How To Prepare The Mind For Success
( Originally Published 1904 )
SINCE psychology has been elevated to the rank of an inductive science, — that is to say, since the psychologist has learned to rely upon facts demonstrable by experiment, rather than upon pure speculation, — the ubiquitous charlatan has reaped a rich harvest in a congenial field. Especially since experimental psychology has, more or less clearly, revealed and differentiated two existing states of human consciousness, the success of the aforesaid charlatan has been unlimited. Taking advantage of the popular recognition of man's mysterious subjective powers, and especially of the now well-recognized fact that he can be healed of his infirmities by the induction of appropriate attitudes of mind, he has assumed and proclaimed that he can mend his estate by the same process. Hence we find the' advertising columns of newspapers filled with offers to " treat " the poor for " success,"- for "prosperity," for " wealth "; offering, in short, to convert every clodhopper into a " Napoleon of finance," and every tramp into a millionaire.
To do such advisers justice, their "treatments" do no harm, and their advice is often good. The latter may be summed up in this sentence : " Maintain, always, a cheerful, hopeful, but determined attitude of mind."
But there is nothing in it either occult or new. Every bootblack has learned that that is the only course by which he can get a job. Moreover, he has learned that the only way to retain a customer is by giving him a good " shine." In other words, he has learned that vitally important business axiom, — that " a cheerful and hopeful attitude of mind attracts custom, and a conscientious performance of duty retains it."
The point I wish to make is that there is nothing occult in the new psychology. It furnishes no new rules for preparing the mind for success. It does, however, explain the secret of the efficacy of the old, and by that means multiplies indefinitely their practical utility. What is of equal importance is that a knowledge of the causes which promote the efficiency of certain aphorisms or rules of conduct also reveals the fact that there are certain other popular aphorisms that are vicious to the last degree. For instance, Shakspeare has inflicted an incalculable amount of injury upon the human race by the promulgation of the following :
" There is a tide in the affairs of men,
It is safe to say that this passage has produced more vagrants and tramps than has any other equal number of words in any language, to say nothing of the in-numerable throng of discouraged and disheartened men and women who feel that some early misfortune has caused them ,to miss the flood tide of their affairs, and that henceforth " the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries" from which there is no escape but in the grave. What light does the new psychology throw upon the causes which operate to bring about so much misery heartbreak from a cause apparently so slight as a belief in a popular aphorism? It shows that the soul of man is governed by the law of suggestion. His whole life is controlled, for good or evil, by the dominant suggestions that find lodgment in his soul. And the most potent suggestions to the average mind consist largely of well-worn aphorisms; for one is apt to regard them as the expressions of fixed laws of nature. Coleridge well expressed a partial truth, and builded better than he knew, when he said: " Exclusive of the abstract sciences, the largest and worthiest portion of our knowledge consists of aphorisms." This is eminently true, provided the aphorism embraces an undoubted truth. If not, it conveys a false suggestion, which, if followed, tinges one's whole life with false colors, if it does not lead to disaster.
If I were called upon to assist in preparing a young man's mind for success in life, I should begin by asking to forget the Shakspearean aphorism; for it is as false in metaphor as it is in principle. The tides of the ocean ebb as well as flow ; and they do both twice in twenty-four hours. The mariner who misses a flood tide does not abandon his voyage ; nor does he deliberately sail into the shallows," or indulge in "miseries." He simply watches for the next flood. The tide in the affairs of men also ebbs and flows many times during the average lifetime. It follows that, if there is any logical analogy between the two tides, the lesson to be derived is full of hope and not of despair. It teaches at, if, through the mistakes of inexperience, the first flood tide is missed, the next is equally available.
Having taught a young man to forget this Shakspearean fallacy, I would first labor to impress upon his mind the true meaning of " success " in this life. To that end, I should teach him that every child of God has a mission to perform; and that mission is amply discharged if he so lives that, when comes the inevitable hour, he can truly say: " The world is better for my having lived." This is success in the highest and best sense of the word. It may or may not be accompanied by an accumulation of wealth; for under this rule the millionaire may prove a dismal failure, while the humblest may achieve a brilliant success, even though it may consist in " causing two blades of grass to grow where but one grew before." The most successful man that ever lived on earth was the poorest and humblest. He " had not where to lay his head."
Another very important thing is the attitude of mind with which one meets misfortunes. The human mind never framed an aphorism containing a more important truth than this one : " All seeming misfortunes are blessings in disguise." There is but one qualification necessary to render this aphorism of universal validity namely, one must have performed his whole duty in the premises. That is to say, if he does all that he can, honestly and honorably, to avert a threatened calamity, he will find that, if he yields not to discouragement or despair when the catastrophe comes, it will invariably prove to have been a blessing. Seeming calamities are often the result of one's having mistaken his calling; and it frequently happens that the best part of one's life-time is spent in a vain search for the work which the Lord gave him to do. But, if courage is not lost, and his career is characterized by industry and integrity, he is sure to find it at last. He can then look back upon his past life and see cause to thank God for every seeming misfortune, as fervently as for every season of prosperity; for he will then realize that each has constituted a step in the pathway leading to his true sphere of usefulness.
The same rule holds good when one is striving to attain a coveted object of ambition or of emolument. If he does all that he can, consistently with perfect integrity, to attain the object, he may well rejoice at his own failure; for he will certainly realize, in due time, that it constituted an important factor in the attainment of the highest success possible within his legitimate sphere of activity.
All this, as before intimated, is dependent upon the attitude of mind with which one meets misfortune. To use a homely phrase, "he must not lose his grip," if he would transmute failure into success, or snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. On the other hand, the man who " loses his grip," as a result of reverses, is the one who surrenders his manhood to the " tidal hypothesis " of Shakspeare. Necessarily, all the future of, his life's voyage " is bound in shallows and in miseries."
The psychological principle involved has already been stated. The trend of the life of each individual is due to the dominant suggestions that find lodgment in his soul. Those suggestions are usually in the form of aphorisms; and they are effective for good or ill in proportion to the tenacity with which they are held. If they are truthful, they are normal and encouraging; if false, they are abnormal and disheartening; for they vitiate thought and poison the psychological fountain of success.
This does not necessarily imply special providences; for it is but another way of saying that the man who lives a normal life, and performs his whole duty to his fellow-men, has not only placed himself in harmony with his earthly environment, but with the Infinite Mind from which his own is an emanation. When that harmony has been achieved by man, he has discovered his place in nature and the perennial fountain of success.