This book offers a mental journey with the energy, pace, and impact of a Cirque du Soleil performance.
As I sometimes do, I read this book in combination with another, published in 1959: David J. Schwartz’s The Magic of Thinking Big: Set Your Goals High…and Then Exceed Them. There are differences between them, of course. (How could there not be?) However, both stress the great importance of personal accountability, of taking ownership of the consequences of one’s decision. I agree that we cannot control everything that happens to us but we can control how we respond to whatever happens to us. Also, both David Schwartz and Newton are convinced — as am I — that most human limits are self-imposed. This is what Henry Ford had in mind many years ago when observing, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”
1. Swim Don’t Float [or Sink]: Keep moving (especially in rough water) and in the right direction. Not all change is progress but no change, no movement, is stagnation. Newton also warns against being carried along by what others think and do.
2. Clear Some (Head) Space: Mental clutter accumulates fast and obstructs and/or distracts focused thinking. F. Scott Fitzgerald once suggested that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” That’s two ideas, not several dozen. Whenever I need to clear my mind, I take a brisk walk or listen to Glenn Gould’s performance Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
3. Feed Your Mind: The human mind really does have a sponge-like capacity that can be increased substantially. I “feed” mine with what I learn from others’ minds but, daily, I also concentrate on strengthening certain cognitive skills. Each human life is a work-in-progress, with attitudes and behavior guided by habits. Many people are mentally and/or spiritually anorexic.
4. Notice Things: We tend to see so much but notice so much less. Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
5. Change Reality (…Don’t Deny It): In other words, replace an unacceptable reality with one that is worthy of what you value, perhaps even cherish. Or as the great old hymn suggests “Brighten the corner where you are.”
6. Have a Big Ego and a Small Ego: This is a paradox. Newton’s comments remind me of Socrates’ response when told that he was the wisest man in the world. “If so, it is because all I know is that I know nothing.” Only someone with both a big ego and small ego could say that.
7. Know Your Weapon: The term “weapon” has several meanings. Newton’s point is that we need to be able to attack but also to defend. Perhaps it is having highly developed inductive and deductive skills or it could be a refusal to remain silent during a moral crisis. Character always trumps charisma.
8. Travel Light: No excess mental “baggage.” There is much to be said for following lean thinking principles that include constant pruning. What Ernest Hemingway once characterized as “a built-in, shock-proof crap detector” will also come in handy. You get the idea.
9. Twang: Somewhat similar to a “Eureka!” moment. Newton characterizes it as a “click.” During more than 20 years of classroom teaching, I could see it in the eyes of certain students: they “got it” when others didn’t.
Richard Newton provides in this “little book” an abundance of invaluable information, insights, and counsel (his and others’) that can help many of those who read the book to “aim higher and go further than [they] ever thought possible.” Yes, the material is remarkably informative but also very entertaining. I read it and then re-read it twice before embarking on the composition of this brief commentary. Each time I either learned something new or understood something better. Bravo!