The Magic of Thinking Big
David J. Schwartz
Think of the people who earn five times as much as you. Are they five times smarter? Do they work five times harder? If the answer is no, then the question "What do they have that I haven't?" may occur to you.
In a book that has sold several million copies, David Schwartz suggests that the main thing separating them from us is that they think five times bigger. We are all, more than we realize, the product of the thinking which surrounds us, and most of this thinking is little, not big.
Plenty of room at the top
In the course of researching his book Schwartz spoke to many people who had reached the top in their field. Instead of getting detailed responses, Schwartz was told that the key factor in personal success was simply the desire for it. Rather than being 'too many Chiefs and not enough Indians', the opposite is true. Some people choose to lead, others to follow. Success is not primarily a matter of circumstances or native talent or even intelligence - it is a choice.
In the many little comments and asides that have been made to you throughout your life, you may have unconsciously written a log of the things you can or can't have, the person you can or cannot be. These little daubs of paint may even have been applied by people who loved you very much, but the result is that it is not your picture.
The Magic of Thinking Big tries to show us that in fact the canvas we work on is vast. Schwartz delivers to us the right quote by Benjamin Disraeli: 'Life is too short to be little.' We must enlarge our imagination of ourselves and act upon it. 'Thinking big' does work in relation to career goals, financial security and great relationships - but it is more significant than that. We are challenged to see ourselves in a brighter light, to have a larger conception of life. This is a choice that is no more difficult than the choice to keep doing what we're doing, laboring in darkness.
The quiet route to success
The Magic of Thinking Big is basically about 'getting ahead', with a fair amount of attention to exponentially increasing your income, making that dream home a reality and getting your kids a first-rate education. It tells us how to think, look and feel 'important'.
Is the book simply a bland 1950s product of an achievement-oriented consumer society? Well, it does have some amusing passages about moving out of one's 'crummy apartment' and moving to a 'fine new suburban home'. Readers continue to be attracted, presumably, because of its materialist promise, but the paradox of Schwartz's message is that to get the material results, we must know the immaterial, that is, we must spend time alone with our thoughts. Decisions arrived at in managed solitude, he says, have a habit of being 100 per cent right. Action drives out thought, whereas leaders set aside time for solitude to tap their supreme thinking power.
Belief is everything
There is nothing mystical about the power of belief, but we must draw a distinction between merely wishing and actually believing. Doubt attracts 'reasons' for not succeeding, whereas belief finds the means to do the job. Schwartz was in conversation with an aspiring fiction writer. When the name of a successful author came up, the aspiring writer quickly said, 'But I could never equal him; I'm not in his league.' Knowing the writer in question, Schwartz pointed out that he was neither super-intelligent nor super-perceptive, merely super-confident. The writer had at some point decided to believe that he was among the best, and so he acted and performed accordingly.
Most of us believe that the result of an event is the best indicator of how successful we are, yet events are much more likely to reflect a person's level of confidence. In Schwartz's words: `Belief is the thermostat that regulates what we accomplish in life.' Turn the thermostat up, and witness the results.
Excusitis, the failure disease
Roosevelt did not think that because he was a cripple he could not be President, Truman did not hold the fact of his limited education against himself, and Kennedy chose not to believe that his youth was a bar to power. By earmarking our upbringing, age, luck, intelligence, spouse, health etc. as 'the thing which is holding us back', we are falling prey to the disease of failure.
Never depend on luck to get what you want. The only vaccination against 'Excusitis', as Schwartz calls it - 'commonly known as failure's disease' - is conscious self-belief. Schwartz knows that as soon as we hit a rough spot our thinking is likely to shrink back to its normal size, yet this is exactly when it is crucial not to. Sporting champions do not collapse when, in the course of a game, they are being beaten. Instead of building a case against themselves, they will at this point remember that they are a champion.
You may have an old car, dingy apartment, debts, job stress and a crying baby, but they are not really a reflection of you as long as you are working on the vision of what you will be two years from now. Concentrate on your assets and how you are deploying them to change the situation, and avoid getting mired in petty recrimination. Every big success is created one step at a time, therefore it is best to measure yourself against the goals you have set, rather than comparing yourself to others.
It is said that a large vocabulary is a big determinant of success. But what counts is the effect that our words have on how we think about ourselves. Instead of trying to use long words, Schwartz says, use positive language, and see how it transforms your mood and the perceptions of others. Don't see yourself just in terms of how you appear now. You may have an old car, dingy apartment, debts, job stress and a crying baby, but they are not really a reflection of you as long as you are working on the vision of what you will be two years from now. Concentrate on your assets and how you are deploying them to change the situation, and avoid getting mired in petty recrimination. Absorbing the blows is a quality of greatness.
The author also reminds us that every big success is created one step at a time, therefore it is best to measure yourself against the goals you have set, rather than comparing yourself to others.
Improve the quality of your environment
Or as Schwartz phrases it, 'Go first class'. This does not mean always getting the most expensive ticket. It does mean getting your advice from successful people, and not giving the jealous the satisfaction of seeing you stumble. Spend time with those who think on a large scale and are generous in their friendship. After a while, the base level of what you think possible will rise. People make assessments of us whether we like it or not, and the value the world gives us matches the one we give ourselves.
Schwartz has many more useful tips on how to think and act success, backed up by case histories, including:
This stalwart of the success literature was written within the golden age of postwar American industrial society. The focus is on sales, production, executives, getting the great job in the good company. It may be a product of its age, but transcends it too. The book has literally been worth its (hardback) weight in gold for many people. It is one of the great examples of the success literature's call to recast your idea of what is possible.
Thinking larger thoughts is a kind of magic, since the effort put in is small compared with the long-term results. In the 1890s, a person named Gottlieb Daimler drew a three-pointed star on a postcard to his family and wrote next to it, 'One day this star will shine down on my work.' He co-founded Mercedes-Benz. Great accomplishments such as these demonstrate Schwartz's claim that a person is best measured by the size of their dreams.
"Believe Big. The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief. Think little goals and expect little achievements. Think big goals and win big success. Remember this, too! Big ideas and big plans are often easier - certainly no more difficult - than small ideas and small plans."
David J Schwartz
The late David Schwartz was a professor at Georgia State University, Atlanta, and was considered a leading American authority on motivation. He was also President of Creative Educational Services, a consulting firm specialising in leadership development.
© COPYRIGHT TOM BUTLER-BOWDON, 2023
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