History is full of people who achieved amazing things by sheer will
and persistence.
In a similar vein
Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (p96)
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (p144)
Samuel Smiles
Self-Help was published the same year as Darwin’s Origin of the
Species and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. While Darwin drew a
picture of how closer adaptation to environment refines life and
Mill sketched a society based on liberty, Smiles gave the world a work
that still inspires in its scenes of individuals who have fashioned a life
from pure will. Self-Help may not have the scholarly or philosophical
depth of the other two, but it was seminal to the self-help genre and its
ethos of personal responsibility.
In many Victorian homes the book had a status second only to the
Bible and though it is now considered a classic display of Victorian values
(industry, thrift, progress, and so on), the old-fashioned turns of
phrase and unquestioning morality represent the cover by which we
should not judge the book. It is a work within a broader literary tradition
that includes Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the novels of
Horatio Alger, one in which human beings advance despite the odds.
The self-help ethic comes alive through biography. Smiles knew this
and he packed his book with remarkable people, many now forgotten.
He mentions:
❖ Sir William Herschel (1738–1822), who while working as an oboist
in a traveling orchestra became curious about astronomy. He built
his own reflecting telescope, discovered Uranus and other celestial
bodies, and became astronomer to the King of England.
❖ Bernard Palissy (c.1510–89), a poor potter who threw his own furniture
and fence palings into a furnace in order to create his famous
enamelware, such tenacity eventually being rewarded by the position
as potter to the French throne.
❖ Granville Sharp (1735–1813), a clerk who in his spare time began
the anti-slavery movement in England, eventually getting the law
changed to ensure that any slave setting foot in the country would
be freed.
Yet these lives are paraded before us not merely so that we can marvel,
but to give some idea of the vast range of possible models for our own
life. Smiles sorted these lives according to how they illuminate the great
qualities like tenacity, industry, and endurance; they form the chapters
of the book.
Hard work and genius
Smiles believed that, since it was about human nature, Self-Help would
remain valid. However, to accept that you would have to believe that
perseverance and unremitting work are still primary elements of
success—are they?
The myth of the artist is a person of wild genius who produces
masterpieces in creative bursts, while the common denominator in
Smiles’ “lives of the artists” is their singular industry and never-say-die
application to the task, almost equal to their artistic talent. In showing
that many of the methods they pioneered were the result of years of
trial and error, he explodes the belief that the most famous artists have
the most “talent.” In fact talent is not thinly spread; what is rare is the
willingness to put in the back-breaking labor to fulfill an artistic vision.
Michelangelo would not have painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling if he
had not been willing to lie on his back on boards for months on end. It
took Titian seven years to produce his Last Supper for Charles V, yet
the viewer might assume that it was created in a “burst of genius.”
Smiles noted the motto of both painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and
sculptor David Wilkie: “Work! Work! Work!” Johann Sebastian Bach
reflected: “I was industrious; whoever is equally sedulous, will be
equally successful.” History has a tendency to turn unwavering commitment
and hard graft into grand words like genius, when its subjects
knew otherwise. Smiles wrote:
“It is not eminent talent that is required to ensure success in any pursuit,
so much as purpose—not merely the power to achieve, but the
will to labour energetically and perseveringly. Hence energy of will
may be defined to be the very central power of character in a man—in
a word, it is the Man himself.”
He told us about George-Louis Buffon (1707–88), author of the
famous 44-volume Histoire Naturelle, which took stock of all that was
known about natural history in his era and foreshadowed the theory of
evolution. The massive self-discipline needed to complete such a project
led Buffon to conclude that “genius is patience.” Smiles went on to
quote De Maistre: “To know how to wait is the great secret of success.”
He also noted Isaac Newton’s understanding of what produced
genius: constant thought about the solution of a problem.
Patience, ordering of the mind, and absorption in the task at hand
are the key elements that Smiles cited in all our great advances, and
neither government funding nor education can supply them. They are
created talents.
These days the phrase “character building” is usually uttered with a
laugh to someone contemplating a cold shower or doing a 10-day trek
across the Himalayas. As Smiles warned even back in the 1850s, education,
wealth, or noble family does not come close to replacing character.
Today we live in the so-called knowledge society in which the
highest value is taken to be creative deployment of data and information,
but Smiles asserted that “Character is power, more than knowledge
is power.”
Self-Help may be a simple book for a simpler time, but its dogged
reiteration of the need to cultivate personal qualities that bring freedom
of mind reveals a timeless truth: Character is something formed in spite
of the great forces of instinct and cultural conditioning. Smiles included
a statement by Sir Humphry Davy: “What I am I have made myself: I
say this without vanity, and in pure simplicity of heart.” Davy’s admission
spoke of courage, not as part of exciting tales of derring-do but of
small daily decisions that reaffirm independence. This is the primary
ingredient of Stephen Covey’s “highly effective people.”
But where will character get me? How will it make my living? In the
nineteenth century, business was not seen as it tends to be now, as the
arena for the brightest, most creative minds, yet Smiles was able to see
that it would become so. He wasted no time in stripping business to its
core element: integrity of word and deed. Since trust is the glue that
holds free societies together, it follows that lasting success will be
attracted to those who can be trusted. As Max Weber famously argued,
this attribute had been so rare that early Protestant merchants, in their
utter dependability, scooped up fortunes.
Nothing dulls the mind and destroys character as much as drugs and
alcohol, and Smiles did not miss a chance to praise that most esteemed
quality, temperance. How we laugh in the old movies when the
preacher rails against the “road to ruin.” It is the fevered fear of alcohol
that amuses, because we are “sensible” about it. But who will
admit its less dramatic consequences that add up over a lifetime: the
things you don’t get done the next day because of the night before, the
drinking “to be social” that does little more than cover an acceptance
of mediocrity. Smiles thought of Sir Walter Scott, who said, “Of all
vices, drinking is the most incompatible with greatness.”
Final comments
In Samuel Smiles’ lifetime the British Empire covered roughly a quarter
of the planet. Like any empire it spawned its fair share of misery
among those forced into keeping the whole show going. Its good qualities—
social reform, some enlightened political principles, sheer energy,
and inventiveness—were held together by a larger belief in “progress.”
One effect of Mill’s On Liberty was to make us see such values in
relative terms. By being a missive against political oppression, it also
unwittingly beat a path for socialism, which raised the ideal of community
to such a level that individuals were protected from having to push
their own boundaries. Yet Smiles reminded us that Mill actually said,
“The worth of the state, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals
composing it.”
If the progress ideal makes a comeback in the twenty-first century, it
is less likely to be the property of governments than the faith of individuals.
While Mill’s principle of political liberty is the basic condition
for personal progress, it is the ethos of Self-Help that can actually make
us do something with our freedom. Interestingly, Smiles was in his earlier
life a rabid political reformer, but gave this up when he realized
that the more pressing type of reform was personal.
Self-Help is monumentally sexist, there being a total lack of women
in the biographies. Its small defense is that it was developed from talks
given to working men, who at that time would probably not have
stomached female role models. With some more stories of women in
the book it would perhaps be less obscure today, but any reader who
can laugh off or forgive Smiles’ oversight will be well rewarded. This
Titanic of the self-help literature deserves to rise again.
Samuel Smiles
The eldest of 11 children, Smiles was born in 1812 in Haddington,
Scotland, the son of a paper maker. At 14 he left school and worked for
three years before enrolling at Edinburgh University to study medicine.
After some time as a doctor, his interests soon shifted to politics, leading
to his becoming editor in 1838 of the radical Leeds Times, where he
stayed until 1842. Influenced by the utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and
James Mill (John Stuart’s father), his causes included freer trade, extension
of suffrage, and better conditions for factory workers.
Smiles became disillusioned with political reform and increasingly
advocated personal development, and in the same year that he began a
career as a railway administrator gave the course of lectures that would
later be molded into Self-Help. Translated into many languages, it was
one of a handful of English titles circulating in Japan after the Meiji
restoration, becoming a bible for western-inspired businessmen. The
millionaire industrialist Lord Leverhume and the American writer and
founder of Success magazine Orison Swett Marden were among many
who said that they owed their achievements to Self-Help.
Other works by Smiles include a biography of railway pioneer
George Stephenson (1857), the three-volume economic history text
Lives of the Engineers (1874), the books Character (1871), Thrift
(1875), and Duty (1880), and a life of potter Josiah Wedgwood (1894).
An autobiography was published after his death in 1904.
The Phenomenon of
“Modern man no longer knows what to do with the potentialities he
has unleashed … Sometimes we are tempted to trample this superabundance
back into the matter from which it sprang without stopping
to think how monstrous such an act against nature would be.”
“We have said that life, by its very structure, having once been lifted to
its stage of thought, cannot go on at all without requiring to ascend
even higher. This is enough for us to be assured of the two points of
which our action has immediate need. The first is that there is for us, in
the future, under some form or other, at least collective, not only survival
but super-life. The second is that, to imagine, discover and reach
this superior form of existence, we have only to think and to walk
always further in the direction in which the lines passed by evolution
take on their maximum coherence.”
“In such a vision man is seen not as a static center of the world—as he
for long believed himself to be—as the axis and leading shoot of evolution,
which is something much finer.”
In a nutshell
By appreciating and expressing your uniqueness, you literally enable
the evolution of the world.
In a similar vein
Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality (p204)
Pierre Teilhard de
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote the final words of The Phenomenon
of Man in 1938, but it was not to break on the world
until after his death 17 years later. As well as being a famous paleontologist,
Teilhard was a Jesuit priest and the Church believed that he
went beyond orthodoxy in his philosophical writings; their publication
was consistently disallowed. Anyone else might have left the priesthood
or at least become embittered, but Teilhard did neither. Perhaps strangely
for such a liberated mind, he kept to his vow of obedience.
The effect of his isolation, intellectual and physical (he was “banished”
to China to pursue scientific work), was a fermentation of
thoughts that are incredibly free-ranging and radical, and some of his
ideas are only just beginning to make sense. The worth of visionaries is
only proved by the passage of time, but as we enter the twenty-first
century there can be few people who provide us with a more compelling
vision of the human race.
The Phenomenon of Man is not a self-help book in any conventional
sense and many readers will find it too “Christian,” but its influence
on writers in the human potential and personal development fields
is significant. Although abstract, its ideas about mental and spiritual
evolution are enjoying a renaissance because they tie in perfectly with
the questions that many of us are beginning to ask about ourselves and
how we might fit in to the larger scheme of things.
The evolution of us
Teilhard’s evolutionary theory was about the mind as well as the physical
world. He believed it was not enough for us to have worked out
that we evolved from the apes—our task was to reach the point where
we knew why we had evolved. Today’s evolutionary biologists have
ample evidence that the human brain has not changed in thousands of
years, but merely because we have the same brain structure does not
mean that we are the same beings. Teilhard believed that when
humankind began living in the state of reflectiveness, our progress was
inevitable; we would enjoy “not only survival, but super-life.”
Teilhard was perhaps uniquely suited to the task of applying evolutionary
science to the bigger questions of human destiny. Regular scientists
were afraid to speculate, and not many men of the cloth had his
scientific background and sheer intellect. As a paleontologist and
anthropologist, Teilhard was intent on discovering the origins of man,
but it seemed obvious to him that the more we know of the past, the
further we could look into the future.
Humankind as phenomenon
Although he saw The Phenomenon of Man as a scientific treatise, he
was impatient with overspecialization and took the paradoxical position
that science could only come of age when it went beyond seeing
man only in terms of the physical body:
“The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of
man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world.”
Teilhard’s human being was a phenomenon that had yet to be properly
explained either in the sciences or the humanities, and the quests,
achievements, and events of human history had to be looked on as one
whole movement. We are now so used to the word “humankind” that
it has almost ceased to be an idea, yet it is a very young concept, based
on the recognition of unity, despite all the wars, division of territories,
and cultural differentiation.
For Teilhard humankind was not the center of the world, but the
“axis and leading shoot of evolution.” It is not that we will lift ourselves
above nature, but in our intellectual and spiritual quests dramatically
raise its complexity and intelligence. The more complex and
intelligent we become, the less of a hold the physical universe has on
us. Just as space, the stars, and galaxies expand ever outwards, the universe
is just as naturally undergoing “involution” from the simple to
the increasingly complex; the human psyche also develops according to
this law. “Hominization” is what Teilhard called the process of humanity
becoming more human, or the fulfillment of its potential.
Personality = evolution
Though he delved into the physics of the cosmos and the subterranea
of the earth, Teilhard always came back to the human personality. In
an address to UNESCO in 1947, discussing the possibility of a new
Declaration of the Rights of Man, he urged provision not for the
autonomy of individuals, but for “the incommunicable singularity of
being which each of us possesses.” This sounds lofty, but means that
the human race is never going to progress by people seeking to
transcend it, or through individualism, but rather that we will move
forward as a race by making room for everyone to express their personalities
to the full.
As humankind becomes more technologically advanced, it also
becomes more interested in the spiritual dimension (Teilhard called this
“interiorization”). Yet evolution does not work impersonally and at an
even speed; it happens by leaps, and it always comes back to someone.
The noosphere and Omega point
In 1925 Teilhard coined the word “noosphere.” Just as the biosphere is
the living shell around planet Earth, the noosphere is its mental
counterpart, an invisible layer of thought around the earth that is the
sum total of humankind’s mental and spiritual states, all culture, love,
and knowledge. He foresaw that each person would eventually need
the resources of the whole planet to nourish them both materially and
psychologically. It would work the other way as well, for the influence
of each person would defy time and space, when once their impact
would have been restricted to their physical locality. As the world
shrunk, we would cover it with our thoughts and relationships.
The noosphere concept has clearly come of age in the networked
society. It has had a huge influence on computer and internet theorists,
who recognize that Teilhard saw the internet 50 years before it happened.
The concept also preceded James Lovelock’s “Gaia” concept, by
which we understand the planet as one living organism.
Teilhard said that as humanity became more self-reflective, able to
appreciate its place within space and time, its evolution would actually
start to move by great leaps instead of a slow climb. In place of the
glacial pace of physical natural selection, there would be a supercharged
refinement of ideas that would eventually free us of physicality
altogether. We would move irresistibly toward a new type of existence,
at which all potential would be reached. Teilhard called this the
“omega point.”
Final comments
The Phenomenon of Man is not an easy book to read. Some of the
language may be impenetrable, but let’s remember that Teilhard never
had a proper audience to test his ideas and give feedback. (Those wanting
bite-sized essays may prefer The Future of Man or Le Milieu
Divin.) This is nevertheless his most important and well-known book,
and its influence only seems to grow.
Teilhard’s idea of super-life may seem like a castle in the air, but he
was of the view that a truth seen by only one person was still a truth,
and would eventually be accepted by all. Though his book was a bestseller
after his death, the terrible realities of life in the twentieth century
naturally and understandably undermined the idea that we were
steadily moving toward some marvelous omega point in our destiny.
Spiritual progress and intellectual advancement can nevertheless exist
simultaneously with evil, and Teilhard in fact saw things like totalitarianism
as a natural part of social evolution, which would be superseded
by better forms of organization and community.
The Phenomenon of Man is a self-help book of the highest order. Its
author supplied a set of ideas that can lift us beyond the place and time
of our individual lives. By thinking big about the whole race, we can
face our personal task with greater clarity and force. It is a cliché for
people to say when gazing up at the cosmos, “You realize how insignificant
you are.” This is a sentiment that Teilhard would not have
shared. In his philosophy, every soul has a vital role to play in the evolution
of the world and, aware of the humility of Teilhard himself, we
know that this does not have to mean having a big ego. Rather, it
requires a person’s utmost expression of their personality and abilities.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Born in 1881 in the Auvergne region of France, Teilhard was fourth in
a family of eleven. He became a boarder at a Jesuit college and at age
18 entered the Jesuit order for six years. At 24 he was sent to teach
physics and chemistry at a college in Cairo, where he stayed for three
years, followed by four years of theological study in Sussex, England.
During this time Teilhard became a competent geologist and paleontologist,
and was finally ordained as a priest in 1912. His return to Paris
to pursue geological studies at the Museum of Natural History was
thwarted by the outbreak of the First World War. He became a stretcher
bearer, receiving a Military Medal and the Legion of Honor.
After completing a doctorate at the Sorbonne, in 1923 Teilhard went
to China for a year on behalf of the Museum of Natural History. He
was to spend 20 years there from 1926, virtually exiled by the church
for his teachings on original sin and evolution. He made significant
contributions to the paleontological and geological knowledge of
China, and was in the group that found Peking Man.
He was allowed back to Paris just after the war, enjoying its intellectual
life until a heart attack in 1947 brought a forced convalescence in
the country. Teilhard’s pile of writings was left with a friend to be
published after his death.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front
only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to
teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a
statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more
glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through
which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the
day, that is the highest of arts.”
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is
where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
“When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and
worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence—that petty
fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is
always exhilirating and sublime.”
In a nutshell
Make sure that you have time in your life just to think.
In a similar vein
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (p126)
Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (p216)
Henry David Thoreau
Though about an actual experience—two years in a log cabin in
the woods—Thoreau’s Walden is now usually read as a journal of
personal freedom and awareness. It is a treasure on both levels.
Thoreau walked into the woods on July 4th, 1845. They did not
take long to reach, being only a couple of miles from the center of
Concord, Massachusetts, where he had lived most of his life. Yet solitude
could still be had and Thoreau wanted to strip life to its core,
away from the lies and gossip of society. After building a 10 by 15 foot
cabin, his time was pretty much free. He did grow some beans to sell at
market, but even this he enjoyed, continuing with it only as long as
necessary to cover some very modest costs. An idyllic life ensued, of
walks, reading, watching birds, writing, and simply being.
The Walden life and attitude
This is a concept so foreign to most people, then as now, that it seems
either a waste of time or subversive. Yet Thoreau felt that he was richer
than anyone he knew, having everything he materially needed and the
time to enjoy it. The average person, with all their things, had continually
to labor to afford them, meanwhile neglecting nature’s beauty and
the gentle work of the soul, which solitude brings.
Thoreau lived in the time of slavery. He once spent a night in jail for
not paying his taxes to the government that maintained it. But his
objection was not merely to the slavery of the negro, but to the slavery
of all people. As Michael Meyer noted in Walden and Civil Disobedience,
Walden could be seen as an emancipation narrative, the chronicle
of an escape from delusion. For Thoreau, the metaphorical Deep South
was two miles away; Concord, though it contained friends and family,
was a sort of prison that people did not know they were in, enslaved
by materialism and conformity. Thoreau famously declared to his blank
page, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
His time by Walden Pond was a conscious exercise in what modern
self-development would call “de-scripting.” He wanted to recover the
total freedom of mind that was his at birth but that he suspected
(despite his education) had been warped by “conventional wisdom”
and the prejudices of his upbringing. He withdrew in order to stop
himself being a social reflection, to realize what being a free individual
meant. Discussing the great explorers of the day, he mused over John
Franklin, the Englishman who was lost on an expedition, and Grinnell,
the American who went looking for him:
“Is Franklin the only man lost, that his wife should be so earnest to find
him? Does Mr Grinnell know himself where he himself is? Be rather the
Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clarke and Frobisher, of your own streams
and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes.”
The impact of Walden
With his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau now stands as a pillar
of what might be called the ethic of American individualism. The irony
of this is that they both railed against so much of what the United States
and other western countries have arguably become: rich consumer playgrounds
shadowed by a lack of personal meaning. Yet Walden, and the
writings of Emerson that so influenced it, is as attractive as ever to those
seeking something more. Many of the thoughts and ideas in it have
entered the public consciousness, and it has been one of the key inspirations
for the modern generation of personal development writers. For
example, among the descriptions of nature and people we find:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his own dreams, and
endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a
success unexpected in common hours.”
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of
man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.”
And this, which could have been written by Norman Vincent Peale or
Deepak Chopra:
“The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions;
whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us spend our
lives in conceiving then.”
Walden was also ahead of its time in environmental sensibility. It
roughly follows the sequence of the seasons. Thoreau enjoyed the winter
(having built himself a fireplace and chimney) but particularly
looked forward to the power and grace of spring’s renewal. Nature was
worth saving for its own sake, but few things were more instructive to
the examined life than the trees, the water, and the creatures. In one
classic confession he remarked, “A match has been found for me at
last: I have fallen in love with a shrub oak.”
In some of the more poetic lines, Thoreau conveyed a feeling of oneness
with his environment:
“This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is in one sense, and
imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange
liberty in Nature, a part of herself.”
Yet what the author saw in nature is never long left unrelated to what
he saw in us:
“I should be glad if all the meadows of the earth were left in a wild
state, if that were the consequence of men’s beginning to redeem
Progress and prosperity
A railroad passed by the other end of Walden Pond and its busy comings
and goings amused and fascinated Thoreau. Technological
progress reflected the nation’s glory—or did it?
“Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and
export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour ...
but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little
This poke against the obsession with innovation and newness is also
spot on for today’s culture.
It comes as no surprise that Thoreau dismissed the Benjamin
Franklin style of up-by-the-bootstraps hard-work heroism. Social standing
was unimportant and prosperity was less something to be achieved
than to be witnessed in the bounty of nature. Thoreau did not “do
much” in his 20s. Work was only necessary to buy time to read, write,
and enjoy nature.
However, this does not mean that we have to go and live in a hut
and sow beans. Thoreau’s woods are symbolic of the abundance of
nature generally, which provides everything when we make the decision
to act true to ourselves. By staying in the “village” of our minds, fearing
what the next person will say about us, we will only see evidence of
lack, pettiness, and limited horizons. His oft-quoted lines on staying
unique are:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is
because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he
hears, however measured or far away.”
Final comments
Walden is the collective musings of a free spirit, deeply knowledgeable
about the classics, eastern religion, Native American lore, and nature
itself, sketched out against a background of great physical beauty and
stillness. What better vacation for the reader’s mind? The book invites
you to become Thoreau’s companion, enjoying the woods and Walden
Pond as he does, and delighting in his commentary on people and
Near the end of Walden there is the story of a beetle that emerged
from an old table, resurrected after a 60-year hibernation, thanks to the
heat of an urn placed on it. The story sums up Thoreau’s philosophy, in
that he felt that all of us have the potential to emerge from the “wellseasoned
tomb” of society, like the beetle, to enjoy the summer of life.
Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1817. After graduating
from Harvard in 1837 he took a position as a schoolteacher, but
objected to the required use of corporal punishment so went to work in
his father’s business manufacturing lead pencils. He began his serious
attention to the natural world in 1839 with a voyage down the
Concord and Merrimack Rivers, related in a book published ten years
later. Thoreau spent two years (1841–3) as a member of Emerson’s
household, and was much loved by the latter’s children.
Walden Pond was on land owned by Emerson. In the years following
the experience, Thoreau worked as a land surveyor, whitewasher,
and gardener, as well as lecturing and writing for magazines, including
the transcendentalist journal Dial. In 1849 he wrote “Civil Disobedience,”
an essay provoked by opposition to the Mexican war that was to
influence Martin Luther King and Gandhi. The essay “Slavery in Massachusetts”
was published in 1854, the same year as Walden. Cape Cod
(1865) and A Yankee in Canada (1866) followed his death in 1862.
Emerson’s essay “Thoreau” marvels at his friend’s phenomenal knowledge
of nature and practical skills.
A Return to Love
“A certain amount of desperation is usually necessary before we’re
ready for God. When it came to spiritual surrender, I didn’t get serious,
not really, until I was down on my knees completely. The mess got so
thick that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t make
Marianne function again. The hysterical woman inside me was in a
maniacal rage, and the innocent child was pinned to the wall. I fell
“Love taken seriously is a radical outlook, a major departure from the
psychological orientation that rules the world. It is threatening not
because it is a small idea, but because it is so huge.”
“Relationships are assignments. They are part of a vast plan for our
enlightenment, the Holy Spirit’s blueprint by which each individual
soul is led to greater awareness and expanded love.”
In a nutshell
Miracles start to happen when we resolve to depend fully on God and
decide to love ourselves.
In a similar vein
Wayne Dyer, Real Magic (p120)
M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled (p240)
Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (p258)
Marianne Williamson
Marianne Williamson was in her mid-20s, a self-destructive
product of the “me generation,” when she made a discovery
that changed her life. In 1965 Helen Schucman, a professor of
medical psychology at Columbia University, had started transcribing a
“voice.” The result was the massive A Course in Miracles, a self-study
psycho-spiritual philosophy based on love and forgiveness that gave
birth to discussion groups around the world. Williamson’s full embrace
of the Course led her to give talks and lectures on it, which eventually
resulted in the publication of A Return to Love.
As a masterful summation of the Course the book is worth reading,
but it is the passionate baring of the author’s soul and spiritual awakening
that pulls in readers. Initially, it was Oprah Winfrey’s liking of
the book that helped project it to the top of the New York Times bestseller
list, where it spent over six months. A recent revised edition notes
sales of over a million copies.
Sweet surrender
In Chapter 1 Williamson tells of the nervous breakdown that brought a
total reorientation of her life. She had always considered herself a
fighter—for causes or against injustice—and even liberation from her
demons was seen as a forceful “breaking free.” However, as her breakdown
progressed and then slowly lifted, she discovered that freedom is
more like melting into one’s real nature and personality. This part of
her story is captivating, given her previous skepticism and unwillingness
to give up anything of herself. Like any normal person, she was
wary of giving away any power. Yet that struggle between the ego and
the purer, real self gives the book its pull. Only in getting as low as she
did was she willing to try anything, in this case a spiritual surrender.
The ego loves great highs, Williamson says, but also manufactures
calamities, and we are brought up to expect that events and
circumstances can make or break our sense of wellbeing. The enlightened
person, however, sees that their internal state determines how they
see external things. Things happen to them as well, but without the
fear and gravity attached. When we have internal security, she says,
thrills abound, but they are of a different type; there is the thrill of perceiving
the world clearly, without our normal emotional baggage.
There are still dramas and crises, but they all contribute to personal
growth: We have left behind the “cheap drama” of a non-spiritual life.
A major part of A Return to Love is devoted to relationships. You may
find yourself going back to this section again and again, if only to
remember the person you could be. It should strike chords in anyone,
particularly the fine distinctions made between “special” or ego relationships
and “holy” ones. The ego is characterized as “the great faultfinder.”
But criticism only increases the insecurity of the other person,
making them even less likely to change. Our attention to the fault
blinds us to what is great about the rest of them. Unconditional love
may be hard to cultivate, but it brings rich rewards, being the only way
we stay at peace with ourselves.
According to the Course relationships are assignments, each one
providing us with the maximum opportunity for growth. This means
that the romantic idea we have of a soul mate is incorrect, as our true
soul mate may be the person who pushes all our buttons and makes us
grow by learning how to be patient and humble, and to love more. The
people who make us angry can often be our most important teachers.
The ego, on the other hand, will direct us to people who will give us
the least problems and the most obvious pleasure, seductively pulling
us away from the possibility of deeper relationships.
Williamson is happy talking about her own relationships and we can
easily relate to the tales of heartbreak and angst that she recounts, of
the longing for a special person to makes things right. We keep turning
the page because it seems that it is our life she is talking about, asking
the questions we ask. The answers, nevertheless, are often not what we
Work and achievement
A Return to Love is equally interesting about work. We always talk
about our career, our job, our pay. By our own efforts, we carve out a
working life according to what interests us or how much we would like
to earn. The book says that this is not the route to real success. If we
offer our working life to God, He will reveal to us precisely what will
best suit our talents and temperament and the way in which we can
help the world the most. What we create by our own will might be
good, but genius only happens when we become cleaner instruments
for divine expression. We are not so much afraid of failure, but of the
brilliance that might shine through us if we allow it to. With this mentality,
we can no longer be slaves for money.
Goal setting is all very well, but it is the prime example of the ego
trying to shape the world according to its pleasing. Because our minds
are so powerful, we usually can accomplish any goals we set, but
whether happiness ensues from their reaching is never certain. With
God’s work we’re not only ecstatic to achieve the goals set before us,
we’re happy merely enjoying the journey. The Course says, “As we
spread love, we climb naturally.” That will not be taught on any MBA
programs, but be courageous enough test it for yourself. Williamson
says that we can’t go wrong, because trust in God is like “trusting
Personal development is usually about how we can engineer ourselves
into better ways of acting and thinking; it seems to involve a great deal
of responsibility. Yet if we have surrendered ourselves to the beneficence
of the universe, or to God, suddenly it’s not so hard. Williamson
says that she used to put miracles in the “pseudo-mystical-religious
garbage category.” She later realized that it is in fact reasonable to ask
for them.
A miracle does not have to mean turning water into wine. It is simply
the occurrence of anything that was previously considered impossible.
When we decide to have a certain openness of mind and are
committed to change, anything that seems beyond us can be offered up
for transformation. If it is not an ego want but a genuine part of that
transformative frame of mind, the miracle will happen. Where once we
saw our partner as guilty on a number of counts, today we see their
innocence and treat them accordingly. Where we had an addiction,
fueled by fear and self-hate, today that hole is filled up.
The title of A Course in Miracles is catchy because it is contradictory,
combining something mundane (a course) with something divine.
It promises not the usual human–divine relationship but a co-creating
partnership. Remember that when Jesus performed his miracles, he told
the disbelieving gathered around him that they, too, could do what he
did—and even better than him. The Church may define a miracle as a
physical happening that cannot be explained in any normal way, but
this definition prevents the rest of us from knowing that miracles can
happen through us. It is sad, Williamson remarks, that we so willingly
give up power.
Final comments
With the strong eastern influence in self-help writing the Christian
stance of A Return to Love stands out, but it is best seen as a spiritual
work that happens to use the Christian terminology of the Course.
Williamson is quick to admit that all ideas about God are expressions
of a single reality (she herself has a Jewish background) and that people
do not have to consider that they have a personal relationship to
“God” to be an advanced Course student. Its students proceed according
to how they treat other people.
While at first glance A Return to Love may seem like a baby
boomer’s indulgent search for the self, it is for the most part a beautiful
summary of the Course, carrying its authority and timelessness. It is a
spiritual self-help classic of great practical worth.
Marianne Williamson
Williamson grew up in Houston, Texas, the child of left-wing lawyers.
At 13 her father took her to Vietnam to see the “military-industrial
complex” in action. She spent two years at Pomona College in California,
majoring in philosophy and theater, followed by a laid-back existence
lasting several years. She began giving lectures on the Course in
1983, which became increasingly popular. Between 1987 and 1989
Williamson founded the Los Angeles and Manhattan Centers for
Living, non-profit counseling and support organizations for people with
life-threatening illnesses, including AIDS.
A Return to Love was her first book. A Woman’s Worth (1994) was
also a bestseller, followed by Illuminata, a book of prayers and meditations.
Enchanted Love is an exploration of “holy relationships,” blending
Christianity, myth and goddess studies, and feminism. The Healing
of America is a blueprint for America’s political rejuvenation via a spiritually
tuned-in citizenry. To further this end Williamson founded, with
Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsch, the Global
Renaissance Alliance (see www.renaissancealliance.org).
50 More Classics
1 Alfred Adler, What Life Could Mean to You (1931)
Adler formed an entire new branch of psychology (individual) but
with this book brought his insights to a popular audience. It covers
adolescence, feelings of superiority and inferiority, the importance of
cooperation, work, friendship, love, and marriage.
2 Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick (1867)
Probably the most famous of Alger’s poor-boy-makes-good stories
that made the American dream come alive for millions. Set in the
cityscapes of nineteenth-century America, they carry an earnest
message of ethical striving for success, but are still great fun to
3 Muhummad Al-Ghazali, The Alchemy of Happiness (11th century)
Al-Ghazali was an esteemed philosopher in medieval Persia who
became a wandering Sufi mystic. The Alchemy of Happiness is a
superb expression of the self-help ethic in Islam, and an abridgment
of his masterwork The Revival of Religious Sciences, in which readers
have delighted for centuries. Its basic premise is that that selfknowledge
comes from knowledge of God.
4 Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis (1965)
Assagioli, an Italian humanistic psychologist, believed that Freud’s
focus on the libido, complexes, and instincts was incomplete. In
Psychosynthesis he set about integrating the soul and imagination
into psychology. Somewhat of a heavy read but influential.
5 Eric Berne, Games People Play (1964)
This was written for an academic audience but became a bestseller.
The major influence on Harris’s I’m OK–You’re OK, it presented the
idea that we all have “life scripts” that determine our actions. The
good news is that we can change them.
6 Frank Bettger, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in
Selling (1950)
Bettger was a salesman in the America of the 1920s and 1930s and
a friend of Dale Carnegie. His book has remained popular because
everyone needs selling skills—and it tells a good story.
7 John Bradshaw, Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your
Inner Child (1992)
The “inner child” concept has been ridiculed as a feeble expression
of a victim culture. Bradshaw’s bestseller is in fact a serious work
showing why knowledge and acceptance of the past are crucial in
making us responsible adults.
8 Nathaniel Branden, The Power of Self-Esteem (1969)
An apostle and lover of Ayn Rand, Branden helped kick off the selfesteem
movement with this book.
9 Claude M. Bristol, The Magic of Believing (1948)
Its references are dated, it may be repetitive, and its ideas on visualization
and affirmation may seem old hat today, but many in the last
50 years have attested to this book’s power to change.
10 Leo Buscaglia, Love (1972)
Buscaglia is a popular self-help figure. This is one of his earlier
works on a subject that we take for granted and is probably his
most appreciated.
11 Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen, Chicken Soup for the Soul
Not a self-help philosophy but a collection of heart-warming inspirational
stories that has enjoyed vast sales, the formula endlessly
repeated in Chicken Soup books for the teen soul, pet soul, global
soul, etc.
12 Chin-ning Chu, Thick Face, Black Heart (1994)
Promoting a warrior philosophy with eastern overtones, this has
been a success with both business and personal development readers
who see regular self-help as “wimpish.”
13 Confucius, Analects (6th century BC)
This collection of 2,500 aphorisms, anecdotes, and dialogs came
from one of the most influential sages in history. Published after the
author’s death, the Analects guided Chinese civilization for 2,000
years and can still have a profound impact on readers.
14 Russell H. Conwell, Acres of Diamonds (1921)
Originally an inspirational lecture, this book was so much in
demand that the proceeds funded a university. Stories and anecdotes
illustrate the idea that people go looking for their fortunes elsewhere
when “acres of diamonds” are to be found in their own backyard
(literally and metaphorically).
15 Emile Coué, Self-Mastery through Conscious Autosuggestion (1922)
Contains the famous autosuggestion mantra, “Every day in every
way I am becoming better and better,” which started the ball rolling
for personal success affirmations. Influential but not widely read
16 Edward De Bono, The Use of Lateral Thinking (1967)
De Bono did not invent lateral thinking, but the term only entered
the public vocabulary with this book. In offering an alternative to
the starched logic of conventional “vertical” thinking, this and De
Bono’s later books have taught us to think about thinking itself.
17 Stephanie Dowrick, Intimacy and Solitude (1996)
A work showing how the abilities to be intimate and happily alone
are related. Dowrick is an Australian-based psychotherapist whose
Forgiveness has also been popular.
18 Albert Ellis, A Guide to Rational Living (1975)
Ellis’s “rational emotive” approach showed how to control our emotional
life through altering our beliefs. This book continues to find
devoted new readers who appreciate its transformative effect on
19 Marsilio Ficino, The Book of Life (15th century)
A Renaissance life guide applying spiritual ideas to everyday matters.
Harder to read than a modern classic, but strongly influenced
Care of the Soul’s Thomas Moore.
20 Eric Fromm, To Have or to Be (1976)
A great social philosopher, Fromm made the distinction between the
“having” approach to life (materialistic, ironically fostering scarcity
and misery) and “being” (the basis of satisfaction and peace). Still
gets rave reviews as societal commentary and self-help.
21 Les Giblin, How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with
People (1956)
An enduring people skills manual from a former top salesman. In
focusing on how people actually respond and why, its aim is friction
reduction and the creation of goodwill.
22 Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (1923)
Gibran was a Syrian who emigrated to the US. Though an artist in
several media, it was this 20-million-copy seller that made him
famous. Beautiful and profound verses on love, loss, marriage, etc.
23William Glasser, Reality Therapy (1965)
This surprising bestseller put forward the idea that mental illness
comes from a person’s unwillingness to face reality and make commitments.
Based on clinical work.
24 Thomas A. Harris, I’m OK—You’re OK (1967)
Many people’s idea of a self-help classic. Popularized the transactional
analysis model of seeing our actions and words as expressing
either a Parent, Adult, or Child mentality.
25 Brian Hopkins, Official Guide to Success (1982)
A modest but powerful work by one of America’s most respected
personal development speakers and authors.
26 Elbert Hubbard, Message to Garcia (1899)
In 1895 Hubbard founded a community based on self-sufficiency
and positive thinking in New York State. Its press published A
Message to Garcia, a pamphlet (estimated printing 40 million
copies) recounting a tale of heroism during the Spanish-American
war. Still popular with army officers and employers for its message
of “getting the job done” no matter what.
27 The I-Ching
The Chinese “Book of Changes” has been around for 3,000 years
but is still a compelling tool of self-understanding. Its ability to
make the reader aware of other possibilities in times of great change
makes it relevant in the twenty-first century.
28 Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1984)
Kushner, a rabbi, wrote this as a response to his child’s fatal illness.
About the things you can’t control and how to deal with them, it is
intellectually sound and practical, and has remained popular.
29 Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward, Born to Win (1971)
Transactional analysis bestseller (four million copies), analyzing
communication styles and providing Gestalt exercises in order to
reveal ego states standing in the way of full mental health.
30William James, The Will to Believe (1907)
James may be the “father of American psychology,” but as a practical
philosopher he has been very influential in self-help. The Will to
Believe gets to the heart of personal questions about motivation and
belief, and essays such as “Is Life Worth Living?” provide some of
his finest and most life-expanding thoughts.
31 Orison Swett Marden, Pushing to the Front (1894)
Considered the founder of the success movement in America, Marden
(1850–1924) published numerous books inspired by the character
and hard work ethic of Samuel Smiles. This was his huge bestseller.
32 Rollo May, Freedom and Destiny (1981)
May argues that attaching ourselves to a particular end (destiny),
instead of tying us down, provides the right amount of freedom to
create and prosper. The theme of personal responsibility has influenced
Stephen Covey and others.
33 Og Mandino, The Greatest Success in the World (1981)
Familiar self-help themes of goal setting and self-realization put into
the form of a story set in New Testament times. Mandino was a
friend of Norman Vincent Peale and delivers a similar have-faith-inyourself
34 Earl Nightingale, The Strangest Secret (1955)
The late Earl Nightingale was known as the “Dean of Self-
Development.” This is his classic inspirational recording that sold
over a million copies and made the audiotape central to the motivational
35 Robin Norwood, Women Who Love Too Much (1988)
Talk-show bestseller that still enjoys readership with its useful distinctions
about self-love and dependency, and the traps into which
people fall when choosing partners.
36 Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human
Personality (1951)
Perls was a key figure in the Human Potential movement of the
1960s and this was his key work. Influenced by psychoanalysis and
existentialism, Gestalt therapy emphasized the need for people to see
“outside the box,” focusing on the present moment.
37 Robert J. Ringer, Looking Out for No. 1 (1977)
A 1970s bestseller. Not as bad as it sounds, it shows readers how to
avoid needless sacrifice and pursue what they want without guilt.
38 Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person (1961)
Rogers helped revolutionize psychotherapy by replacing psychoanalytic
“interpretation” with empathic listening by the therapist.
Though an emblematic work of the self-discovery ethic of the 1960s,
On Becoming a Person is still popular.
39 Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
This famous Oxford philosopher’s venture into self-help territory.
While dated, Russell’s wit and insights still make it an enjoyable
read. The first part discusses what makes people miserable, the second
what makes them happy.
40 Robert H. Schuller, Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!
Tool for creating a rock-hard self-image from the Minister of the
Crystal Cathedral, California. Schuller coined the phrase “possibility
41 Gail Sheehy, Passages (1976)
Garish 1970s bestseller that navigates the reader through the stages
of adult life. Translated into 28 languages, it has featured on Library
of Congress lists as one of the most influential books of all time.
42 José Silva and Joseph Miele, The Silva Mind Control Method (1977)
Former audio repairman Silva became interested in mind-control
techniques and developed a famous course involving theta brainwaves.
This was the bestselling book on the method.
43 W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill, Success Through a Positive
Mental Attitude (1960)
Stone was Hill’s mentor and business partner, and this book was a
combination of Hill’s Science of Success and Stone’s Horatio Algerstyle
American optimism. Selling well even after 40 years.
44 Deborah Tannen, You Just Don’t Understand (1991)
An examination of men’s and women’s communication styles that
came out of Tannen’s work as a linguist. An alternative to John
45 Brian Tracy, Maximum Achievement (1995)
Many connoisseurs of self-help put Tracy at the top of their list. A
good synthesis of the genre’s ideas and techniques but in Tracy’s
own style.
46 Kevin Trudeau, Mega Memory (1995)
Simple steps for impressing friends and yourself through memory
power. Trudeau is one of the original infomercial kings, but his techniques
actually go back to the seventeenth century.
47 Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity (1994)
Panoramic view of the human condition by an Oxford historian,
spliced with fascinating profiles of contemporary women. Its theme
is that the quality of your life is vastly improved by appreciating it
within the context of all of human history.
48 Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top (1975)
Old-school motivational work based on the belief that “You can get
everything you want if you help others to get what they want.”
Enjoyable, but its Christian values won’t appeal to everyone.
49 Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self (1990)
An application of quantum physics to how we see ourselves and our
connection with the universe. Ahead of its time and will remain
50 Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul (1990)
Perhaps more New Age than self-help, this presents a schema for
understanding human evolution in terms of the shift from sensual
awareness to soul awareness. Millions attest to its life-changing
Please note that many titles have had different publishers in the US and
the UK. The editions below were the ones mostly consulted in researching
the book.
Allen, J. (1998) As You Think, ed. with introduction by M. Allen,
Novato, CA: New World Library.
Andreas, S. & Faulkner, C. (eds), NLP Comprehensive Team (1996)
NLP: The New Technology of Achievement, London: Nicholas
Brealey Publishing.
Aurelius, M. (1964) Meditations, trans. M. Staniforth, London:
Beck, M. (2001) Finding Your Own North Star, London: Piatkus.
The Bhagavad-Gita (1973) trans. J. Mascaró, London: Penguin World’s
Bly, Robert (1992) Iron John, New York: Vintage Books.
Boethius (1999) The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. with introduction
and explanatory notes by P.G. Walsh, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
de Botton, A. (1998) How Proust Can Change Your Life, London:
Bridges, W. (1996) Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes,
London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Burns, D. (1992) Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, New York:
Avon Books.
Campbell. J. with Moyers, B. (1991) The Power of Myth, New York:
Anchor Books.
Carlson, R. (1997) Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff… And It’s All Small
Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Overtaking Your
Life, London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Carnegie, D. (1994) How to Win Friends and Influence People, New
York: Pocket Books.
Chopra, D. (1996) The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, London:
Bantam Press.
Coelho, P. (1999) The Alchemist, trans. Alan R Clarke, London:
Covey, S. (1990) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, New York:
Simon & Schuster.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal
Experience, New York: Harper Perennial.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler (1999) The Art of
Happiness: A Handbook for Living, London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Dhammapada: The Path of Perfection (1973) trans. J. Mascaró, London:
Penguin Classics.
The Dhammapada: Sayings of Buddha (1995) ed. T.F. Cleary, New
York: Bantam Wisdom.
Dyer, W. (1993) Real Magic: Creating Miracles in Everyday Life, New
York: HarperCollins.
Emerson, R.W. (1993) Self-Reliance and Other Essays, Dover
Estés, C. P. (1993) Women Who Run with the Wolves, London: Rider.
Frankl, V. (1984) Man’s Search for Meaning, preface by Gordon W.
Allport, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Franklin, B. (1993) Autobiography and Other Writings, ed. O. Seavey,
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gawain, G. (1985) Creative Visualization, New York: Bantam Books.
Goleman, D. (1997) Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More
than IQ, New York: Bantam Books.
Gray, J. (1992) Men Are from Mars,Women Are from Venus: A
Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What
You Want in Your Relationships, London: HarperCollins.
Hay, L. (1999) You Can Heal Your Life, Carlsbad CA: Hay House.
Hillman, J. (1997) The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and
Calling, New York: Warner Books.
Jeffers, S. (1991) Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, London: Arrow
Koch, R. (1998) The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More
with Less, London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Langer, E. (1990) Mindfulness: Choice and Control in Everyday Life,
Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (2000) trans. T. Freke, introduction by M.
Palmer, London: Piatkus.
Maltz, M. (1960) Psycho-Cybernetics, Los Angeles: Wilshire Book
Maslow, A. (1987) Motivation and Personality, ed. R. Frager, New
York: Addison Wesley.
McGraw, P. (2001) Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What
Matters, London: Vermillion.
Moore, T. (1992) Care of the Soul, New York: HarperCollins.
Murphy, J. (1995) The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, London:
Pocket Books.
Peale, N.V. (1996) The Power of Positive Thinking, New York:
Ballantine Books.
Pearson, C. (1998) The Hero Within, San Francisco, CA: Harper-
Peck, M.S. (1990) The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of
Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, London: Arrow
Rand, A. (1996) Atlas Shrugged, New York: Signet Books.
Robbins, A. (1993) Awaken the Giant Within, New York: Simon &
Scovell Shinn, F. (1998) The Game of Life and How to Play It, Saffron
Walden: C.W. Daniel.
Seligman, M. (1998) Learned Optimism, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Smiles, S. (1996) Self-Help: With Illustrations of Conduct and
Perseverance, London: Institute of Economic Affairs; also (2002) ed.
P.W. Sinnema, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1970) The Phenomenon of Man, introduction
by J. Huxley, London: Collins Fontana.
Thoreau, H.D. (1986) Walden and Civil Disobedience, introduction by
M. Meyer, New York: Penguin.
Williamson, M. (1993) A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles
of A Course in Miracles, New York: HarperCollins.
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