Thinking for a Change

11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work


By John C. Maxwell

Formats and Prices




$11.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 1, 2003. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

At the heart of John C. Maxwell’s brilliant and inspiring book is a simple premise: To do well in life, we must first think well. But can we actually learn new mental habits? Thinking for a Change answers that with a resounding “yes” — and shows how changing your thinking can indeed change your life. Drawing on the words and deeds of many of the world’s greatest leaders and using interactive quizzes, this empowering book helps you assess your thinking style, guides you to new ones, and step by step teaches you the secrets of: Big-Picture Thinking — seeing the world beyond your own needs and how that leads to great ideas. Focused Thinking — removing mental clutter and distractions to realize your full potential. Creative Thinking — stepping out of the “box” and making breakthroughs. Shared Thinking — working with others to compound results. – Reflective Thinking — looking at the past to gain a better understanding of the future …and much more. Here America’s most trusted and admired motivational teacher examines the very foundation of success and self-transformation. Illuminating and life-changing, Thinking for a Change is a unique primer not on what to think, but how to best use one of your most precious possessions: your mind.



Copyright © 2003 by John C. Maxwell
All rights reserved.

Scriptures noted NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scriptures noted NRSV are taken from the NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION of the Bible. Copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of The Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved.

The author is represented by Yates & Yates, LLP, Literary Agency, Orange, California.

Hachette Book Group, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

Visit our website at

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2791-1

First eBook Edition: April 2003

This book is dedicated to …

All the good thinkers who have shared their thinking
with me over the years.
Thank you for your investment in me.


I'd like to say thank you to

Margaret Maxwell, who shares her thinking with me daily

Charlie Wetzel, who does my writing

Kathie Wheat, who does my research

Stephanie Wetzel, who proofs and edits each chapter

Linda Eggers, who runs my life

and the people who shared their ideas for this book:

Dick Biggs

Kevin Donaldson

Tim Elmore

John Hull

Gabe Lyons

Larry Maxwell

Kevin Myers

Dan Reiland

Kevin Small

J. L. Smith

Dave Sutherland

Rolf Zettersten


Why are some people successful and others not? That question has been asked millions of times. You'll hear many answers. Consider some of the popular ones:

  • Successful people get better opportunities.
  • People who do not succeed have bad backgrounds.
  • Education makes all the difference.
  • Failure results from bad breaks.
  • Some people are smart; others aren't.
  • Lazy people don't succeed.

I've looked for answers to that question throughout my life. Let me tell you a story that I believe reveals the solution.

A friend of mine has two daughters. Kim, the 21-year-old younger daughter, applied to pharmacy school during her senior year of college. On the day she got word of her acceptance, her older sister, Jennie, who is 25, was there to share the news. Kim was ecstatic. Jennie felt glad that Kim had achieved her goal, but she also pitied her.

"Mom," she said, "I feel sorry for Kim. She is going to have to go to school for four more years!"

One daughter thinks: "I have just earned an opportunity for a future career." Her sister thinks: "She has to go to school for four more years!"

Here's the difference:

Successful people think differently than unsuccessful people.

One sister heard the news and felt excited because she thought about the lucrative, rewarding career about to open up to her. The other sister thought only about the amount of time it would take to achieve it.

How skilled is your thinking? Does your thinking help you achieve? This book identifies eleven types of thinking that successful people employ. Which type of thinking do you believe will increase your odds for success?

Small Thinking or Big-Picture Thinking?

Scattered Thinking or Focused Thinking?

Restrictive Thinking or Creative Thinking?

Fantasy Thinking or Realistic Thinking?

Random Thinking or Strategic Thinking?

Limited Thinking or Possibility Thinking?

Impulsive Thinking or Reflective Thinking?

Popular Thinking or Innovative Thinking?

Solo Thinking or Shared Thinking?

Selfish Thinking or Unselfish Thinking?

Wishful Thinking or Bottom-Line Thinking?

If you're currently not successful, or you are not as successful as you would like to be, it may be because you are not thinking your way to the top. To place yourself on the pathway of success, I suggest that you do the following:

  • Read each chapter to better understand successful thinking.
  • Evaluate yourself at the end of each chapter by answering the thinking question.
  • Take the action steps included to implement the kind of successful thinking described in the chapter.

Together for the next fourteen chapters, we will take a thinking trip. It could be the difference that makes all the difference in your life!


1. Everything begins with a thought.

"Life consists of what a man is thinking about all day."


2. What we think determines who we are. Who we are determines what we do.

"The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts."


3. Our thoughts determine our destiny. Our destiny determines our legacy.

"You are today where your thoughts have brought you. You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you."


4. People who go to the top think differently than others.

"Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; Nothing expands possibilities like unleashed thinking."


5. We can change the way we think.

"Whatever things are true …noble …just …pure …lovely …are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; think on these things."




Chapter 1

Understand the Value of Good Thinking

"Nurture great thoughts, for you will never
go higher than your thoughts."


What Were They Thinking?

"Things are more like they are now than they ever were before."

thirty-fourth president of the United States

What one thing do all successful people have in common? What one thing separates those who go to the top from those who never seem to get there? The answer: Good Thinking! Those who embrace good thinking as a lifestyle understand the relationship between their level of thinking and their level of progress. They also realize that to change their lives, they must change their thinking.


I've been a student of good thinking all my life, so I know how important it is for making progress. In the first book I wrote back in 1979, titled Think on These Things, I said, "Your life today is a result of your thinking yesterday. Your life tomorrow will be determined by what you think today." 1 The title of that book was inspired by the words of the Apostle Paul, who admonished us,

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 2

My father, Melvin Maxwell, often quoted those words to me. He felt they were important. Why? Because he is an example of someone who changed his life as a result of changing his thinking.

If you met my dad, he would tell you that he was born with a naturally negative bent to his thinking. In addition, he grew up during the Depression, and when he was six years old, his mother died. He was not a happy or hopeful child. But as a teenager, he began to see that all the successful people he knew had one thing in common: they filled their lives with positive thoughts about themselves and others. He desired to be successful like them, so he embarked on the daily task of changing his thinking. To his delight, after much time and effort, his thinking changed him.

People who know him today see Dad as a totally positive person. They would be surprised to find out that he started his life with a negative mind-set. This change in his thinking allowed him to rise to a level of living that seemed above his potential. He went on to be the most successful person in his professional circle. He became a college president and touched the lives of innumerable people. To this day he is my hero.

Changing from negative to positive thinking isn't always easy, especially if you have a difficult time with change. For some, it's a life-long struggle. Do you know what most people's number one challenge is when it comes to making positive personal changes? It's their feelings. They want to change, but they don't know how to get past their emotions. But there is a way to do it. Take a look at the truth contained in the following syllogism:

Major Premise: I can control my thoughts.

Minor Premise: My feelings come from my thoughts.

Conclusion: I can control my feelings by controlling my thoughts.

If you are willing to change your thinking, you can change your feelings. If you change your feelings, you can change your actions. And changing your actions—based on good thinking—can change your life.


Most people in our culture look to educational systems to teach them and their children to think. In fact, many individuals believe that formal education holds the key to improving lives and reforming society. James Bryant Conant, chemistry professor and former president of Harvard University, asserted, "Public education is a great instrument of social change …. Education is a social process, perhaps the most important process in determining the future of our country, it should command a far larger portion of our national income than it does today"

Many educators would have us believe that good grades lead to a better life, and that the more formal education you have, the more successful you will be. Yet education often can't deliver on such promises. Don't you know highly educated people who are highly unsuccessful? Haven't you met college professors with Ph.D.s who cannot manage their lives effectively? And conversely, don't you know of dropouts who have become very successful? (Think of Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, Federico Fellini, Steve Jobs.)

William Feather, author of The Business of Life, remarked, "Two delusions fostered by higher education are that what is taught corresponds to what is learned, and that it will somehow pay off in money" Educational reformer and former University of Chicago president Robert M. Hutchins observed, "When we listen to the radio, look at television and read the newspapers we wonder whether universal education has been the great boon that its supporters have always claimed it would be." Perhaps we would be better off if we took the advice of Mark Twain, who said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education."

The problem with most educational institutions is that they try to teach people what to think, not how to think. Contrary to what Francis Bacon said, knowledge alone is not power. Knowledge has value only in the hands of someone who has the ability to think well. People must learn how to think well to achieve their dreams and to reach their potential.


Georgia State University professor David J. Schwartz says, "Where success is concerned, people are not measured in inches or pounds or college degrees or family background; they are measured by the size of their thinking." 3 Becoming a better thinker is worth your effort because the way you think really impacts every aspect of your life. It doesn't matter whether you are a businessperson, teacher, parent, scientist, pastor, or corporate executive. Good thinking will improve your life. It will help you to become an achiever. It will make you a better businessperson, teacher, parent, scientist, pastor, or executive.

Take a look at just a few reasons why good thinking is so important:

1. Good Thinking Creates the Foundation for Good Results

In As a Man Thinketh, James Allen, philosopher of the human spirit, wrote, "Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results. This is but saying that nothing can come from corn but corn, nothing from nettles but nettles. Men understand this law in the natural world, and work with it; but few understand it in the mental and moral world (though its operation there is just as simple and undeviating), and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it. 4

"Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results."

—James Allen

It may seem obvious that the quality of people's thinking leads to the quality of their results. I believe most people would agree that:

  • Poor thinking produces negative progress.
  • Average thinking produces no progress.
  • Good thinking produces some progress.
  • Great thinking produces great progress.

Yet, one of the reasons people don't achieve their dreams is that they desire to change their results without changing their thinking. But that's never going to work. If you expect to reap corn when you planted nettles, you're not going to get corn—no matter how much time you spend watering, fertilizing, or cultivating your plants. If you don't like the crop you are reaping, you need to change the seed you are sowing! Do you want to achieve? Then sow the "seed" of good thinking.

My friend, Bill McCartney, is a three-time Big Eight Conference coach of the year and two-time UPI coach of the year. In 1990, he led the University of Colorado football team to a national championship. He understands what it takes to win in sports. What may surprise many is that he says the mental aspect of the game is more important than the physical. Coach Mac observes, "Mental is to physical what four is to one." No matter how gifted athletes may be physically, if they don't have what it takes mentally, they won't succeed.

One of the reasons people don't achieve their dreams is that they desire to change their results without changing their thinking.

I was reminded again of that truth at a recent leadership conference. I told the attendees that I was working on a book called Thinking for a Change. During one of the breaks, a man named Richard McHugh came up and told me a little about his experience as a competitive bull rider. After the conference, he sent me a letter telling the whole story. He wrote,

Dear Dr. Maxwell:

I discovered the importance of "thinking" my way to success during my career as a bull rider. I started bull riding with the amateur bull-riding circuit. Not long after I moved to the top of the amateur circuit I yearned to join the professional bull riding association, so I looked to the top for a teacher. I met and started a relationship with a world champion bull rider who lived in my area. His name was Gary Leffew.

Gary invited me to his professional bull-riding arena at his ranch. After it became clear to Gary that I had committed myself to a career as a bull rider, he agreed to help me. He told me that the first thing I would have to do is quit the amateur rodeo circuit. Gary said, "As long as you are hanging around amateurs, you will think like an amateur, and you will not improve your skills." That day I went from the top of the amateur bull riders to the bottom of the professionals.

After getting my professional cowboy association permit, I went back to Gary's rodeo arena, and I was ready to get on some bulls. Much to my surprise, Gary met up with me that day, gave me a book, and sent me on my way. The book was Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. Now, you have to understand that for a cowboy, this was a major paradigm shift. All of the other seasoned bull riders were telling me, "If you want to ride bulls, the secret is just getting on as many bulls as your body can withstand in terms of the pain." But they were not World Champion bull riders like my mentor was. So I took Gary's advice instead, and I went home and read the book.

When I finished, I went back to Gary, and I couldn't believe what he did next: he gave me another book on thinking! A few more visits to Gary's ranch netted me more books. I read every one.

Now, some people might think this is crazy, but I yearned to ride a bull. On one visit to Gary's, I finally told him that I had read every book that he gave me, but now I wanted to get on some bulls! Gary explained to me, "Rich, before you ride bulls," and pointed to his head, "you've got to ride BULLS!" [meaning that the process of visualization had to come first]. Now I understood what he was doing: preparing me mentally for riding bulls! "Okay," I told him, "so now that I've read all those books, I'm ready to get on a bull!" I was wrong. The next step, Gary explained, was cassette tapes. Volumes of tapes!

When Gary finally said I was ready to get on a bull, it was a stationary barrel bull! There I learned how to visualize every bull movement and counter movement.

The next lesson I learned was about association. "Who you hang around with," Gary explained, "can influence how you think." As I began traveling in the professional bull riders circuit, I learned that it was important to be with the riders who were winning. My mentor told me that if I couldn't find any winning bull riders to ride with, then I was to travel alone to protect my new winning mental attitude.

Dr. Maxwell, I'd like to tell you that I went on to win the world championship; I didn't. But I did win a lot of rodeos, and I did make a lot of money riding in the professional bull-riding circuit. This cowboy eventually left the rodeo circuit and married a wonderful woman. We now own one of the largest employment agencies on the central coast of California.

I guess I'm still thinking my way to the top.


Richard McHugh


To make progress in any field, you have to take action. But the success of the action you take depends entirely on how you think beforehand. What Claude M. Bristol wrote in The Magic of Believing is true: "The successful people in industry have succeeded through their thinking. Their hands were helpers to their brains."

2. Good Thinking Increases Your Potential

Author James Allen believed, "You will become as small as your controlling desire, as great as your dominant aspiration." 5 Or to paraphrase the words of King Solomon, wisest of all ancient kings, "As people think in their hearts, so they are." 6 If your thinking shapes who you are, then it naturally follows that your potential is determined by your thinking.

In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I wrote about the Law of the Lid, which states, "Leadership ability determines a person's level of effectiveness." In other words, in any endeavor with people, your leadership is the lid. If you're a poor leader, your lid is low. If you are a great leader, your lid is high. I believe that your thinking has a similar impact on your life. Your thinking is the lid for your potential. If you're an excellent thinker, then you have excellent potential, and the words of Emerson ring true: "Beware when the great God lets loose a great thinker on the planet." But if your thinking is poor, then you have a lid on your life.

Progress is often just a good idea away.

Achieving your potential comes from making progress, and progress is often just one good idea away. That was certainly true of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. He explained, "I guess in all my years, what I heard more often than anything was: a town of less than 50,000 in population cannot support a discount store for very long." But Walton did not think the way his competitors thought, and for that reason, his potential was greater. While other merchants followed popular thinking, Walton thought for himself and struck out on his own. That has paid off in a remarkable way. Today Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer, employing more than one million people and achieving annual sales in excess of $191 billion. Every week more than 100 million customers visit Wal-Mart stores. 7 How's that for potential! No wonder Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric, said, "The hero is the one with ideas."

"The hero is the one with ideas."

—Jack Welch

The greatest detriment to many people's success tomorrow is their thinking today. If their thinking is limited, so is their potential. But if people can keep growing in their thinking, they will constantly outgrow what they're doing. And their potential will always be off the charts.

3. Good Thinking Produces More Good Thinking IF …You Make It a Habit

Albert Einstein observed, "The problems we face today cannot be solved on the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Look around and you'll see that is true. The world keeps getting more and more complicated. Does that discourage you? It doesn't have to. Many years ago, I came across a quote that made a tremendous impression on me. It said,

I am your constant companion. I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden. I will push you onward or drag you down to failure. I am completely at your command. Half of the things you do you might just as well turn over to me and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly. I am easily managed—you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great men; and alas, of all failures as well. Those who are great, I have made great. Those who are failures, I have made failures. I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a man. You may run me for profit or run me for ruin—it makes no difference to me. Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I? I am habit! 8

The good news is that no matter how complicated life gets or how difficult problems may seem, good thinking can make a difference—if you make it a consistent part of your life. The more you engage in good thinking, the more good thoughts will come to you. Success comes to those who habitually do things that unsuccessful people don't do. Achievement comes from the habit of good thinking. The more you engage in good thinking, the more good thoughts you will continue to think. It's like creating a never-ending army of ideas capable of achieving almost anything. As playwright Victor Hugo asserted, "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an invasion of ideas."

"An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an invasion of ideas."

—Victor Hugo


On Sale
Apr 1, 2003
Page Count
288 pages

John C. Maxwell

About the Author

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 24 million books in fifty languages. Often called America’s #1 leadership authority, Maxwell was identified as the most popular leadership expert in the world by Inc. magazine in 2014, and he has been voted the top leadership professional six years in a row on He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, and EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 180 countries. Each year Maxwell speaks to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders.

Learn more about this author