When I say Think and Grow Rich, what comes to your mind?

Almost everyone in sales and those interested in personal development have read this classic by Napoleon Hill at least once. And almost everyone who’s read it has a positive comment. Many (like me) will say that it was a “turning point in my life.”

Everyone has a turning point in their quest for lifelong learning. Everyone has their aha In their personal development, it’s what you choose to listen to, watch or read that enhances your understanding of your life and teaches you what you need to do to succeed.

Hill’s 1937 quote sets the standard. “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

And once you have the information, it’s all about what you are willing to do to take advantage of it.

Most people know Hill was the author of Think and Grow Rich. But the person Hill emulated and studied? Not many know that.

Orison Swett Marden was the leading positive-attitude genius of the 20th century. Well-known before 1930 but almost unknown today, he was a founding father of personal development and positive thought. 

Author of more than 40 books, Marden also was the founder of SUCCESS magazine. Just as Marden inspired Hill’s aha moment, having your own and taking that turn in understanding can lead to new levels of success. 

Here are 7 ways to work toward personal development: 

1. Expose yourself to knowledge. 

Based on my personal experience and aha moments, I’d like to challenge you with the rules of personal development and give you some examples of what I have learned so you might make your own plan to succeed or enhance the one you have.

At the end of a seminar I gave on positive attitude, I received an evaluation from a woman named Mary with a comment that read, “I wish I would have heard this 30 years ago.” I got goose bumps of sadness and thought of a Jim Rohn quote: “All the information you need to succeed already exists; the only problem is you’re not exposing yourself to it.” This information existed 30 years ago. Mary just hadn’t exposed herself to it.

Rohn is known as America’s leading business philosopher. His CD, The Art of Exceptional Living, is among the modern classics of personal development. Rohn is the current master of inspiration and aha. He imparts wisdom in every sentence.

Between Marden and Rohn, there is a long list of valuable books to be read. I owe my career success to these books and to the personal development information to which I have exposed myself.

Most of the books are more than 50 years old. Many have religious connotations, but still preach the right words and thoughts. One of the most notable is The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Biblical and brilliant.

2. Simple is powerful.

If you read it and it seems too easy or too hokey, reread it. It’s probably part of your personal development foundation.

One of my early aha moments of personal development was the simplicity of the message. Sometimes it’s so simple, you go right past it without understanding the impact it can make.

A classic example is the eternal How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. In 1936 he wrote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” How many salespeople could benefit from that single aha? I think all of them.

Additionally, Carnegie’s lessons still are being taught in the classroom nearly 90 years later.

3. Think and apply to improve.

In As a Man Thinketh, published in 1902, James Allen says, “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” Thinking about what can be done is at the core of your personal development. About 54 years later in The Strangest Secret, Earl Nightingale writes, “We become what we think about most of the time, and that’s the strangest secret.” Get it?

4. Take a daily dose.

Think about the time-worn expression, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apply that to personal development, and it means learn and apply one new thing every day. At the end of a year you will have 365 new pieces of information.

5. The older the better.

If you want a new idea, read a book that’s 100 years old. Consider Marden’s 1908 book He Can Who Thinks He Can, and Other Papers on Success in Life, in which he wrote, “The best educated people are those who are always learning, always absorbing knowledge from every possible source and at every opportunity.”

6. Personal development and positive attitude are joined at the hip—and at the brain. 

And there is another component—being of service.

“There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative,” said Clement Stone in 1946. 

7. Do it even as your butt falls off.

In 1898, Elbert Hubbard wrote an essay titled Message to Garcia. Deliver the message, get the job done, complete the task—no matter what. Many have read that essay. Few have emulated it.

Personal development challenges you to think forward, to be your best and to make decisions based on the person you seek to become. 

Wondering where you can find more time to devote to your own success? “It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste,” said Henry Ford in 1901. Just a thought.

The key word is not development; the key word is personal. Do it for yourself, in your own way, and make your own time for it—or not.

The biggest aha of personal development comes from Russell Conwell’s Acres of Diamonds. Considered to be one of the finest speeches ever written, Acres of Diamonds offers a multitude of lessons about the rewards of work, education and finding the riches of life in your own backyard—or your own library. Aha!

This article was published in February 2008 and has been updated. Photo by santypan/Shutterstock

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