Coping With Tough Economic Times By Unleashing the Power Within You

“More gold has been mined from the thoughts of men than has ever been taken out of the ground.”   

Napoleon Hill


Consider for a second the titles of two bestselling books on success in business:  Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, and John C. Maxwell’s How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life. It’s impossible to overlook the common theme: That the keys to success lie in the conscious, deliberate, and continual effort to improve one’s own thought processes. Let’s examine this theme and its implications for anyone who would wish to improve their business results as well as their lot in life.   


Both works are the results of their authors studying and working with people who were highly successful over the long run, many of whom had to overcome innumerable obstacles to accomplish what they did. Another thing they have in common is that they both delineate identifiable principles that, when applied diligently, can help most folks to become more prosperous.

Fewer people succeed than are able to

These authors have been quick to point out that the principles they discuss tend to be overlooked by the vast majority of people and are therefore underutilized. The result is that there is an excessive rate of “underachievement” in our society. 

John Maxwell, for example, argues strongly that if one truly wants to succeed, he or she first must devote time and effort to becoming what he very simply calls a “good thinker.” He further stipulates that most people can learn to be better “thinkers” if they are willing to humble themselves and put in the effort to do so. Many however, will not.

He applies these principles to himself, devoting considerable time and energy to understanding and improving his own thought processes. It’s difficult, it’s humbling, but it pays off. This practice has led to his becoming an incredibly effective professional in his own right, and has also enabled him to help innumerable clients increase their own ability to prosper.

It’s not about IQ

Psychologists have long warned us that raw, God given “mental ability,” as measured by IQ tests, is not that good a predictor of success in professionals. Granted, ability is a nice thing to have, but a lot of research shows that it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts. All the natural ability in the world won’t do you much good if you lack diligence and discipline. 

It’s a matter of will

While it’s not about IQ per se, it is about how you think, and more importantly, what you’re willing to do about how you think. According to Napoleon Hill, “Thoughts are things.” If we’re willing to treat them as such, this gives us access to the means to improve our thinking.

Support from the area of cognitive science

For over thirty years my work has involved applications of cognitive psychology (the scientific study of how people construe situations and make decisions) to problems in industrial, organizational, and educational settings. The principles discussed by authors such as Maxwell and Hill actually do have the full weight of science behind them. 

For example, research demonstrates that on the average, about 88 percent of people’s daily activities are regulated largely by mental processes of which they have little to no awareness. It’s often said that people are creatures of habit, and this applies to our thinking as well as our behavior. We spend much more time on “autopilot” than we think, which leads to many more oversights and errors than we are ever aware of. 

A simple demonstration

Assuming that you wear a watch, try this one on yourself. Without looking at it, take it off right now, place it face down, take a sheet of paper, and try to draw its face. The vast majority of people cannot perform this task with any degree of accuracy. It’s a shocking thing to discover, but it’s true.

Now stop and think of how often during any given day that you look at it to check the time, which for most people is dozens, if not scores of times.  It’s amazing how often we manage to look without actually “seeing” what it is we’re looking at. And yet we manage to extract the information we’re after regardless of that fact. Consider the implications of consistently overlooking what is right in front of our very noses.  This is true of thousands of situations we operate in on a daily basis.

Hindsight is 20/20

This can help to explain many of the failures in business that we’ve seen over the years, which often seem to stem from a lack of awareness of what should be obvious connections between actions and likely consequences. After the fact, we usually attribute these failures to either “poor planning” or “poor execution,” which are not recognized as such until significant damage is done. Operating in “autopilot” mode so frequently breeds little oversights that seem insignificant, but which often aggregate and become major oversights with serious consequences.

The role of metacognition

Both Maxwell’s call for us to “become better thinkers” and Hill’s suggestion that “thoughts are things” refer to what cognitive scientists call metacognition— summarized simply as the process of thinking about thinking.   

It is well understood that people who choose to develop their capacities for metacognition reap a number of benefits from doing so. When actively attending to their thinking, people notice more details, learn more quickly, and are better able to detect and correct their own errors. This can lead to vast improvements in their abilities to address and solve problems. 

It can also translate into a sharper awareness and understanding of the thoughts of others, which makes people more socially astute. Becoming a “good thinker” can pay off in any number of ways.

Metacognition, mindfulness, and intentionality

One of the primary characteristics of people who succeed in business is that they are very conscious, disciplined, and intentional regarding their conduct of themselves and their business activities. This means that they override the “normal” human tendency to function in the semi-conscious mode that research has identified as common.  In everyday terms, they “don’t miss a trick.”

Maxwell claims that becoming a “good thinker” is neither automatic nor easy. It is however, well worth the investment. You become better at planning and execution, which translates into success and prosperity. It pays dividends both in terms of life satisfaction as well as monetary wealth. 

Continuous improvement is the key

Virtually every study of success among business professionals shows it to be tied to a strong commitment to continuous personal improvement. The question is, how does one get the process started? Actually, there are a number of things that an individual interested in developing themselves as a “thinker” can do, provided that their desire to do so is genuine.

Choosing to improve ourselves

First off, there are two things that anyone who wants to “mine the gold” in themselves cannot do too much of: Reading and writing. Many people do not do enough of either of these, much to their own detriment. If used strategically, these two common activities can convey enormous benefits. 

The programs for change that I offer my clients require a certain amount of both of these, and if they’re willing to take the initial steps toward change required by the materials I use, their prognosis for business improvement is usually quite good. If they are not, I typically excuse myself and move on to clients who realize that the first thing that they’ll have to do is to get themselves out of the ruts that they spend so much time in. A few notes on these two “essentials” appear below:

Reading: This is a great vehicle for developing mental discipline. Anyone who intends to improve their approach to doing business will have to start by becoming more mindful. What they need to read will vary according to their interests and their business, but what is important is that they begin to use reading systematically as part of program of personal growth.  The old adage, “leaders are readers,” is true and will continue to be applicable in the foreseeable future.

Writing: By this I do not mean texting and tweeting, both of which are typically done quite mindlessly. I am referring to writing coherent sentences, organized into paragraphs that express carefully thought out ideas and intentions (“lol” doesn’t count).  People who are highly successful invariably monitor and manage their activities with the help of tools such as written goals and plans, as well as the active use of personal journals. These enable us to track our progress, evaluate where we stand relative to where we’d like to be, and keep ourselves organized.  Carefully writing things out helps to develop the discipline and mindfulness that characterize the mentality of “good thinkers.”     

When I work with clients, I always introduce these two vehicles for self-improvement immediately. If they are unwilling to use either of these tools for change, there is not much we’ll be able to accomplish together. You can’t improve your lot in life if you don’t use your time differently.

Removing the blinders

There are lots of factors that conspire against us changing the ways that we habitually think. John Maxwell warns that changing the ways that we think is neither automatic nor easy. It will take a degree of effort, and will also often involve a degree of discomfort.  Old ways are never easy to shed.

But in a changing world, we must arrange the conditions that will be most conducive to using our minds more creatively and effectively. The means are available to us, if we’re only willing to take advantage of them and put them to use. Doing so can help us to become much more aware of what what’s happening around us, and to enable us to discover possibilities and options that are “hiding in plain sight.” Errors and oversights are inevitable, but we can vastly reduce their occurrence at minimal cost to ourselves— if we’re willing to make the necessary changes.