The title above is borrowed from a book by the same name, The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz. Though it sold three million copies, you’ve probably never heard of it and for good reason. It was published way back in 1959.
The Magic of Thinking Big was part of a wave of self-help books that came out in the middle of the twentieth century with a similar message. Like Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, Schwartz’s book claimed to have found the key to success and happiness in life. The idea went something like this:
Believe you can succeed and you will.
Schwartz’s philosophy closely mirrors a sentiment expressed by Napoleon Hill: “What the mind can believe, the mind can achieve.” According to Schwartz, Peale, and Hill, the biggest stumbling block to getting ahead in life is our own doubting mind. If we could just think positively and live confidently, we could be successful, as evidenced by these passages:
Schwartz: “Think Big and you’ll live big. You’ll live big in happiness. You’ll live big in accomplishment. Big in income. Big in friends. Big in respect.”
Peale: “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”
Hill: “There are no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge. Both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought.”
The Four Steps to Thinking Big
In The Magic of Thinking Big, Schwartz credits belief as “the driving force behind all great books, plays, scientific discoveries.” He says it’s the one ingredient that can be found in all successful people, that if you “believe, really believe, you can succeed, and you will.” He then lays out a four-point plan to help us achieve success.
- Think success; don’t think failure. Let the thought “I will succeed” dominate your thinking process. Thinking success conditions your mind to create plans that produce success. Thinking failure does the exact opposite.
- Remind yourself regularly: You are better than you think you are. Successful people are not supermen or superwomen. They’re just ordinary people who have developed belief in themselves and what they do.
- Believe big. The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief. The bigger your dreams, the bigger your accomplishments.
- Stop making excuses. Schwartz refers to it as “excusitis, the failure disease.” In his words, people with mediocre accomplishments are quick to explain “why they haven’t, why they don’t, why they can’t, and why they aren’t.” Each time someone makes an excuse, it becomes embedded in their subconscious.
Wait a second you say, that sounds too easy. Is that all there is to it?
Here’s my take: I do believe there’s something to the idea of thinking positively and/or thinking big. After all, I can’t think of a single story in our popular culture about a businessperson, athlete, musician, or actor, who thought they were going to fail miserably, but somehow succeeded. Yet, I also believe success is predicated not just on our beliefs—but on our actions.
Had Schwartz been alive today, he might have known about the writer Malcolm Gladwell and his “10,000-hour rule.” Gladwell asserts that the key to success in any field is simply a matter of practicing a specific task over and over. While there is debate whether ten thousand hours is the actual number of hours needed, the idea is that you have to work at something to be good at it. In turn, once you’re good at it you’re more likely to succeed.
Writing in the book Mastery, George Leonard tells the story of the legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus. The man known as “The Golden Bear” spent years on the golf course before making his mark, but in an interview for Esquire magazine in his later years, he credited one factor for his great success: visualization.
Nicklaus claimed he never hit a golf shot without first visualizing the ball reaching its desired destination, “sitting up there high and white and pretty on the green.” Nicklaus said the perfect shot was: 50% visualization, 40% setup, and only 10% swing.
Think about how that might apply to any endeavor in life, whether it was applying for a job, looking to complete a project at home or work, finding romance, or achieving any milestone. We do the preparatory work (40%), we visualize the result (50%) and then make the effort (10%) to achieve success.
The net: Yes, think big. But be sure to put in the work to make big things happen.
This story will be included in the upcoming book Wake Up Call: Daily Insights for the Spiritually Curious. It will be released December 4, 2023, by Wildhouse Publishing.