The Secret of Success

As you may or may not know, Phyllis Diller died almost a month ago. She was not particularly know in Sweden, but she caught my eye, no doubt sometime during my exchange year in Iowa, and I was fond of her. There are bits of her shows on youtube, and I think she is still funnier than most of them. What also caught my attention, as I was googling her, was how often she talked about a life changing reading experience of hers, Claude Bristol´s "The Magic of Believing", from 1948. Apparently, she kept this book in print for years just so she could give it to all her new friends. Now, you can download it for free, which of course I did. You can also buy it from amazon, if you wish.

My first impression was what a beautiful language! This book is a joy to read just for the way it´s written. Bristol is a great storyteller, has experience from the military, from being a journalist, from sales and business, and from being a personal advisor and a motivational speaker. Diller stated that she liked him because he kept God out of the equation, that she preferred him because he spoke only of the mind, only of the person. And he does. Not that any of this feels particularly new today, when the Secret is all over the place, and loads of other books and gurus selling the same, motivational idea. Bristol´s anecdotes are still very entertaining, and by page 200, I found myself starting to take notes.

What he does is teach basic self-motivational skills. Pep-talking yourself, really, or parenting yourself into becoming a more self-assured individual, believing in your own capacity to create the possibilities to be successful. In his own words, to "tell yourself that you are going to get what you want". He also points out the importance of confidence in the communication with others.
"Emerson wrote that every man carries in his eye the exact indication of his rank. Remember that you own gradation or position in life is marked by what you carry in your eyes. So develop eyes that bespeak confidence."
Pilgrimage of this believer of mindpower. (Oxford)
He then goes on to talk about the importance of intuition, the value of hunches, with a warning thrown in: if it concerns gamling or a field you know nothing about, it might just be a "fanciful longing". And generally good advice: take an interest in your job and the company you work for (whatever it is), have a helpful attitude to everyone, read books to broaden your perspective. Assume that people are friendly and don´t take the occasional aggression personally. Don´t be undecisive, that creates trouble in itself. He also has something to say about clothes and grooming:
"Do you have eye-appeal? Do you wear clothes to give yourself the best appearance? Do you know the effect of colors and study those which best suit your form and temperament? Does your whole appearance set you apart from many who pass unnoticed in the crowd? If not, give thoughtful attention to personal packaging, for the world accepts you as you appear to be."
He lists examples of successful people, and almost all of them are women! I bet that would have made an impression on Diller, in the 50´s! Actually, he is very supportive of women finding success in the world, and of course, having met with more obstacles than the average Joe, successful women are excellent examples of Bristol´s ideas. Let me give you one more good quote:
"to great artists, there was no such thing as a small part; and to small artists, there were no big parts."
This is all good, even excellent advice, and it doesn´t hurt to hear it one more time. He kind of looses me in the end, though, being a convinced believer in telepathy. Here, he excercises his own belief in a way that fortifies his line of argument to any objections. He says that experiments on telepathy
"should never be attempted in the presence of scoffers or those who profess disbelief in psychic phenomena. Their negative thoughts may confuse and obstruct the free flow of your own, especially if their scepticism is aggressive." 
Well, he made me aggressively sceptical right there!

I agree with the idea that what we believe will to a great extent affect how we see the world, our own strengths and abilities. With confidence it sure is easier to make a good life for yourself. But there is no sense or science in Bristol´s arguments for how our thoughts can directly influence the actions of others. This is where he crosses into religion, the very American belief in the Self, the Sale, and Success. And that is the proof Bristol refers to as measure of the strength of one´s beliefs. How much money you have, how famous you are, and how happy you claim to be. And the proof is presented in anecdotes, seductively told by a charming, successful salesman, pitching his Secret.

Having said that, I wouldn´t have minded having him over for dinner, any time.

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