If you have an enterprising idea and want it to succeed, don't read self-help books by people whose biggest claim to fame is selling self-help books. Read biographies of self-made men and women. There you'll find the real secrets that lead to business success. For example, Andrew Carnegie taught me how to control my thoughts. From Henry Ford, I learned how to generate moments of insight. And J. Paul Getty helped me understand how to turn imagination into a concrete achievement.
I am a self-made man too. I started my first company with a few thousand dollars and later sold it for more than $100 million -- then I did it again with a new startup in a different field. After my second company sold, I decided at the age of 50 to write a book about the three simple steps that helped me succeed. These three steps are based on the lessons I learned from self-made men and women, bolstered by the latest findings in neuroscience.
Here's a short summary of my three simple steps.
Step 1: Take control of your mentality.
We've long known that other people's mentalities could be controlled, but we rarely think of controlling our own. Neuroscience tells us that the thoughts we have influence our behaviour. For example, when we're worried and upset, we don't perform at our best. Yet we can learn to control our thoughts by becoming self-aware and making a few small behavioural changes.
For starters, stop listening to naysayers, such as people who tell you not to start a company in a weak economy. There's no wrong time to start a business -- I launched both of my startups in economic downturns. Learn to ignore internal chatter that's discouraging and replace it with positive statements. Cheer yourself up constantly with words of encouragement that you say aloud, and intentionally smile when your inclination is to cringe, frown, or sigh. Eliminate destructive words like hate from your vocabulary. Make a conscious decision to tune out complainers, as well as media that stresses you out rather than enriches your mind.
Step 2: Learn to generate winning ideas.
A study from the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University found that when people take the time to quiet down the left brain -- the part of our brain that's organized and linear -- solutions often percolate up from the subconscious. After a period of not thinking about the problem, the answer simply appears.
You can train your brain to create moments of insight and brilliance by setting aside just 20 minutes every day, first thing in the morning, to breathe, relax, and empty your mind. You don't have to be a master at meditation to do this. Emerson used to get inspiration from walking in the woods, and Ford did it in his rocking chair. You will be surprised and delighted at your own brilliance once you make a daily habit of opening up your mind to all the ideas that rarely get a chance to come to consciousness -- thoughts that normally have to compete with internal noise, to-do lists, and external stimuli.
Step 3: Turn ideas into real achievements.
Step 3 comprises techniques and lessons that work with the laws of physics and nature. Einstein said that energy and matter are equivalents and interchangeable. In other words, our thoughts (energy) become our actions (matter). In nature, a seed doesn't need to analyze and understand how it's going to get sufficient nutrients to be converted into tree. It simply surrenders to the forces of nature that allow it to grow, strengthen, and eventually become a tree.
As an entrepreneur, you have the same ability to create something from nothing. Instead of setting a goal, which is something we do not have that we aim to get, set an intention. An intention is a goal but with all the doubt about its attainment removed. An intention is also past tense, positive, and personal. Imagine what you want. Then think about what your life was like after you achieved it. Now write that down quickly, before present-day thoughts censor you or dampen your enthusiasm. Keep your intention private, and read it every day. Like a seed, you now already possess everything you need to succeed. Don't worry about the outcome, but stay self-interested, by putting your priorities first; unflappable in the face of setbacks; free of self-judgment; and disciplined.
That's it in a nutshell. You can do anything you set your mind to if you following these three simple steps.
This process is best undertaken early, after waking. That's because our days are filled with sensory input right up until we fall asleep at night. Unless you're a meditation master, a still mind is much easier to achieve while you're not fully awake.
This is a technique you must practice alone. Inviting moments of inspiration requires that you separate from the disruptive energy and influence of other people's thoughts and intentions. Choose a calm place away from as many interrupting sounds as possible. A favourite chair, in a quiet corner, with a blanket to keep you warm works well.
Rub your hands together vigorously until you feel the heat, then place them on your temples and drag your palms down your cheeks. Shake your hands as if air-drying them, and repeat this two more times. Do the same for your forehead three times, and then cross your arms and brush your hands over the opposite shoulders and upper arms three times.
Always sit to prevent falling back asleep. Get relaxed, but with your feet on the floor. With your eyes closed, if helpful, take deep breaths in and exhale with an audible sigh. Repeat this until you feel deeply relaxed, and concentrate on relaxing every part of your body, starting at the top of your head and moving down to your toes. Feel your connection to the earth through the soles of your feet.
Focus on your normal breathing -- in and out. Try to follow it through the nose, curling into the lungs, and back out. Do this for 10-20 minutes. If extraneous thoughts pop into your head, let them float away. Follow only your breath, not your thoughts. This exercise takes practice, but it should not be difficult to learn. What you're doing is stilling the part of the brain that inhibits creativity and spontaneity.
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