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Living the Dream?

In 1908, a young newspaper reporter, Napoleon Hill, went to interview one of America’s richest and most influential businessmen of the time – the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie took to the personable young reporter so much he gave him a challenge. Would Hill be willing to spend the next twenty years interviewing the wealthiest men in the country to discover the secret of their success – without payment? If he accepted the challenge, Carnegie promised to write letters of introduction to some of these entrepreneurs to get the ball rolling. Hill agreed. The result of this endeavour was Think and Grow Rich, a book that has inspired countless thousands of ordinary men and women to change their thinking and, consequently, their lives.

Fast forward to 2006 and the birth of a new phenomenon – Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. The book (and later the film) announced the discovery of an ancient text, supposedly hidden for centuries, that gave the key to untold riches. The central theme is almost childishly simple. To attain something you desire, all you have to do is think about it often enough and it will somehow materialise. This dubious philosophy went on to become a huge phenomenon around the world, with various celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, giving it their endorsement. Scientists and quantum physicists featured in the film, later withdrew their support, claiming their views had been misrepresented. The Secret, the cynics declared, had no scientific basis whatsoever and ought not be considered as a serious documentary.

But do the views expressed in The Secret have any validity at all? Can a mere change in thinking produce life-changing results?  Top motivational speakers such as Brian Tracy and the late Jim Rohn, endorse a similar message: Fix a goal in your mind and work tirelessly in that direction until you’ve achieved it. Nothing new here, of course. If you studied the most successful people in business – as Napoleon Hill did in the early 1900s – you would undoubtedly find that, almost without exception, they had all followed the same formula.


One of the things Hill makes perfectly clear in Think and Grow Rich, is you cannot have something for nothing. Dream jobs and financial rewards don’t just materialise out of thin air, however much you might wish for them. You have to put the groundwork in first. And this is where the makers of The Secret made one glaring oversight. Instead of stressing the hard work component fundamental to any achievement, they painted a more fanciful and, frankly, misleading picture. Why? Well, quite simply, no-one became a brain surgeon by merely sitting in an armchair thinking about it.

This concept of profound inner change has been at the forefront of human achievement since the dawn of time. But what does it mean to someone stuck in a soulless grind, in a job they can’t stand, a relationship going nowhere? Basically, the lesson is the same. Change your thinking and you can achieve great things. The only obstacle that stands in the way is you and the way you view the world around you. Look at where you are right now. What’s stopping you from doing something you really want to do? Something that would fill your life with passion and motivation. The answer, most often, is your thinking.

Most people don’t even set goals, never mind achieve them. Instead, they come up with all manner of excuses as to why they didn’t bother in the first place. Lack of education, a poor upbringing, health problems, the list is endless. But at the back of this – fundamental to all excuses for failure and inability to act – is self-doubt. This one area of human weakness is responsible for more misery, frustration and despair than most others put together. Take a look at your own life. How many times have you wished for a change in circumstances and done nothing about it?

If you stopped a hundred people in the street and asked them to name their dream job, most would come up with an answer fairly quickly. Ask them what’s stopping them doing that job and they’d be able to present you with a whole catalogue of reasons why. Most of those reasons would fall under that same category – self-doubt.

So, clearly, we have a lot of work to do in becoming more confident and setting goals we can achieve. One of the first things we can do is access the extraordinary power of the mind. Will power and determination are attributes we all possess in varying degrees. Positive thinking is one aspect, but on its own is not enough. In order to make the transition, there is one component which is indispensable, without which no real change takes place. That component is Action.

Daydream by all means. But take practical, measurable steps towards your dreams and they will happen.

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