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Top 3 Books To Set You Up For Success

No Matter How Hard Life Gets

At any given moment in time, life can suck. We all have bad spells. For some of us, it’s a bad day, for others it’s several years.  

I can tell you that for the past two years, my own life has been particularly challenging. Perhaps the toughest two years of my life. Health issues, an extraordinary professional challenge, a new job, the selling and buying of houses, and the moving of a family across the province. It was stress layered with more stress and then compounded by more stress.  

Despite this, I have persevered and I have remained in my saddle. And in truth, I am beyond grateful for where I now stand and for the path that lays before me.

In the genre I write in – the military/espionage thriller, you all too often find main protagonists who are incredible in almost every way. Think James Bond or Jason Bourne.

Not a Secret Agent or Special Forces Guy? Then Read On…

Special Forces dudes are tres cool to read about, but is their path to success your path?

But when we’re not extraordinary, what are the remedies, tactics, or activities that we use to get us through a difficult time?

If you’re reading this, chances are that like me you’re an average guy or gal. But in being average, we still have to persevere. Despite our ordinariness, we still have to get up every morning and fulfill our commitments to our family, our careers, our communities, and perhaps most importantly to ourselves. And in doing these things, hopefully we can generate a modicum of success, whether its financial, personal, or spiritual. Perhaps all three.

There are tried and true methods of being successful in life. So tried and true in fact that there’s a whole personal development industry out there that’s worth hundreds if not billions of dollars.

If you are a young-ish person (let’s say under 35), it is my strongest recommendation to use these resources to help you shape your life’s path and to develop the skills, knowledge and personal traits that will enable you endure the regular gales that blow into your life.

For as little as $.99 (or for free via your local library) you you can pick up an e-book or audiobook that will connect with a highly successful personal development person who makes a living (at least partially) by sharing their thoughts and practices on what it takes to achieve the things you want in life.  

Personal Development Literature What’s the Right Book for Me?

There are so many life coaches/personal development authors out there. How the heck do you know which one to read/listen to?

Indeed, there are hundreds if not thousands of authors you can choose from and every person is unique and is going resonate differently. Messages and strategies that work for one person will be seen as flakey by the next. Personal development is very… well, it’s very personal.

The key is to be willing to try several different authors and/or find someone who you trust or who you think is doing a good job with their own life and find out what they’re reading. It will be a bit of an investment of your time, but for the vast majority of folks who undertake this self-learning journey, I can guarantee that this investment will be worth your time.

My Top Three Personal Development Book Recommendations

Recommendation No. 1: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, by Scott Adams

Adams is “famous” because of his Dlibert cartoon. And while his experience with his wildly successful cartoon informs some of this book, this particular part of his life is not the dominant feature. Instead, Mr. Adams provides a range of practical life hacks and personal philosophies I think every adult should be aware of.

The two I found most helpful were his take on failure(s) and his take on goals vs systems.

Regarding failures, as you’ll note from the title of the book, it is key take away. For me, it was a huge mindset shift when Adams helped me realize that even when you’re not successful at something, in doing that thing, you earn skills and experiences that provide you with resources (skills, experience, knowledge) that help you win at your next project. According to Adams, failure is not something to be afraid of. Rather, if looked at with the right lens, failure is almost always a positive outcome that helps to inform our next move and in doing so, contributes to our success.

In practical terms, Adams outlines how several personal failures early in his professional life gave him the skills and know-how to make his cartoon career happen. He’s crystal clear in his belief that he would not have made it as a world-famous cartoonist had he not failed in several other ventures.

This philosophy/take on life has been powerful for me and it is one of the things that has pushed me into writing. Up until this point in my life, I’ve had a number of careers that honed my skills in several areas and I am leveraging these skills in this new writing side-hustle. And if my writing career isn’t a success? Well that’s okay, because I will take the new skills I have developed and I’ll parlay them into another opportunity.

The other big takeaway from Adams’ How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is his take on goals vs systems. Adams’ dismisses goals. His view is that goals – achieved or not – result in a letdown, while a system is something you can implement daily without emotional baggage.

Weight loss is perhaps the easiest way to describe this principle. How many people start off a diet by saying they’re going to lose so many pounds? You implement your diet and in six weeks you achieve your goal or you don’t. Either result is difficult to manage or maintain.

Developing and working a system is a far superior approach to life. Still with our diet example, a system might be something link: I’m going to work out four times a week and for five days of the week and I’m not going to consume more than 2,000 calories. You do these things in systematic/regimented way and in time you see success.  

Now to be very clear – I still have goals. I know exactly where I want to be when I’m 57 years of age. But unlike what some gurus advise you to do, I don’t have daily, weekly, monthly goals that I write down. I’ve done this and I’ve found it impractical and unsatisfying (just as Adams’ suggests). Instead, I have a vision for where I want to be when I’m in my late fifties and I have a system of activities that I undertake daily to make sure I’m moving toward this vision. What is more important is the system – the daily and weekly regime that I implement without fail. If I implement my system, I will achieve the results I’m striving for over time.   

Scott Adams’ and his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big has helped me tremendously over the past seven years or so and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in becoming a more successful person.

For an excellent overview of all of the key points outlined in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, check out this blog.

Recommendation No. 2: The Compound Effect, by Darren Hardy

So the first big difference between the first book I recommend and this one is that Mr. Hardy sells himself first and foremost as a professional personal success guru. He’s in the mold of Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Hardy’s own mentor, Jim Rohn. So in that respect, much of what can be found in the Compound Effect can be found in the extensive teachings of these other seasoned personal development icons.   

However, in having listened to many of these motivational authors, I can say without reservation that Hardy’s Compound Effect is one of the most practical, insightful, simple and quickest reads or listens you can dedicate yourself to. It delivers a big punch in a small package.

The first and most powerful output of Hardy’s book is his description of the compound effect. Hardy practically describes and then hammers home this simple but powerful principle. Most people know about compounding interest and how it works. Hardy takes this concept and applies it to our lives and in the process offers one of the most compelling concepts you will find in any personal development book.

For some, the concept will be obvious, but for me, it was as though I had been struck by lightning. It was simple and brilliant and I was like, “that makes so much f-ing sense.” In hindsight however, when you look around you and you see the directionless lives that so many people live, it’s clear that the compound effect is not obvious or easy as we might think it is. Just like Scott Adams’ systems approach, implementing a life that compounds small success upon small success requires discipline and perseverance.

The book goes on to cover several other well-trod personal development hacks that you can find in many other first-rate self-help books. It is these ideas and concepts, in addition to the compound effect principle, that make this book an all-around helpful read or listen.

The book is also quite short. Page for page, this is one of the best personal development books out there. As was the case with the previous title, anyone can read and get benefit from the Darren Hardy’s Compound Effect, but if you’re under 30, I doubly recommend this book to you because just like investing, the earlier you start to apply the central concept of this book, the better off you’re going to be. And not by a little bit – the differences could be gigantic.

Recommendation No. 3: The Power of I Am by Joel Osteen

Now, before I get into the details of this book, I need to offer one major precursor. As a pastor, Mr. Osteen is first and foremost into Christianity and God. I myself would consider myself agnostic. I believe there is something interesting going on in an ether be it the Matrix, the Force or whatever karmic milieu floats your boat, but I don’t think there’s some almighty God who sits in a factory in the sky churning out and judging souls. That is taking things just a bit too far for me. If that’s your jam, I honour and respect that.  

So, if you are not into Jesus and the Gospel, you need to prepare yourself to do the following when you read or listen to Osteen’s the Power of I Am. Either ignore Osteen when he quotes scripture and invokes God, or tell yourself that when Osteen does lean into the Almighty, it is his way of trying to make sense of the energy that surrounds us and interacts with us. Again, call it whatever you like, but in my own personal view there is something that binds us all together (yes, I’m a huge Star Wars fan). Understanding this, this book does one hell of a job of telling you how to connect and make use of this energy.

What Osteen and this book do as well as anyone (and there are many other authors that have tilled this soil) is to teach and apply an individual regime of positive personal self-talk.

The concept is simple, what you put into words becomes action. If you’re constantly telling yourself you’ll never find the right person, or that you’re life sucks, or that you’re never going to be healthy, that’s what life is going to give you. And in spades.

Chapter by chapter, Osteen provides examples of situations where positive self-talk has made a difference in the lives of different people. And as you would expect, for most of these examples, Osteen interweaves some psalm or bible story to underpin the self-talk that he’s touching upon. The guy is a pastor after all, so you it’s hard to hold this against him.

Ignoring the religiosity, I focus on the practical self-talk action that is described in each chapter. Osteen is masterful. He is charming, his voice is soothing, and his insights and stories are just positive and powerful. After listening to him, you can’t help but feel like you’re going to succeed. Woo-woo aside, I strongly recommend this book to anyone at any age. In my humble opinion positive self-talk works. Full stop.

Honorable Mentions

As I mentioned, I’ve listened to nearly one hundred different personal development books and for me, many were just okay. Some were awful. In addition to the three gems mentioned above, I’m prepared to recommend several other personal development books as being worth your time:

What are your own personal development hacks and what if any books have you read/listened to that you have actively worked into your own life?

The R.A. Flannagan Writing blog is written by Ryan Flannagan, the author of Take Whiteman: A CANZUCK at War Novel, Book 1.

Ryan’s blog is a grab bag but tends to focus on defence-related topics, topical items that set off the curmudgeon in Ryan, and the occasional update on his writing projects. An editorial note: Ryan reserves the right to blog on any issue that pleases him. If you’re interested in getting regular updates from R.A. Flannagan Writing, whether for Ryan’s writing or blog posts, please sign up here:   

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