How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

by John C. Maxwell

How Successful People Think is a guide to altering one's entire way of thinking to help one thrive in today’s world. You will learn how to think big and be creative, realistic, reflective, and strategic. You’ll also learn how to think in terms of possibilities and challenge the validity of popular thinking. By learning how successful people act and think, you’re setting yourself up for success, too!

Summary Notes

Big-Picture Thinking

“Big-picture thinking can benefit any person in any profession.”

Big-picture thinkers thrive on uncertainty. They don't waste time trying to fit every piece of information into a rigid conceptual framework. They have a wide range of ideas and are confident in dealing with complex problems.

People who can see the big picture always search for lessons in every experience. They grow and learn from their mistakes and successes. Different experiences, both good and bad, help you understand the big picture. The more success and experience you have, the more learning opportunities you’ll encounter.

To be a big-picture thinker, you must get out of your comfort zone, try many different things, take many risks, and learn from your success and failure. You should also absorb knowledge from the experiences of others. Big-picture thinkers are not afraid of seeking guidance from others with more knowledge and experience.

Most people are psychologically wedded to the status quo - they prefer the security and uncomplicated solutions. Big-picture thinkers, on the other hand, are different because they think big and out of the box—they think deeper and wider in all directions, look at the problem from every available viewpoint, and come up with various alternative solutions, making success possible to them.

Actions to take

Focused Thinking

“To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.”

Thinking with focus helps you clear your mind of mental clutter and distractions, allowing you to concentrate on the task at hand with clarity.

Some advantages of focused thinking are:

  • It directs your energy toward your goal.
  • It nurtures your ideas over time. Having many good ideas frequently leads to the emergence of a possible breakthrough. However, to advance your ideas, you must go from wide to selective thinking. This means focusing only on the most valuable and important ones.
  • You understand your goal better when you’re focused - meaning you know what exactly you need to do to accomplish it.
  • Focusing more of your attention on a few specific skills allows you to reach new levels. Trying to be good at everything means you let go of being great at something.

So, where do we direct our thoughts? We should strive to focus on our priorities - on things that really matter to us, our talents and dreams. We should pay attention to what gives us the best return and reward and do what we like and are good at.

Since focused thinking provides many benefits, you should devote yourself to it by setting a time and place for it—for example, every morning before work.

Actions to take

Creative Thinking

“Creativity is pure gold, no matter what you do for a living.”

Successful people use their creativity to thrive. This creativity usually stems from the combination of other ideas we see. Even the most significant artists studied their masters and copied from other people's works.

We can spark creativity by changing our perspective. We need to remove thoughts and beliefs that distance us from creativity, such as “I’m not a creative person,” “I don’t need to ask questions,” “I shouldn’t be different,” etc. Instead, start asking the right questions that will help you boost your creativity, such as:

  • Why must it be done this way?
  • What is the root problem?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who has a different perspective on this?
  • What happens if we don’t do it at all?

Creativity is contagious, and spending time with creative people inspires, motivates, and stimulates your creativity. When you spend a lot of time with them, you’ll start to think creatively, do creative things and become the kind of creator you want to be.

If you can’t find a creative person around you, let yourself explore the world by leaving your comfort zone. Travel to different places, and learn about different cultures and ways of thinking. You should read a lot of books too—-the lessons you’ll gain from them can also bring you to different places.

Actions to take

Realistic Thinking

“Reality is the difference between what we wish for and what is.”

Realistic thinking demands you to face reality, which is essential to being a successful leader or manager. Since every action has its own consequences, it’s important to use reasonable assumptions to anticipate them.

When preparing for something that could happen in the future, it’s important to consider the worst and be prepared for it. This will lessen the harm that you may experience. When you've thought about the worst things that could happen and made plans to deal with them, you feel more confident and safe. It's nice to know that you won't be surprised very often.

Your aim should be to be prepared if ever it occurs, not to be pessimistic or anticipate the worst. By doing this, you guarantee yourself the greatest possibility of success under any circumstances. If you think about the worst thing that could happen and look at it honestly, you can handle anything.

When making reasonable assumptions, make sure to focus on the facts. No matter how strong your reasoning is, it won't matter if it is founded on false information or presumptions. With a lack of facts or when presented with inaccurate information, it is impossible to think clearly.

Aligning your resources with your goals is one of the secrets to optimizing realistic thinking. By weighing the benefits and drawbacks and considering the worst-case situations, you will become aware of the differences between what you want and what really is.

Actions to take

Strategic Thinking

“Strategic thinking helps me to plan, to become more efficient, to maximize my strengths, and to find the most direct path toward achieving any objective.”

Strategic thinking involves detailed planning of actions in advance, thinking about reasons behind issues, grading down the issues into smaller chunks, finding our resources, and then making a detailed working plan.

To become a better strategic thinker capable of developing and implementing strategies to accomplish the desired result, you should first break down an issue into smaller, more manageable parts, so you can focus on them more effectively.

Most people attempt to find the solution to a problem too soon when they first start employing strategic thinking, making them miss the implications of their options. The better approach is to determine the “why” behind your choices first before identifying the “how.” Big chances let you make big choices, and if you move too quickly to "how," you might miss it.

Strategic thinkers pay attention to real problems and use their resources to make a plan and put the right people in the right places. Putting the right people in the right position is essential for success. If you put a person in the wrong place, you may be more prone to problems and are likely to be frustrated instead of feeling fulfilled. Similarly, you will get grief instead of growth if you have a wrong plan. Strategic thinkers place the right person in the right position and develop the right plan.

Actions to take

Possibility Thinking

“People who embrace possibility thinking are capable of accomplishing tasks that seem impossible because they believe in solutions.”

When you convince yourself that you can do a challenging task, new opportunities will open up. Becoming a person who thinks in terms of possibilities is crucial if you want to do great things.

People who think on a grand scale are experts at painting hopeful mental pictures for themselves and others. If you open yourself up to the idea of possibilities, your imagination and dreams will grow. People who are "possibility thinkers" reject pessimism in favor of a more optimistic perspective.

For some, pessimism and negativity come more easily than optimism. They feel that possibility thinkers are naïve or foolish. In reality, however, this thinking, combined with persistence, a positive mindset, aptitude, and knowledge about your field, is the key to success.

Most people want their lives to improve while still prioritizing peace and stability. But we can't maintain the status quo and expect better results. If you desire more options, you can't be satisfied with what you have today. When you become a possibility thinker, you will encounter many people who will encourage you to stop pursuing your ambitions and accept the current quo. But possibility thinkers and achievers never accept the status quo.

Actions to take

Reflective Thinking

“Reflective thinking is like the Crock-Pot of the mind. It encourages your thoughts to simmer until they’re done.”

Reflecting is important as it will help you learn from your successes and failures, identify what you should strive to repeat, and decide what to change. You can think more clearly if you go back mentally to earlier events. Reflection puts an experience in context, allowing you also to appreciate things you may have previously overlooked.

Reflective thinking allows you to perceive positive and negative events with new perspectives. You may see previous delights with emotional maturity and tragedies with honesty and reasoning. This may help someone quit carrying bad emotional baggage.

It boosts your decision-making confidence too! This is because when you've pondered on a problem, you don't have to repeat every step again. Reflective thinking also helps us see the big picture and realize what we did, experienced, and what we could have done better.

For example, when someone loses their job, they may look back and see a pattern of events that contributed to it. They will have a greater understanding of what occurred, why it occurred, and what was their fault, making them accept the situation and improve it the next time they encounter it.

To become a reflective thinker, you must find time and space for reflection, express your thoughts in a journal, and pay attention to your values, experiences, and connections.

Actions to take

Popular Thinking

“If you value popularity over good thinking, then you will severely limit your potential to learn the types of thinking encouraged by this book.”

You can't think like successful people until you challenge conventional thinking and replace it with a more practical one. People often agree with the popular, standard, and established way of thinking and naturally conform to the norms because they want an easy way out or worry about being unaccepted, which is normal. However, adapting this kind of thinking may bring several disadvantages that may prevent you from achieving success.

Popular thinking is too rigid to see the effects of new ways of thinking, too lazy to learn how to think with purpose, and too small to see the value of thinking about the big picture. It’s also too traditional to discover the joy of creative thinking, too naive to realize the value of realistic thinking, too undisciplined to reveal the power of strategic thinking, and too limited to feel the power of possibility thinking.

So, if you don’t know how to challenge popular thinking, you won't be able to develop any other form of thinking that successful people use. The good news is that there are ways to develop that skill: thinking before following common thinking, spending time with people who think out of the box, and trying new, unusual ways of thinking.

Actions to take

Bottom-line Thinking

“Think of the bottom line as the end, the takeaway, the desired result.”

Bottom-line thinking makes measuring results and making decisions easier. It provides a standard for measuring activity. It may be used to ensure that all your little acts are meaningful and align with a greater objective.

The first step in bottom-line thinking is figuring out what you really want. It can be as big as an organization's vision, mission, or purpose. It can also be as specific as what you want to do with a certain project. Whatever it is, make sure to give as much detail as you can.

After figuring out the bottom line, you must develop a plan to get there. For organizations, this usually means figuring out the most important parts or functions that need to work well to get to the bottom line. All team members should know the objective and their role in attaining it. They must realize how their bottom line affects the company.

When working with teams, it’s important to stick to only one system. Mixing or switching from one system to another often leads to failure, as proven by some businesses who tried it. Bottom-line thinking is a continuous process. It must be included in the framework for producing results, interacting, and functioning well.

Actions to take

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