They’re by no means among the best I’ve read,
and yet their lessons are invaluable
I consider myself a connoisseur of nonfiction books. I’ve been reading them day after day since I was four. As a book publisher, I published over 100 titles and as a consultant, I’ve worked on another 100 or so.
But there are three books that fall into a weird category for me that I want to share. They’re business/self-help type books that I wouldn’t consider must-read best-in-class and yet there’s this: I return to them regularly to read what I’ve underlined on their pages. To remind myself of the lessons that most stood out for me. Lessons I can recall off the top of my head that I’ve already incorporated into the way I practice my business and go about my life.
Focal Point: A Proven System to Simplify Your Life, Double Your Productivity, and Achieve All Your Goals by Brian Tracy (2002)
The big-picture takeaway from Focal Point* is how to use clarity in all aspects of your life, and how simple decision-making can be once you have clarity about 1) what you’re trying to achieve and 2) what you value.
Here are some of the highlights, all of which you can see are quite straightforward.
It’s important to see yourself as self-employed even if you’re technically not. It’s a mindset that recognizes your personal value and your options.
Keep your attention on what matters, and follow the 80/20 rule in all areas of life: Focus on the 20% of activities that yield 80% of the value. Observing and noting your own good habits and choices reinforce those things and increase their returns.
Humans have entered the Psychozoic Age: Put your mind and its abilities to plan, strategize, create, and direct to work for you. If you’re not tapping your brain’s potential and continually learning, you’re falling behind.
Develop habits to last a lifetime: A commitment to excellence, incremental improvements, a future orientation, ongoing strategic thinking and re-evaluation of your activities and priorities, leveraging the support of others (their contacts, money, energy, successes, failures, knowledge, ideas), simplifying everything (including habits of silence, decluttering, and saying no), a bias towards action, self-reflection.
Determine the top 3–5 values for each area of your life (business/career, family/personal life, finances, health/fitness, personal development, community involvement, spirituality/inner peace) so that you can use those values to guide decisions in each area and accomplish those things that matter to you most.
Finally, here’s the one that I’m especially still working on.
Focus on doubling your time off for the multiple rewards that come with that. How do you take time off? By taking it off. Tracy advises to start on this path by taking off one day each week. Once that habit is established, work on making that two full days a week. Remember weekends? Then work on scheduling three-day vacations every couple of months. Cap that off with working up to four additional weeks of vacation — two one-week vacays, and one two-weeker.
Why do I return to Focal Point? It’s wholistic, reasonable, commonsense, elementary stuff oriented around one’s personal values and all in pursuit of the good life for self, loved ones, and community. Nineteen years ago when I first read the book, I was a philosophy major with a business that was just taking off and I needed all the advice I could get. This book really oriented my thinking about the jumble of possibilities ahead of me and helped me create a workable foundation for being an adult in the world and my new role as business owner.
The Science of Getting Rich: Attracting Financial Success Through Creative Thought by Wallace D. Wattles (1910, 2007)
My goal as a business owner was never specifically to “get rich” and I bristle at pairing that with “the science of,” but I make allowances for a book that was written in 1910. And one that has given me solidly useful nuggets as someone who grew up in a blue-collar culture where getting rich was deemed bad, suspect, unholy, or unlikely.
This book has not made me rich, but I’d say it has helped me be successful. These grounding quotes from the first chapter, “The Right to Be Rich,” took a lot of initial processing on my part:
“No one can live a really complete or successful life unless they’re rich. We can’t achieve our greatest potential unless we have plenty of money; for to develop our gifts and talents, we must use many things, and we can’t have those things unless we have money to buy them with.”
“All of life has one purpose: development. Everyone naturally wants to become all they are capable of becoming.”
“Everyone has the right to the free and unrestricted use of all the things they need for their fullest mental, spiritual, and physical development. In short, we all have the right to be rich.”
“Nature’s purpose is to advance and develop all of life, which means that everyone should have all that can contribute to the power, elegance, beauty, and richness of their life, and to be content with less is contrary to nature’s intent.”
“The desire for riches is simply our own capacity for larger life seeking fulfillment, so nature is friendly to your plans.”
“Success in life is becoming what you want to be.”
Over time, I came to agree with the general sentiment of these lines: That one needs resources to be all that one wants to be in life (and that quite often means money, which is often a direct, easy path to many things, including experiences and learning); and that there is nothing wrong with the desire for a full life, developing ourselves to have that life, and pursuing our options and capacities for making that so.
From the author’s initial premises, here are some of the book’s memorable takeaways:
With every interaction or business transaction, be generous and convey a sense of enhancement to the other. Give everyone more in use value than in cash value.
There is no need to compete, sacrifice, or cheat and do not operate from these mindsets. Instead, creativity is infinite and everything. Get clear on what you want and tap into the power of creativity to bring it about.
Our orientation to a world where we don’t need to compete, cheat, or sacrifice and creative possibilities are infinite should be gratitude, trust, and the presumption that the things we seek can be manifested.
Valuing the living and pursuing of a full life for oneself encourages the same for others and the whole world. Rather than pitying the disadvantaged and “fixing” poverty with charity, focus on the power of creativity and the possibilities of the whole world enjoying development and prosperity.
Act now from where and when you are without hurrying or worrying or about tomorrow and that will be enough. Make every individual action effective and that will be also be enough because every effective action is a success in itself. Accumulating successful actions leads to the expanded life of your desires.
This book’s phrasing will be decidedly too woo-woo for some, but I take things like this in broad strokes and recommend the book to all regardless of where you fall in relation to this sort of language. Why do I return to the lessons of The Science of Getting Rich*? 1) I thoroughly agree with its centering of the power of creativity and attending to creativity over competition, 2) Its messages are in synch with and useful for defensive entrepreneurship, of which I’m a staunch champion, and 3) It applies a broad and positive biological outlook to human thriving and fulfillment.
You2 [squared]: A High-Velocity Formula for Multiplying Your Personal Effectiveness in Quantum Leaps by Price Pritchett, PhD (2012)
Sure, there are reasons you just don’t grab a complex scientific principle and turn rudimentary understandings of it into all-purpose metaphors, but humans are meaning-making creatures that have been using metaphors since 2500 B.C. because they’re handy frameworks on which to hang interesting ideas.
And the big idea of this book is that “quantum leaps” are possible in our lives, just as subatomic particles can travel “without apparent effort and without covering all the bases between the starting and the ending points.”
That leads to these points this book has seared into my recall:
Gradual, incremental change is a presumption and not always required. It’s possible to move from one’s current level to a higher level of achievement/success/performance directly without all the struggle, effort, and taking all the steps.
Therefore, quit trying harder. And quit limiting yourself to what you think you can have or what’s possible. Consider what you actually want. Permit yourself the freedom to dream and move beyond what’s sensible.
And, quit doing what’s not working or what has stopped working. Take the risk of trying new things and be aggressive in seeking out new behaviors and approaches, especially ones that rely on finesse over effort. Focus on possibilities over obstacles.
“Trust in the power of pursuit.” Move beyond wishful thinking and hankering desire. Reach for what you want with action.
Your attention should be on the desired end, not the means of getting there. “[Y]ou’re not supposed to be concerned about what happens in the middle of a jump…you’re supposed to be thinking about where you’re going to land.”
We all have “unopened gifts” waiting for us. “Claim them, and you create them. Reach for them, and they materialize. Use them, and they grow to serve you still better.”
Use the energy of passion and love to stir your heart and direct your aim.
Life will give you this breakthrough experience if you’re ready for it.
That means, you must suspend your disbelief. Create a new level, life, model based on the desired/expected success. Let the thing occur.
To sum up: Get clear on what you want. Let go of resistance and be ready. Pursue it. Take action. Surrender. Allow. Follow your intuition. Be comfortable with risk, failure, uncertainty. Don’t prepare, go for it. Act first, adjust in the middle of it. Claim new gifts and try elegant new approaches as you leap, staying focused on where you want to land.
Why do I return to You2*? I think I keep coming back to this very quick read because I do buy into the metaphor and like the concept of skipping steps on the path to getting the things I want. (Who doesn’t?) Also, these three books all, in the end, advocate pretty much the same thing: clarity, pursuit, taking action, creativity, and possibilities, leading eventually to success. I have directly experienced this route to achieving concrete and abstract things, specific and broad desires, goals concrete and abstract.
As I write this, I realize that one reason I may return to these particular books is that clarity for me is the toughest part. I tend to want everything, generically speaking, the good life that philosophers can wax on about. It can be hard for me to narrow things down and then pursue them with such certainty. (If you’re like me, you’ll love another book that I don’t consider meh, rather a 5-star wonder: Refuse to Choose!)
Luckily for you, there’s a good chance you’re not like me. You may not know exactly what you want, but you have a pretty good idea of a few things, or 20, or 100. In that case, I recommend you read these books and get started putting their lessons into immediate practice.