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

By John C. Maxwell

8,781 ratings - 3.98* vote

Gather successful people from all walks of life -- what would they have in common? The way they think! Now you can think as they do and revolutionize your work and life! A Wall Street Journal bestseller, How Successful People Think is the perfect, compact read for today's fast-paced world. America's leadership expert John C. Maxwell will teach you how to be more creative and when to question popular thinking. You'll learn how to capture the big picture while focusing your thinking. You'll find

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Book details

Hardcover, 127 pages
Published June 1st 2009 by Center Street

(first published January 1st 2003)

Original Title
How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life
1599951681 (ISBN13:9781599951683)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Maxwell is a very good motivator.
However, I am not sure if he has not written this book for people who want to think like Successful People or for MEN who want to think like Successful People.

ONE THING that has really, but really, really bugged me is when he talks about the fact that HE does not have time for the mundane ! Margaret, wonderful, Margaret (that's his wife) takes care of these meaningless things, because Mister's time is WAY too valuable for them !!!

Being a woman, I wonder if that makes me doomed for failure ???
Who will be my Margaret ?
I know no men who will agree to take this role. He may accept to be my equal but comes on writing the Xmas invitations and pulling together the Easter Menu for the 20 guests we are inviting ... I don't think so !

If by any chance, Mr. Maxwell's squirrels read this ... please let him know that there are now-a-day some successful women in the work force ... and as it has been said before ... Ginger Rogers was only Fred Astaire's partner, but remember that she danced the same dance as he did, only she did it in high heels and backward!

OK I said it!

Word Owl

There was nothing really new about this book. Maxwell tends to use flowery language in order to cover his redundancies. Truth is, the content of this book would be better suited to the length of a blog post rather than a book.


Chapter 1: Understanding the Value of Good thinking
Chapter 2: Realize the Impact of Changed Thinking
Chapter 3: Master the Process of Intentional Thinking
PART II – Eleven thinking skills every successful person needs
Skill 1 – Acquire the Wisdom of Big-Picture Thinking
Skill 2 – Unleash the Potential of Focused Thinking
Skill 3 – Discover the Joy of Creative Thinking
Skill 4 – Recognize the importance of realistic thinking
Skill 5 – Release the power of strategic thinking
Skill 6 – Feel the energy of possibility thinking
Skill 7 – Embrace the lessons of reflective thinking
Skill 8 – Question the acceptance of popular thinking
Skill 9 – Encourage the participation of shared thinking
Skill 10 – Experience the Satisfaction of Unselfish Thinking
Skill 11 – Enjoy the Return of Bottom Line Thinking

“A change of thinking can help you move from survival or maintenance to real progress. Ninety-five percent of achieving anything is knowing what you want and paying the price to get it.” (page 14)

“One person cannot change another person. For too many years as a motivational teacher, I tried to change people, and it didn’t work. I had good intentions, but I finally realized something: I was responsible to people but not for them. As a leader, I needed to teach the value of changed thinking and how to make those necessary changes; but the people themselves were responsible to make the changes.” (page 27)

“Before teaching any lesson, I ask myself three questions: “Do I believe it? Do I live it? Do I believe others should live it?” If I can’t answer yes to all three questions, then I haven’t landed it. (page 46)

Give your plans the right amount of thinking time, and you’ll will find that the implementation time decreases and the results get better (page 48).

“To start the thinking process, you cannot rely on your feelings. In Failing Forward, I wrote that you can act your way into feeling long before you can feel your way into action. If you wait until you feel like doing something, you will likely never accomplish it.” (page 51)

“When you meet with people, it’s good to have an agenda so that you can learn.” (page 64)

“French essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne wrote, “The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long yet live very little.” (page 65)

“Only by putting your daily activities in the context of the big picture will you be able to stay on target. As Alvin Toffler says, “You’ve got to think about ‘big things’ while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” (page 67)

“One of the most important skills you can develop in human relations is the ability to see things from the other person’s point of view.” (page 68)

“In preparation for the day, I focus on that main event and ask myself, In order to make the main event a good event, what must I know, what must I do, what must I see, and what must I eliminate? (page 69)

“Big-picture thinkers are comfortable with ambiguity.” (page 70)

“Management consultant Patrick M. Lencioni touched on this idea in The Five Temptations of a CEO. He warned that CEOs should not try to pursue harmony. Instead, they should embrace healthy, productive conflict. (page 70)

“Varied experiences-both positive and negative-help you see the big picture. The greater the variety of experienced and success, the more potential to learn you have. If you desire to be a big-picture thinker, then get out there and try a lot of things, take a lot of chances, and take time to learn after every victory or defeat.” (page 71)

“Talk to people who know and care about you, who know their field, and who bring experience deeper and broader than your own.” (page 72)

“There are many ways to determine priorities. If you know yourself well, begin by focusing ton your strength, the things that make best use of your skills and God-given talents. You might also focus on what brings the highest return and reward. Do what you enjoy most and do best. You could use the 80/20 rule. Give 80 percent of your effort to the top 20 percent (more important) activities. Another way is to focus on exceptional opportunities that promise a huge return. It comes down to this: give your attention to the areas that bear fruit.

“In an article called “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins remarked, “The real path to greatness, it turns out, requires simplicity and diligence. It requires clarity, not instant illumination. It demands each of us to focus on what is vital – and to eliminate all of the extraneous distractions.” (page 86)

“Don’t do easy things first or hard things first or urgent things first. Do first things first – the activities that give you the highest return. In that way, you keep the distractions to a minimum. (page 87)

“My advice to you is to place value on and give attention to both (think and being accessible to people). If you naturally withdraw, then make sure to get out among people more often. If you’re always on the go and rarely withdraw for thinking time, then remove yourself periodically so that you can unleash the potential of focused thinking. And wherever you are… be there!” (page 87)

“Switching form task to task (multitasking) can cost you up to 40 percent efficiency. According to researchers, “If you’re trying to accomplish many things at the same time, you’ll get more done by focusing on one task at a time, not by switching constantly from one task to another.” (page 87)

“Don’t allow yourself to look at e-mail until after 10 A.M. Instead, focus your energies on your number one priority. Put non-productive time wasters on hold so that you can create thinking time for yourself.” (page 88).

“First, I’ve chosen a strong inner circle of people… Second, I ask certain friends to catch me up on what’s happening in the lives of other friends.” (page 90)

“I’ve not read on novel since I graduated from college. Instead, I’ve chosen to dedicate my reading time no non-fiction because I believe those works spur the kind of growth I desire both personally and professionally.” (page 91)

“For example, every week I hand off projects that I think would be fun to do myself. I practice the 10-80-10 principle with the people to whom I’m delegating a task.” (page 91)

Vision, parameters, resources, encouragement – delegating (80 %) – Putting the cherry on the top. (10 %)

“Ninety-nine percent of everything in life I don’t need to know about.”

“Being willing to give up some of the things you love in order to focus on what has the greatest impact isn’t an easy lesson to learn.” (page 92)

If I don’t have the innate ability to come up with creative thought myself, I thought, then I’ll mine the creative thoughts of others. (page 98)

“Charles Frankel asserts that “anxiety is the essential condition of intellectual and artistic creation.” Creativity requires a willingness to look stupid. (page 105)

Creative thinking is hard work but creative thinking compounds given enough time and focus. (page 106).

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” (page 107)

Creativity is having options. (page 108, quote form Ernie Zelinski)

“Or as Edward De Bono observed in New Think, “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” Don’t just work harder at the same old thing. Make a change.” (page 111)

“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.” (Rita Mae Brown, page 113)

“The best way to make a living with your imagination is to develop innovative applications, not imagine completely new concepts.”(Sam Weston, 114)

Often I take an idea that someone else gives me and raise it to a higher level. (page 114)

Reality is the difference between what we wish and what is. (page 122)

“Your goal isn’t to be negative or expect the worst, just to be ready for it in case it happens. That way, you give yourself the best chance for a positive result – no matter what. (page 132)

“At the beginning of every month, I spend half a day working on my calendar for the next forty days.” (page 141)

The best way to create a road to the complex is to build on the fundamentals. (page 151)

“If you embrace possibility thinking, your dreams will go from molehill to mountain size, and because you believe in possibilities, you put yourself in position to achieve them.

If your thinking runs towards pessimism, let me ask you a question: how many highly successful people do you know who are continually negative? (page 164)

“One of the main differences between a good speech and a great one is customization.” (page 180)

Mark Twain said, “We should be careful to get out of an experience all the wisdom that is in it – not like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again – and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

Writing down the good thoughts that come out of your reflective thinking has value, but nothing helps you to grow like putting your thoughts into action. To do that, you must be intentional. (pages 186-187)

“The greatest enemy to tomorrow’s success is sometimes today’s success.” (page 201)

“Instead of trying to be great, be part of something greater than yourself." (page 230

Chad Warner

This was more motivational than actionable. It's full of good reminders, but I didn't create any to-dos (as I usually do for actionable non-fiction). By the end of the book, I was asking myself, "Am I living the life I've been called to?"

To be fair, I do a lot of reading and listening about mindset. In addition, I was in a community leadership development program last year, went through a "boot camp" for web agency owners earlier this year, and am currently in a mastermind for web agency owners. All of them discussed the importance of mindset.

This book shows how the right mindset is the key to success. It tells how by changing your thinking, you can change your life, and the lives of others. It ends with, "May thinking become your greatest tool for creating the world you desire."

Focused Thinking
Strike a balance between being accessible to those you lead, and withdrawing from them to think. "Walking slowly through the crowd allows me to connect with people and know their needs. Withdrawing from the crowd allows me to think of ways to add value to them."

Practice the 10-80-10 principle with people to whom you delegate. Help with the first 10% by casting vision, laying down parameters, providing resources, encouraging. Once they do the middle 80%, help them take it the rest of the way (last 10%).

Creative Thinking
"It's easy to connect the dots if you know where you're going. Likewise, it's easy to connect ideas when you have a plan."

Realistic Thinking
"Why not learn all that you can from good thinkers who have faced similar situations in the past? Some of my best thinking has been done by others!"

Possibility Thinking
Choose to think positively, especially when it doesn't come naturally. George Lucas said, "I'm very cynical, and as a result, I think the defense I have against it is to be optimistic."

If you don't want to get into positive thinking, just eliminate all the negative thoughts.

When you start telling yourself how something won't work, stop yourself and ask, "What's right about this?"

"Dream one size bigger": set goals at least a step beyond what makes you comfortable.

Question Popular Thinking
Challenge the process. "The greatest enemy of tomorrow's success is sometimes today's success."

Shared Thinking
"Two heads are better than one - when they are thinking in the same direction. It's like harnessing two horses to pull a wagon. … when they pull together, they can move more weight than the sum of what they can move individually."


I didn't love the book which I thought was really lacking in terms of my needs for a social justice framework and addressing systems of inequality...I also hated his idea that only unsuccessful people make decisions motivated by survival. Obviously a high-income straight white male would say that because he hasn't been forced to struggle in a system formed to oppress him... Obviously survival wouldn't occur to those this society deifies...

Kells Next Read

Even better the second time around. I always feel recharged and re-focused after listening to Mr Maxwell.


Short and easy to read exceptional and practical book about the importance of thinking! What a concept. well, for me. There is a chapter on each of various types of thinking: big-picture thinking, focused thinking, creative thinking, realistic thinking, strategic thinking, possibility thinking, reflective thinking, questioning popular thinking, benefiting from shared thinking, practicing unselfish thinking and relying on bottom-line thinking. My favorite quote from the book is "the truth will set you free, but at first it will make you mad". Reminds me of a scripture in the Book of Mormon. It reminds me that whenever someone tells me something I don't want to hear I should listen for and accept the truth in it (and discard what isn't helpful), instead of becoming immediately defensive. The other nugget of wisdom I got was about the importance of planning. That successful people map out or plan their days, and even more successful people plan their weeks, months and years. Of course we've all heard this before, but this was a great reminder to me and I've noticed that putting structure and planning in my days has been extremely helpful!


I think by the time one is 25 or so this book had better not have anything to teach or you r doin' it rwong. I'm 40. So.

However, this might be a good discussion guide for teaching an advanced high school student or someone in their first job.

Rachel Edney

The first book in my quest of wading through an annoying genre for some good ideas


In How Successful People Think, Maxwell talks about the different types of thinking successful people apply to their everyday lives. The book provides steps on how to change your thinking to elevate your life, and put yourself on the path to whatever you're trying to achieve or succeed in. Success is objective; it will be different for everyone, but in this sense, it's about helping you see the bigger picture for your life.

He defines 11 keys to successful thinking:
1. Seeing the wisdom of big-picture thinking
2. Unleashing the potential of focused thinking
3. Discovering the joy of creative thinking
4. Recognizing the importance of realistic thinking
5. Releasing the power of strategic thinking
6. Feel the energy of possibility thinking
7. Embracing lessons of reflective thinking
8. Questioning the acceptance of popular thinking
9. Encouraging the participation of shared thinking
10. Experiencing the satisfaction of unselfish thinking
11. Enjoying the returns of bottom-line thinking

Unselfish thinking stood out to me. I feel a lot of people don't apply this type of thinking, or they do until a certain point or only when it benefits them. So, is it really unselfish thinking? It's so important to give and not be selfish when in a relationship or at a job.

Good quotes to take note of on unselfish thinking:
"Unselfish thinking can often deliver a return greater than any other kind of thinking. Take a look at some of its benefits: 1. Unselfish thinking brings Personal Fulfillment Few things in life bring greater personal rewards than helping others. Getters generally don't get happiness; givers get it. Helping people brings great satisfaction."

"As you go into any relationship, think about how you can invest in the other person so that it becomes a win-win situation. The best relationships are win-win. Why don't more people go into relationships with that attitude? I'll tell you why. Most people want to make sure that they win first. Unselfish thinkers, on the other hand, go into a relationship and make sure that the other person wins first, and that makes all the difference."