Jeff Davidson's book, Simpler Living, was Amazon Kindle #1 in its category, first quarter, 2012. Jeff is featured in the NY Times, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Businessweek, Fortune, Organized Executive, and Success.

Set a Goal and Make it Happen

Can you use your mind to further your lot in life? Can you move from where you are to where you want to be, all starting with the power of a thought? The answer, while not entirely clear, is yes.

Think and Grow What?

In 1908, a 25 year old reporter named Napoleon Hill was assigned by the motivational magazine for which he was employed to interview the great steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was generally regarded as one of the most prominent examples of “rags to riches” success in America at the time.

The two apparently hit it off, and Carnegie invited Hill to develop what Carnegie called a personal, practical philosophy that any man or woman could use to improve his or her lot in life. Carnegie was not willing to pay for the project (apparently he never spent a dime on anything if he could help it), but offered Hill something he couldn’t resist — access to business tycoons, government leaders, and some of the leading creative minds of the time.

Five hundred interviews and twenty-nine years later, Hill published the book, Think and Grow Rich, which went on to become a worldwide bestseller and still sells to this day. Hill interviewed auto magnate Henry Ford (that’s Henry Ford I), former U.S. President and later Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft, Thomas Edison, and virtually everybody who was anybody in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

What’s Your Plan?

According to Hill, success in life depends upon developing a plan. He postulated that individuals who wanted to be successful needed to have a definite major purpose, to write down that purpose, and to study it. By scrutinizing your purpose in life, the strength of your plan, as well as its weaknesses, will become apparent. Then, according to Hill, it is simply a matter of exploiting the strengths and shoring up the weaknesses so that you have the best chance of succeeding.

Hill advised his readers to remind themselves of their plan every day and to keep it in “sharp focus.” Hence, the choices that you make on that day and on subsequent days would enhance and support your plan. Moreover, you will have an easier time ignoring those choices that are simply diversions.

Check Your Attitude at the Door

Another important facet of success according to Hill is that you have to believe that what you want is possible. If you don’t, you have little chance of succeeding. With a positive mental attitude, even in the face of countless setbacks, eventually you will succeed.

Hill was also a staunch advocate of self-discipline–the discipline of mind and body that leads to mastery of money and time. Developing a strong character enables one to get into the habit of doing the most important work first each day.

This sounds good so far, but keep in mind that Hill’s “research” was largely anecdotal and testimonial. In other words, he acquired no hard evidence; he produced no experimental design, research, or testing; no follow-up and analysis was ever undertaken.

If Hill interviewed a successful, rich man, and the interviewee reported that he did this and that, Hill put it down as a matter of fact. Never mind if there were gaps in the interviewee’s memory, or if he embellished some aspects of what he did and totally ignored others. Still, in the absence of hard evidence, anecdotal information has value.

Success Formula Revealed!

During the time of Hill’s research, other authors came forward with books that purportedly contained nuggets of wisdom that could propel one from mediocrity to stardom. A Message to Garcia, by Elbert Hubbard, was highly popular when it was written and remains popular today.

Relying on observations of heroism during the Spanish-American War, the author wrote, “It is not book-learning” young people need, nor instruction about this and that, “but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing.”

Acres of Diamonds, by Russell Conwell, was equally popular in the first half of the twentieth century. Conwell, a pastor in Philadelphia, asserted that people of humble origins (it was always men, never women) could rise to prominence if they had high aspirations and were diligent in their efforts. The story line of Acres of Diamonds tells of a someone who searched the world for diamonds only to find that diamonds were discovered in the backyard of the property he had previously owned and had sold to finance his quest.

A Strange Secret

Following World War II, noted radio personality, motivational speaker, and author Earl Nightingale recorded an inspirational message, The Strangest Secret. Nightingale, who never highlighted the fact that he was one of the few survivors from the U.S.S. Maine, which was sunk by the Japanese during the attack on Pearl Harbor, told his listeners, “We become what we think about.”

In essence, Nightingale was saying that your lot in life is a direct result of your mental conditioning. If you focused on success long and hard enough, soon enough, you would be successful.

The Rise of the “Success” Industry

In the American boom times of the 1950’s, and throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, such companies as the Success Motivational Institute, Nightingale’s own Nightingale-Conant, Inc., and a host of others appeared, offering cassette tapes that could help listeners achieve more.

By the 1980’s, dozens upon dozens of companies had sprung up that offered cassettes, videos, books, training guides and other materials on virtually all aspects of career and life that ostensibly could help one get from point A to point B most efficiently. By the 1990’s, such programs were offered via CD-rom, and over the Internet. Today you can find these resources through cell phone applications, video blogs, and Podcasts.

Is It All Hocus-pocus?

Lack of scientific research in the field of human achievement led many scholars to scoff at what the American public was being told. The most prominent researcher to explore the potential connection between mental functioning and career or personal success is Dr. David McClelland. Although he is currently a professor at Boston University, McClelland earned much of his fame while at Harvard University. For several decades, McClelland studied the potential links between what one thinks about and what one achieves.

Ultimately, McClelland became convinced that even men and women of humble origins could break ranks and redesign their lives.

The Fortunate Ones

Certainly, this is wonderful news for anyone who ever had a hankering to be all that they could be, and this is where you come in. If you had any kind of decent upbringing, if you were nurtured along the way, if you went to reasonably good schools, certainly if you went to college, chances are this article and other resources like it can be a great value to you.

As Nicholas Lemann wrote in Atlantic Monthly (February, 1994), however, “If motivation to succeed really were both measurable and teachable, it could help people for whom both high educational performance and bare-knuckles money making are unattainable–people with different values, or inconvenient backgrounds, or unruly life trajectories. The benefits in individual happiness, social peace, and economic productivity would be worthy of serious national discussion…”

By virtue of the fact that you belong to IAAP and that you’re reading this article, you are among the half or so of the population that can use their minds to better themselves. You have the ability to summon the requisite motivation to overcome the challenges and road blocks in your path on the road to attaining much of what you want.

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 65 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 886 presentations to clients such as Lockheed Martin, Eckerd, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • Dial It Down--Live it Up (Sourcebooks)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (CreateSpace)
  • Accomplishing Your Goals (Smart Guide Publications)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, USA Today, Businessweek, Forbes, and Fortune. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his website

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