by Ed Maguire
How do you become smarter, healthier, happier, more successful, wealthier, more fulfilled? What tools, systems, insights or advice are most useful?
The category of self-help and personal improvement books and videos available numbers in the hundreds of thousands – a quick search of Amazon’s self-help category reveals over 546,000 books that fall under the self-help category. There are many resources to help people deal with illnesses, tragedies, additions, stresses, difficult life circumstances. These are typically focused on solving specific challenges (often enhancing or substituting for therapy, counseling or support, not groups.) That's what I am referring to here.
Self-improvement literature has been a personal interest of mine for quite a while. This is a particularly American genre, with origins that extend back to Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists in the mid-19th century. Tony Robbins is perhaps the most successful and best known American self-help guru, but there are loads of others that specialize in helping improve mind, body, being more successful at work, being happier…There’s an element of frontier spirit in the idea that anyone can improve themselves, or start afresh through self-empowerment.
One of the first books of this genre I read was Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” which I first read as a teenager. In this book written in 1936, Dale Carnegie illustrates his lessons by telling his own stories. The crux of the book is that being interested in others, and getting them to reveal their passions and interests is the quickest way to find common growth with people, the first step toward building relationships and trust. This is a book that in my view should be required reading for anyone making their way into the world. It’s a fundamentally optimistic book, a quick read, with immediately practical tips that are relevant for a lifetime. Another one of his books is How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. This is a book that I’ve found useful to return to from time to time when I need a mental boost or find myself feeling stressed.
I started digging deeper into the genre in 2007-2008 as I was listening to some Tony Robbins recordings he made reference to a number of his own sources that had helped him develop his own philosophy of self-empowerment. The granddaddy of them all is Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” which was written in 1925 and has remained an essential classic to this day. Napoleon Hill was a fledgling reporter who got the chance to interview the legendary industrial baron Andrew Carnegie, who made him an offer to follow him around for a year, with no pay or guarantee of any remuneration, in order to learn the lessons of success from him – and over 500 others that he interviewed. Hill’s wisdom has proven powerful and enduring. Using a folksy, homespun style, Hill laid out methods and processes to help people become successful. You can see him in this 1954 video here.
In my experience, there’s a common thread that emerges from a lot of self-help literature: “what you think becomes real”. It’s a simple concept, explored in literature, religion and spirituality and increasingly in hard science. A recent popular example is Rhonda Byrnes’ “The Secret”. It’s what you think about, and where you focus that manifests in other parts of your life. Thinking about the right things, in the right way, is the “hack” to improve your life.
So my two recommendations for anyone starting down the path of self-improvement would be (if you haven’t already) to read “Think and Grow Rich” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. These are time-tested, clearly written and inspirational. You’ll be better for it.
Ed Maguire has worked as an equity analyst covering the technology sector since 1999 for a variety of firms including CLSA Americas, Merrill Lynch and CIBC. Previously he led sales for independent music distributor Twinbrook Music while working as professional musician performing on bass, violin and keyboards, composing, arranging and producing a variety of styles of music. Ed holds a B.A. in Music from Columbia and an M.B.A. from Rutgers in Finance and Management Information Systems. He lives in Millburn, NJ with his wife Lily, their two kids and the dog Spock.