Do you ever wonder why certain people are more successful than others? While some seem to enjoy fulfilling careers, material prosperity, and healthy relationships, others seem to be stuck in a rut. What gives? As you’re about to see, the reason why most people don’t achieve more than they do is because they don’t believe they can. What’s more, they haven’t taken the time to decide exactly what they want and how to get it. So says Brian Tracy in his book - Maximum Achievement, originally published in 1993. In his book, you’ll discover a set of practical systems that will help you create goals across all areas of your life – and overcome any obstacles to achieving them.
The three most powerful points I took from the book were;
Everyone is born without a self-concept, but as you grow to identify with your name, values, and habits, your way of seeing yourself, and the world, solidifies over many years of repetition.
When someone you admire has positive expectations of you, it usually has a positive effect on your self-esteem – which, in turn, propels you to improve your performance
Build your self-esteem by accepting complete responsibility for your personal and professional life; this includes taking control of your habits and how you think about yourself
Overcome self-limiting beliefs to achieve higher levels of accomplishment.
Imagine you could watch a reenactment of your entire life – right up until now. Even better, you could hit pause anytime and rewrite the decisions you made in any given situation. If you knew then what you know today, what would you do differently? This hypothetical exercise represents what is known as zero-based thinking. By imagining you could start over from zero – and focusing on the actions you’d take to improve your situation – you can empower yourself to make better choices in the future.
The opposite of this would be to look back on your life and focus on the external circumstances that are out of your control. But by doing this, you’ll only reinforce your own sense of powerlessness. This idea of negative reinforcement follows a concept known as the Law of Belief, which states that you perceive the world through a lens of prejudices about yourself – otherwise known as your self-concept. Everyone is born without a self-concept, but as you grow to identify with your name, values, and habits, your way of seeing yourself, and the world, solidifies over many years of repetition.
This bundle of beliefs, thoughts, and mental pictures determines how you behave. So, for example, if you see yourself as being too old, or lacking courage, you can expect yourself to act in accordance with this belief in all situations. In the same way, if you view yourself as having unlimited potential, you can expect to persevere in the face of a challenge – time and time again.
When the author was growing up, his family was poor. As a child he wondered why he had to wear second-hand clothing when so many other families were wealthy. Then, at the age of 16, he had a revelation: he realized that it was up to him alone to guide himself toward a better life. He went on to self-educate his way through a career in sales and consulting, and he ended up as senior executive of a multi-million dollar company.
But throughout those two decades, he continued to devote himself to exploring the one question that had sparked his revelation: Why are some people successful, while others aren’t? What he determined is that successful people are, above all, masters of their own mind. And the first – and fastest – way to improve your performance is to simply transform how you think about yourself.
Reinvent the expectations you have about yourself to boost your performance.
Imagine you’re about to give an important work presentation – but you don’t feel confident. Your palms are sweating, and you’re pacing nervously as you review your notes offstage. Just before you’re about to go on, your boss, whom you respect very much, taps you on the back and whispers, “You’re going to be great!” Just like magic, your pre-presentation jitters seem to float away.
When someone you admire has positive expectations of you, it usually has a positive effect on your self-esteem – which, in turn, propels you to improve your performance. On the other hand, destructive criticism can have the opposite effect. In one psychological study among prisoners, as many as 90 percent of respondents said they had grown up hearing their parents say, “Someday, you’re going to end up in jail.”
The imagined expectations that others have of us – whether it’s our parents, colleagues, or children – would appear to have real-world consequences. Ultimately, however, the most important source of expectations is yourself. Remember the Law of Belief? In the end, your image and expectations of yourself are powerful enough to override anyone else’s.
Luckily, just as your attitudes and behaviors are learned over time, you can unlearn those which are inconsistent with who you want to be or what you want to achieve. Start by consciously and honestly reflecting on your current attitudes, breaking down your life into sections like relationships, health, career, financial achievement, and the quality of your inner life. Now, consider what expectations you have about each area. How do these beliefs help or hinder you?
For instance, can you identify any attitudes and expectations that may be causing you problems with the people in your life? What beliefs do you have about your physical appearance? Don’t forget to honestly interrogate the quality of your inner life, too; try to pin down all the thoughts and feelings about yourself that aren’t serving you well.
If you’re honest, you’ll find that you have unhelpful and self-limiting expectations about yourself in one or more of these areas, which is very normal. Facing up to these obstacles is the starting point for rapid self-improvement – but while this process is efficient, it's not always comfortable.
Consciously develop new habits and attitudes to improve your self-confidence.
Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution that didn’t stick? Or splurged on equipment for a new hobby, only to let it gather dust in the corner? Then you know that good habits are hard to form. Unfortunately, bad habits can be just as hard to get rid of. It takes the same amount of mental effort to start up a challenge as it does to stop indulging in a guilty pleasure.
As humans, we’re shaped by automatic, unconscious responses that we’ve learned over time. Because about 95 percent of your thoughts and reactions are ingrained as habits, even the negative ones eventually become central to your self-concept. That’s why people tend to stick with bad habits until they’re actually forced to break them – either by circumstances, or by choice.
You can only unlearn your habits if you’re willing to deliberately pull yourself out of your comfort zone. While fear of discomfort is natural, it’s something you must overcome if you want to advance. You can’t get better if you stay the same, after all. But you can also equip yourself with a plan to embrace this discomfort.
The first step is to focus on a single positive habit pattern or behavior that you’d like to develop. Let’s say you want to improve your self-esteem. For the next 21 days, dwell on this one goal, each and every day. Read books and articles about self-acceptance. Visualize yourself with high self-esteem. You can even look at yourself in the mirror and repeatedly affirm, “I like you, I like you, I like you.” This represents the power of affirmations, or strong messages from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind.
According to the author, when you consciously repeat a statement over an extended period of time, your subconscious eventually accepts it as a valid description of reality – which can help to reinforce positive habits. Behave, in every respect, as if achieving your goal is inevitable. Demonstrate to yourself that you can develop just one important habit or attitude. Once you’ve proved this to yourself at the end of the three weeks, you’ll have the self-confidence to accomplish any goal you set out to achieve.
To maximize your chances of success, visualize your ideal future in as much detail as possible.
Picture a ship on a stormy sea, guided by a captain with no map, no compass, and no destination. You can imagine this journey’s ending – let’s just say it’s not going to be great for the poor captain. Similarly, you need to know where you want to end up before you set a plan of action, lest you drift away from your goals. It’s crucial to map out your ideal future, so you’ll need to know what success looks like to you.
To create a concrete blueprint of your future ideal, use the author’s framework. He divides success into seven key ingredients: peace of mind, physical fitness, close relationships, financial freedom, worthy ideals, self-knowledge, and personal fulfillment. These ingredients encompass every factor that will be important to your long-term happiness.
While you previously interrogated your existing belief structures, the purpose of this exercise is to consider each category and design your future life into a masterpiece.
The first ingredient of success – peace of mind – is the most important. When imagining your ideal in this area, think about what you’d need to eliminate in your life in order to live in harmony with your innermost self and values. What would your highest self-concept look like?
Next, think about your ideal physical fitness: How exactly would you look and feel? The third ingredient involves your relationships: If you could design them, what would you want more – or less – of? Similarly, when visualizing the fourth ingredient, financial freedom, be precise about how much you want to be earning in one, five, or ten years from now. Think about what it might take to get there.
The fifth ingredient of success – worthy ideals – involves the activities that give you your greatest sense of purpose in life. For instance, what are some of the accomplishments that have made you happiest in the past? The sixth ingredient of success, self-knowledge, is about how well you know your own motivations.
That brings us to the final ingredient of success: personal fulfillment. This is the certainty that you’re moving toward realizing your full potential. Once you’ve gone through this list, you should have a vivid imagination of the ideal future, in each area of your life, that you can work toward every day.
To stay focused on your goals, write them down repeatedly and revisit them often.
Imagine you have a favorite restaurant. There’s nowhere else in the world you'd rather eat, but here, you have to pay the bill before you enjoy the meal. That’s pretty much the way it works with success. Before you can enjoy the experience of happiness, health, prosperity, and freedom, you need to pay the price – you need to achieve your goals.
Humans are goal-oriented creatures. We are teleological, which means our brains have a built-in goal-seeking mechanism that directs us toward the image of an end state. In other words, once you’ve figured out exactly what you want, you’ll naturally figure out what it takes to get it.
Goal orientation is one of the most common characteristics across all high-achieving people. The trouble is that most people don’t take the time to sit down and figure out exactly what they want. Although many people have a vague idea of wanting health, happiness, and prosperity, these aren’t measurable goals. They’re ideals rather than tasks that can be accomplished.
In fact, fewer than 3 percent of people have their goals in writing, while fewer than 1 percent read and review their goals regularly. To set goals you can achieve, you need to start by writing them down in a notebook. For each end objective, whether it’s financial freedom or career satisfaction, draft a plan – this is a list of activities organized by time and priority, including deadlines.
Say your end objective is to double your income within three years. In your goal-setting notebook, break down how you plan to achieve that, starting with the first task through to the last. For example, one goal could be to find a job that pays a given salary by a given date, while another could be to set up your own e-commerce shop. Depending on your end objectives, some activities can be worked on simultaneously, while others have to be done in succession. Make a list of the obstacles you must overcome, the information you’ll require, and the people whose help you’ll need.
Finally, to imprint your goals on your subconscious mind, revisit your notebook every day. The more often you rewrite your goals, the more you’ll convince your subconscious that they’re attainable. When you nurture your goals in this deliberate way, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your desires materialize.
To achieve your goals faster, learn how to control your negative emotions.
Have you ever been driving along in traffic when, suddenly, you’re cut off by another driver? Most of us would react with anger. Even though you and the other driver have never seen each other before, you react as though that driver deliberately plotted to ambush you. But if you choose to stop telling yourself what a terrible driver he or she is, and just laugh it off, your anger quickly dissipates.
Refusing to respond to negative external emotional triggers is one of the most useful habits you can invite into your life. Not only do negative emotions upset your self-concept; they will also distract you from your goals. At the same time, a large part of your success in life is going to be determined by your social skills. Practicing restraint over your actions and emotions can help you neutralize your tendency to flare up when others do or say something that causes a negative reaction in you.
One way to get rid of the negative emotions that arise is to find a way to excuse whoever provokes you. After all, if you want to stay focused on your success, your priority should always be your own peace of mind. For instance, to control his emotions in situations where he feels provoked, the author avoids escalating conflict by telling himself, “God bless him; that person’s probably having a bad day.” This allows him to simply walk away from the situation.
But apart from avoiding unnecessary conflict, you also need to actively cooperate with others to be successful in life. In other words, you need to be likeable. This isn’t actually that difficult in practice – you just need to show that you’re someone who is genuinely interested in others. So ask questions and engage in active listening, which requires you to stay focused on the other person and subject matter without interrupting. Beyond improving your interactions with others, you can also brainstorm actual ways that you could help or support those around you.
Above all, the best way you can serve others is to get busy working on yourself and your own goals. The more you develop your unique talents and pursue what’s important to you, the more you’ll respect yourself. And the more you respect yourself, the more positive emotions you’ll have. Creating this positive attitude is the one responsibility you have toward both others and yourself.
To maintain success in the long term, you must accept full responsibility for your life.
When the author gives self-development seminars, he often asks if anyone in his audience is self-employed. Usually, fewer than 20 percent of people in the crowd raise their hands. Then he points out that it’s a trick question – the biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you work for anyone but yourself. If you want to ensure your own success, you need to take full self-responsibility.
According to the author, self-responsibility is the core quality of any fully self-actualizing individual; you are the manager of your own personal life – even if you’re employed. It’s been shown that the top 3 percent of people in any field operate as if they owned the company they work for. Look at it this way: If you managed two employees – one who treated the company as if it belonged to her, and another who treated it as just a source of income – which one would you be more inclined to promote?
Everyone can be located somewhere on the personal responsibility spectrum, from high acceptance all the way down to total disregard. And get this: there’s not only a positive correlation between the amount of responsibility you’re willing to accept, your income, and your status. Studies have also shown that the higher you are on the scale, the more enjoyable your experience of life is!
Highly responsible people tend to be self-reliant. This translates into positive emotions, such as self-confidence and self-satisfaction. On the lower end of the spectrum, people who feel that they’re not responsible for what happens to them feel they have little control – which causes them to feel trapped. This triggers negative emotions like unhappiness, anger, and frustration. But, as we’ve seen in these summary, accepting full responsibility for your life means giving up all of your self-limiting expectations and emotions.
In the end, the greatest responsibility you have is to create and maintain a positive mental attitude. After all, the process of self-development is effective, but it’s not always easy. In order to stay the course, you must truly believe that if you focus on your goals, you’ll eventually attract what – and who – you need to achieve them.
What I took from it.
Before you can set out to improve your outer performance, you need work on your inner self-concept. Build your self-esteem by accepting complete responsibility for your personal and professional life; this includes taking control of your habits and how you think about yourself. The more you clearly and repeatedly you visualize your goals, the closer you’ll get to achieving them.
Nurture your peace of mind. To nurture your peace of mind, take some time to reflect on your life. Grab a pen and paper, and describe one particular situation in which you experience anxiety. Below this description, write out a list of all the actions that you can take now to relieve this stressful situation. Go through more areas of your life and clear them up one by one – by the end, you’ll have a list of actionable goals toward achieving inner peace.