Chapter OneUnderstand the Value of Good Thinking
"Nurture great thoughts, for you will never
go higher than your thoughts."
What Were They Thinking?
"Things are more like they are now than they ever were before."
-Dwight D. Eisenhower,
thirty-fourth president of the United States
What one thing do all successful people have in common? What one
thing separates those who go to the top from those who never seem to
get there? The answer: Good Thinking! Those who embrace good
thinking as a lifestyle understand the relationship between their
level of thinking and their level of progress. They also realize
that to change their lives, they must change their thinking.
A Different Way to Think
I've been a student of good thinking all my life, so I know how
important it is for making progress. In the first book I wrote back
in 1979, titled Think on These Things, I said, "Your life today is a
result of your thinking yesterday. Your life tomorrow will be
determined by what you think today." The title of that book was
inspired by the words of the Apostle Paul, who admonished us,
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of
praise, think about these things.
My father, Melvin Maxwell, often quoted those words to me. He felt
they were important. Why? Because he is an example of someone who
changed his life as a result of changing his thinking.
If you met my dad, he would tell you that he was born with a
naturally negative bent to his thinking. In addition, he grew up
during the Depression, and when he was six years old, his mother
died. He was not a happy or hopeful child. But as a teenager, he
began to see that all the successful people he knew had one thing in
common: they filled their lives with positive thoughts about
themselves and others. He desired to be successful like them, so he
embarked on the daily task of changing his thinking. To his delight,
after much time and effort, his thinking changed him.
People who know him today see Dad as a totally positive person. They
would be surprised to find out that he started his life with a
negative mind-set. This change in his thinking allowed him to rise
to a level of living that seemed above his potential. He went on to
be the most successful person in his professional circle. He became
a college president and touched the lives of innumerable people. To
this day he is my hero.
Changing from negative to positive thinking isn't always easy,
especially if you have a difficult time with change. For some, it's
a life-long struggle. Do you know what most people's number one
challenge is when it comes to making positive personal changes? It's
their feelings. They want to change, but they don't know how to get
past their emotions. But there is a way to do it. Take a look at the
truth contained in the following syllogism:
Major Premise: I can control my thoughts.
Minor Premise: My feelings come from my thoughts.
Conclusion: I can control my feelings by controlling my thoughts.
If you are willing to change your thinking, you can change your
feelings. If you change your feelings, you can change your actions.
And changing your actions-based on good thinking-can change your
Who Will Change Your Mind?
Most people in our culture look to educational systems to teach them
and their children to think. In fact, many individuals believe that
formal education holds the key to improving lives and reforming
society. James Bryant Conant, chemistry professor and former
president of Harvard University, asserted, "Public education is a
great instrument of social change Education is a social
process, perhaps the most important process in determining the
future of our country, it should command a far larger portion of our
national income than it does today."
Many educators would have us believe that good grades lead to a
better life, and that the more formal education you have, the more
successful you will be. Yet education often can't deliver on such
promises. Don't you know highly educated people who are highly
unsuccessful? Haven't you met college professors with Ph.D.s who
cannot manage their lives effectively? And conversely, don't you
know of dropouts who have become very successful? (Think of Bill
Gates, Thomas Edison, Federico Fellini, Steve Jobs.)
William Feather, author of The Business of Life, remarked, "Two
delusions fostered by higher education are that what is taught
corresponds to what is learned, and that it will somehow pay off in
money." Educational reformer and former University of Chicago
president Robert M. Hutchins observed, "When we listen to the radio,
look at television and read the newspapers we wonder whether
universal education has been the great boon that its supporters have
always claimed it would be." Perhaps we would be better off if we
took the advice of Mark Twain, who said, "I never let my schooling
interfere with my education."
The problem with most educational institutions is that they try to
teach people what to think, not how to think. Contrary to what
Francis Bacon said, knowledge alone is not power. Knowledge has
value only in the hands of someone who has the ability to think
well. People must learn how to think well to achieve their dreams
and to reach their potential.
Why You Should Embrace the Value
of Good Thinking
Georgia State University professor David J. Schwartz says, "Where
success is concerned, people are not measured in inches or pounds or
college degrees or family background; they are measured by the size
of their thinking." Becoming a better thinker is worth your effort
because the way you think really impacts every aspect of your life.
It doesn't matter whether you are a businessperson, teacher, parent,
scientist, pastor, or corporate executive. Good thinking will
improve your life. It will help you to become an achiever. It will
make you a better businessperson, teacher, parent, scientist,
pastor, or executive.
Take a look at just a few reasons why good thinking is so important:
1. Good Thinking Creates the Foundation for Good Results
In As a Man Thinketh, James Allen, philosopher of the human spirit,
wrote, "Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad
thoughts and actions can never produce good results. This is but
saying that nothing can come from corn but corn, nothing from
nettles but nettles. Men understand this law in the natural world,
and work with it; but few understand it in the mental and moral
world (though its operation there is just as simple and
undeviating), and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it.
It may seem obvious that the quality of people's thinking leads to
the quality of their results. I believe most people would agree
Poor thinking produces negative progress.
Average thinking produces no progress.
Good thinking produces some progress.
Great thinking produces great progress.
Yet, one of the reasons people don't achieve their dreams is that
they desire to change their results without changing their thinking.
But that's never going to work. If you expect to reap corn when you
planted nettles, you're not going to get corn-no matter how much
time you spend watering, fertilizing, or cultivating your plants. If
you don't like the crop you are reaping, you need to change the seed
you are sowing! Do you want to achieve? Then sow the "seed" of good
My friend, Bill McCartney, is a three-time Big Eight Conference
coach of the year and two-time UPI coach of the year. In 1990, he
led the University of Colorado football team to a national
championship. He understands what it takes to win in sports. What
may surprise many is that he says the mental aspect of the game is
more important than the physical. Coach Mac observes, "Mental is to
physical what four is to one." No matter how gifted athletes may be
physically, if they don't have what it takes mentally, they won't
I was reminded again of that truth at a recent leadership
conference. I told the attendees that I was working on a book calledThinking for a Change. During one of the breaks, a man named Richard
McHugh came up and told me a little about his experience as a
competitive bull rider. After the conference, he sent me a letter
telling the whole story. He wrote,
Dear Dr. Maxwell:
I discovered the importance of "thinking" my way to success during
my career as a bull rider. I started bull riding with the amateur
bull-riding circuit. Not long after I moved to the top of the
amateur circuit I yearned to join the professional bull riding
association, so I looked to the top for a teacher. I met and
started a relationship with a world champion bull rider who lived
in my area. His name was Gary Leffew.
Gary invited me to his professional bull-riding arena at his
ranch. After it became clear to Gary that I had committed myself
to a career as a bull rider, he agreed to help me. He told me that
the first thing I would have to do is quit the amateur rodeo
circuit. Gary said, "As long as you are hanging around amateurs,
you will think like an amateur, and you will not improve your
skills." That day I went from the top of the amateur bull riders
to the bottom of the professionals.
After getting my professional cowboy association permit, I went
back to Gary's rodeo arena, and I was ready to get on some bulls.
Much to my surprise, Gary met up with me that day, gave me a book,
and sent me on my way. The book was Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell
Maltz. Now, you have to understand that for a cowboy, this was a
major paradigm shift. All of the other seasoned bull riders were
telling me, "If you want to ride bulls, the secret is just getting
on as many bulls as your body can withstand in terms of the pain."
But they were not World Champion bull riders like my mentor was.
So I took Gary's advice instead, and I went home and read the
When I finished, I went back to Gary, and I couldn't believe what
he did next: he gave me another book on thinking! A few more
visits to Gary's ranch netted me more books. I read every one.
Now, some people might think this is crazy, but I yearned to ride
a bull. On one visit to Gary's, I finally told him that I had read
every book that he gave me, but now I wanted to get on some bulls!
Gary explained to me, "Rich, before you ride bulls," and pointed
to his head, "you've got to ride BULLS!" [meaning that the process
of visualization had to come first]. Now I understood what he was
doing: preparing me mentally for riding bulls! "Okay," I told him,
"so now that I've read all those books, I'm ready to get on a
bull!" I was wrong. The next step, Gary explained, was cassette
tapes. Volumes of tapes!
When Gary finally said I was ready to get on a bull, it was a
stationary barrel bull! There I learned how to visualize every
bull movement and counter movement.
The next lesson I learned was about association. "Who you hang
around with," Gary explained, "can influence how you think." As I
began traveling in the professional bull riders circuit, I learned
that it was important to be with the riders who were winning. My
mentor told me that if I couldn't find any winning bull riders to
ride with, then I was to travel alone to protect my new winning
Dr. Maxwell, I'd like to tell you that I went on to win the world
championship; I didn't. But I did win a lot of rodeos, and I did
make a lot of money riding in the professional bull-riding
circuit. This cowboy eventually left the rodeo circuit and married
a wonderful woman. We now own one of the largest employment
agencies on the central coast of California.
I guess I'm still thinking my way to the top.
To make progress in any field, you have to take action. But the
success of the action you take depends entirely on how you think
beforehand. What Claude M. Bristol wrote in The Magic of Believing
is true: "The successful people in industry have succeeded through
their thinking. Their hands were helpers to their brains."
2. Good Thinking Increases Your Potential
Author James Allen believed, "You will become as small as your
controlling desire, as great as your dominant aspiration." Or to
paraphrase the words of King Solomon, wisest of all ancient kings,
"As people think in their hearts, so they are." If your thinking
shapes who you are, then it naturally follows that your potential is
determined by your thinking.
In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I wrote about the Law of
the Lid, which states, "Leadership ability determines a person's
level of effectiveness." In other words, in any endeavor with
people, your leadership is the lid. If you're a poor leader, your
lid is low. If you are a great leader, your lid is high. I believe
that your thinking has a similar impact on your life. Your thinking
is the lid for your potential. If you're an excellent thinker, then
you have excellent potential, and the words of Emerson ring true:
"Beware when the great God lets loose a great thinker on the
planet." But if your thinking is poor, then you have a lid on your
Achieving your potential comes from making progress, and progress is
often just one good idea away. That was certainly true of Sam
Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. He explained, "I guess in all my
years, what I heard more often than anything was: a town of less
than 50,000 in population cannot support a discount store for very
long." But Walton did not think the way his competitors thought, and
for that reason, his potential was greater. While other merchants
followed popular thinking, Walton thought for himself and struck out
on his own. That has paid off in a remarkable way. Today Wal-Mart is
the world's largest retailer, employing more than one million people
and achieving annual sales in excess of $191 billion. Every week
more than 100 million customers visit Wal-Mart stores. How's that
for potential! No wonder Jack Welch, former chairman of General
Electric, said, "The hero is the one with ideas."
The greatest detriment to many people's success tomorrow is their
thinking today. If their thinking is limited, so is their potential.
But if people can keep growing in their thinking, they will
constantly outgrow what they're doing. And their potential will
always be off the charts.
3. Good Thinking Produces More Good Thinking IF . You Make It a
Albert Einstein observed, "The problems we face today cannot be
solved on the same level of thinking we were at when we created
them." Look around and you'll see that is true. The world keeps
getting more and more complicated. Does that discourage you? It
doesn't have to. Many years ago, I came across a quote that made a
tremendous impression on me. It said,
I am your constant companion. I am your greatest helper or
heaviest burden. I will push you onward or drag you down to
failure. I am completely at your command. Half of the things you
do you might just as well turn over to me and I will be able to do
them quickly and correctly. I am easily managed-you must merely be
firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and
after a few lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great men; and alas, of all failures as
well. Those who are great, I have made great. Those who are
failures, I have made failures. I am not a machine, though I work
with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a
man. You may run me for profit or run me for ruin-it makes no
difference to me. Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will
place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy
Who am I? I am habit!
The good news is that no matter how complicated life gets or how
difficult problems may seem, good thinking can make a difference-if
you make it a consistent part of your life. The more you engage in
good thinking, the more good thoughts will come to you. Success
comes to those who habitually do things that unsuccessful people
don't do. Achievement comes from the habit of good thinking. The
more you engage in good thinking, the more good thoughts you will
continue to think. It's like creating a never-ending army of ideas
capable of achieving almost anything. As playwright Victor Hugo
asserted, "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an
invasion of ideas."