Change your thinking, change your life?


Can changing your thinking really change your life? Consider this: I’ve studied successful people for forty years, and though the diversity you find among them is astounding, I believe they are all alike in one way: how they think! That is the one thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful.

The good news is that it’s possible to learn how to think like a successful person. But before we can learn from a good thinker, we need to know what they look like.  You often hear someone say that a colleague or friend is a “good thinker,” but that phrase means something different to everyone.  To one person it may mean having a high IQ, while to another it could mean knowing a bunch of trivia or being able to figure out whodunit when reading a mystery novel.

I believe that good thinking isn’t just one thing.  It consists of several specific thinking skills.  Becoming a good thinker means developing those skills to the best of your ability.  In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras describe what it means to be a visionary company, the kind of company that epitomizes the pinnacle of American business.  They describe it this way:

A visionary company is like a great work of art.  Think of Michelangelo’s scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or his statue of David.  Think of a great and enduring novel like Huckleberry Finn or Crime and Punishment.  Think of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Shakespeare’s Henry V.  Think of a beautifully designed building, like the masterpieces of Frank Lloyd Wright or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  You can’t point to any one single item that makes the whole thing work; it’s the entire work—all the pieces working together to create an overall effect—that leads to enduring greatness.

Good thinking is similar.  You need all the thinking “pieces” to become the kind of person who can achieve great things.  I believe that those pieces include eleven skills, which I’ve listed below. After each is a question you can ask yourself to measure your own thinking:

1. Cultivate Big-Picture Thinking

Am I thinking beyond myself and my world so that I process ideas with a holistic perspective?

2. Engage in Focused Thinking

Am I dedicated to removing distractions and mental clutter so that I can concentrate with clarity on the real issue?

3. Harness Creative Thinking

Am I working to break out of my “box,” exploring ideas and options, so I can experience creative breakthrough?

4. Employ Realistic Thinking

Am I building a solid foundation on facts so that I can think with certainty?

5. Utilize Strategic Thinking

Am I implementing strategic plans that give me direction for today and increase my potential for tomorrow?

6. Explore Possibility Thinking

Am I unleashing the enthusiasm of possibility thinking to find solutions for even seemingly impossible problems?

7. Learn from Reflective Thinking

Am I regularly revisiting the past to gain a true perspective and think with understanding?

8. Question Popular Thinking

Am I consciously rejecting the limitations of common thinking in order to accomplish uncommon results?

9. Benefit from Shared Thinking

Am I consistently searching the minds of others to think “over my head” and achieve compounding results?

10. Practice Unselfish Thinking

Am I continually considering others and their journey in order to think with maximum collaboration?

11. Rely on Bottom-Line Thinking

Do I stay focused on the bottom line so that I can gain the maximum return and reap the full potential of my thinking?

Based on your answers to the questions, where are you strongest? In what kind of thinking do you need to grow? Develop in any of those areas, and you’ll become a better thinker. Master all that you can—especially the process of shared thinking, which helps you compensate for your weak areas—and your life will change.

For specific guidance on developing as a good thinker, my book, How Successful People Think, devotes a chapter to each of the above skills. A companion workbook is also in the works.

The biggest lesson I have ever learned is the stupendous importance of what we think. If I knew what you think, I would know what you are, for your thoughts make you what you are; by changing our thoughts, we can change our lives.

Dale Carnegie

The mind moves in the direction of our currently dominant thoughts.

Earl Nightingale

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  1. 1
    Yvonne Green says:

    Thank you for the words of wisdom. If God doesn’t limit us then why should we limit oursleves.

  2. 2

    Great comment Yvonne. We humans try to play God and in doing so, we limit ourselves and end up playing much much smaller than God would ever have intended.

    John – Thanks for this. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I wrote a blog post on this very topic recently. I think critical thinking needs to be taught in schools to be quite honest. The thinking that pervades our society leads to one thing: mediocrity. You may enjoy my blog post.

  3. 3
    sanjay says:

    Wao.. so much to think about!! It seems overwhelming at time to go through all, but seems easy once I have a plan to evaluate through these questions.

    These tools are indeed helpful to cross check my way of life. Thanks, John for sharing this valuable protocol.

  4. 4
    Christy Moosa says:

    The bottom line to me is what need is God asking me to meet?

    We are ‘all’ called to ‘something’ and that something has a reason, and is most likely the purpose for which ‘you’ were created.

    I will know call it the purpose for which you were created and it will effect many people, provide solution to a problem, and all because of which God has given you a passion. What angers you? What gets under your skin? Why?

    God has molded you in such a way and has allowed many things to come in your past to direct your future. Ask why and ask God to show you what He wants you to do about the problem. Problems can be our greatest direction to guiding us to the purpose for which we were created. All I ask us for us to sit down and ask what really bothers you and ask what are you going to do about it? Seriously go over the the basic questions, what, who, when, where, why, how? Pray about it and surrender impure motives and be the change agent in the world around you.

    Your thinking should have specific solutions for uncommon problems and you are the solution.

  5. 5
    Linda says:

    Love your books! Keeping focused on the goal is a hard one. So many distractions with family, church, work all pulling us in different directions.

  6. 6

    Great ways to think!!
    But we should think like Jesus would or does!
    As followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we desire to think and act like he does? Yes, does! He is alive!
    Need a Biblical World View.

  7. 7

    Yes, change our thinking, change our life!

    To be a follower of Jesus, we need to “think” like Jesus. What this means is that we need to see the world from His point of view. I think I am talking about developing a Biblical Christian Worldview. What is that? It’s a way of dealing with the world and all our encounters in such a way that we act like Jesus twenty-four hours a day because we think like Jesus!
    How do we do that? Well, most of us at one time lived our lives as employees. We had a boss or supervisor who we tried to please in order to be successful. Like it or not we were apprentices of them in that knowingly or not we were being mentored by them. In a way, we looked to them and our decision making was influenced by them. Wow! We trusted in them to give us true good and reliable information. So they shaped our worldview in a very significant way.
    Well, in the same way, if we really believe in Jesus, have committed our lives to Him, we should want to know what pleases Him and be obedient in doing it! How do we do that? Spending time with Him and learning what pleases Him and then doing it! Yes, we will be misunderstood and look different from the world. Yes, it’s a battle. Put on His armour.
    Don’t know if this is what you are looking for.

    Check out the book, Think Like Jesus: Make The Right Decision Every Time. George Barna.

  8. 8

    […] Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life […]

  9. 9

    This reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures: Proverbs 4:23 – Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life. And I do agree that it is possible for anyone to think like a leader. Your ideas here are right on and I would encourage everyone to take the 11 skills you pointed out and apply them in their own life! While we may not be leading hundreds or thousands, we are all responsible for leading ourselves and the influence of our personal leadership can be powerful.

    Wonderful insights as always John!

  10. 10
    Randy says:

    Great stuff, thanks John!
    Your friend Randy in Williamsburg

  11. 11
    Randy says:

    Great stuff, thanks John!!!
    Your friend in Williamsburg VA.

  12. 12

    This article will forever expand the way I think about thinking!

  13. 13
    Samson Bamidele says:

    Great thought, John.
    I was taught this lesson some years ago when my family and I will squeeze ourselves in a very tiny obscure apartment in one of the cities in Nigeria. Later we realize that “one is where he lives”. In a similar vein John, you are saying “you are what you think”.
    We really are what we think…What we think, where we live, what we eat, what we wear, where we go, etc… all shape the fulfillment of the limitless opprtunities that God has given us – we often refer to this as destiny. We really have a role to play in manifesting God’s glory.

  14. 14
    J.R.Agosto says:

    It is true that how we think play’s a very inport factor in our every-day lives,an in order to be successfu,you must change your Thinking,and important,don’t let people who have a nag.,out look in life or acomplishment’s influence you. Dale Ganage ,is a great writer,and John Maxwell,is another,I have at Least six of John’s book’s. I stongy recommend these two men as Mentosr’s.If you desire Leadership,or want to be successfulRead there book’s take heed to there,teaching’s and follow there insrtc., you cann’t go wrong.James R.Agosto

  15. 15
    Elan Govindasamy says:

    It is all in our attitude. Thank you, John. Your books are an inspiration.

  16. 16

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  17. 17
    susan drais says:

    I have fibromyalgia, parkinson’s, and other things going on with my body…and recently got tired of heavy duty opiates! Went down, to a middle-of-the-road opiate, and I;m controlling the stress, etc. from chronic pain with alternative therapies, the main one being positive thinking! I’m trying to get others to get this approach, a few are following, and its helping them, too! The main one being Focus Of Attention.
    You are what you think . . .
    Success isn’t necessarily money – for me, its how I deal with life. I used to help teach positive thinking a few years back, and Napoleon Hill is, in my opinion, the father of positive thinking!
    John Maxwell also does a great job!
    When I go down the street in my scooter, I like to smile at people, and whenever possible, share with them my ‘positive thought of the day’. Makes both feel good!

  18. 18
    Lily Pichler says:

    Our organization is going through some changes right now. We always go through changes, but at this time we just trashed everything and build on the principles again.
    I feel so alive since these changes happened.
    It’s good to evaluate our convictions of faith based on principles rather then routines and norms and even rituals that worked for sometime.
    Although God is the only unchangeable and His principles of love and salvation too, everything else He likes to change, just so we stay new.
    Thank you John for posting.

  19. 19

    Great post on thinking. We move towards what we think of the most. Our goals
    and actions line up with our thoughts.

  20. 20

    Definitely, John. In 1989 I was hit with GBS that paralyzed me from the shoulders down. Destroyed the neural system. Doctors said I would never walk again and need 2 wheelchairs the rest of my life. Nerves don’t grow back, they said. In 2 months I started walking again by reading Acts 3 every day and claiming what God did then. No wheelchairs or crutches today, and the doctors don’t know how I did it. Well, I didn’t do it – Jesus did. We know now that the visioning process in itself physically rewires the cells of the body and strengthens the immune system. But then God demands us to tell the story once he does it. So far it’s in 3 books I’ve authored.

  21. 21

    Thank you to all of you who left a post. We are all in this together. A piece of God’s great big plan. We are each unique and have an important part to play.
    John- Thank you for taking the time to use the gifts God has empowered you with to impact the lives of many. I was Joyce Meyer’s 2010 Woman’s Conference this past weekend and just loved hearing your message. How we think truly does impact our lives and to think….we have been given the power to think right thoughts! We are wired for right thinking…for love. Thank you so much, you are always an inspiration. God’s speed and God’s blessings. <3 Jennifer Ritthaler "simply amazing"

  22. 22

    i have just finished you 21 irrefutable laws of leadership book. your view on leadership and faith as a Christian has given insight to my ministry which God has given me. i watched one of your conferences on youtube and you said you have learned all of your leadership methods from Jesus. knowing thats where you stad, Brother i stand with you.

    Terrence J. White
    My Joy In The Morning
    Expanding The Kingdom of God Daily

  23. 23


    I appreciate that you put big-picture thinking first. Without thinking big, you get lost in the details. It’s like a blueprint for a house. Each and every decision that is made on the job site is based upon the blueprint. It guides them through the construction process to end up with the desired result.

    Great post!

    Karl G Larsen

  24. 24

    Thanks John. I identify mostly with your Pig-Picture thinking and Unselfish Thinking reminders. Those are my areas of growth, personally. I’ve been at your talks at Spring Leadership with WorldWide and you have made a huge impact on me and my organization. I hope to golf with you sometime soon.

  25. 25
    turner abimbola says:

    Wow! Very inspiring,it got me thinking immediately. Thank God for your life

  26. 26
    SK says:

    Dear John
    Thank you John.Simple and easily applicable words of wisdom. I want to share one of the thing which I learned from our leadership is

    Our actions control our Results- We must act to expect and get desired results
    Our feelings control our Actions -If we do not feel like we do not act.
    Our thoughts control our feelings -Unless we think we do not feel

    What controls our thoughts is a million dollar question -the are w words we speak out of our mouth-the words we speak to yourself (87%) and to others.So the secret is Control your words- you pretty much control your results.

    This made me to read all time greats like “What to say when you speak to yourself” Tongue a Craetive Force” “Self talk solution” etc.

    Trust this helps few here, of ofcourse John knows everything
    Tongue a creative force

  27. 27
    dharwyn Obiasca says:

    hope i can meet you personally.. God bless!!

  28. 28

    Mr. Maxwell:

    Hi! So glad to have found a way to reach you and thank you for the many things you have imparted to me through your books. I’m from the Philippines and I own two of your books – which I bought from Booksale (a second hand bookshop here in the country); the 21 Irrefuteable Laws of Leadership and the 360 Degrees Leader.

    I am a full-time mom of two preschool kids. I am a big fan of your books Mr. Maxwell, I have been reading and reading it for almost four years now, I cannot help but relate everything that’s happening around me in those leadership laws you have written, not just because it came from you but because they are all true, ideally speaking. Funny though, that most of the people nowadays don’t possess those characteristics, don’t have real Christian values, exchanges truth into falsehood.

    I have so much to say to you Mr. Maxwell, however I can only go to internet cafe once or twice a-month. Next time I’ll draft everything on a piece of paper so that I can tell you all the things that I’ve been wanting to say to you.

    On the other hand, I have seen your Maxwell Leadership Study Bible at PCBS but it costs too much. I hope and pray that I may find one at Booksale again someday. I only have a NT bible (NIV) and when I saw it a-week ago I have been dreaming about it already, hahahaha, it’s true, kidding aside. You did a brilliant job in incorporating the leadership laws according to bible principles. Do you have umbrella churches here in the Philippines? I am from Bacolod City, do you have one here? I bet the members of your church are not just leaders but true Christians, too.

    Mr. Maxwell, I am sorry for taking much of your time. But I would really appreciate if you will reply to my comment, and to the one that I will be drafting out the next time I got the chance to visit the cafe.

    Thank you so much! I thank God for you, I know he will bless you with more years to touch and enrich Christian lives around the globe. Please pray for me too. I am in a spiritual turmoil these past few months.

  29. 29
    Lydia says:

    Dear John,

    This is brilliant, i am really grategul for being part of this. your books are just fantastic. I can confess that we really are what we think and positive thinking has done a tremendous thing in my life. i always make sure that i think in a proper way no matter what comes my way and now i see my self as a changed person and your teachings are wonderful. thank you for such a good heart of sharing your intelligence and wisdom, a Good heart is Hard to find yet we have yours… God bless you so you keep teach us wonders.

  30. 30
    John C Maxwell says:

    Ma. Alje Jilapon,

    This is John’s blog administrator, Stephanie. Since your note was of a more personal nature, I’ve also forwarded to John directly. Thank you for connecting. We will be praying for you.


  31. 31

    Thanks, just as clear as spoke by JESUS, ” AS A MAN THINKS SO IS HE” It takes a lot of thinking in order to change and change is hard. It seens to be set in concrete, A lot of things we would like to change about ourselfs, but we don’t seem to get around to it. Some times we spin our wheels thinking about things that don’t mean to much. All my life I’ve spent studing Gods word and trying to get people to think or meditate on this and it would change their lives
    and some have responded and its amazing what has happened in their llives.
    Just a little bit of extra thinking makes a difference. As we begin to think in veiw of our own life, we become more of an instrument in the hands of God.
    Charles Harelson