The Success Principles by Jack Canfield

I received The Success Principles for my birthday, so it is the first book that I’ve read in my new year (25 more to go). Overall, I found Canfield’s advice to be solid, and plan to follow his guidance to improve my own life. That’s the point of a self-help book, so job well done.

The Success Principles is divided into six sections, covering broad topics related to creating success in your life. The first section, “The Fundamentals of Success,” contains 24 fundamentals, which is a lot, but they are short chapters and good advice. Each chapter is filled with quotes from successful and motivational people as well as example stories drawn from the experiences of Canfield and his peers, and probably a few Chicken Soup for the Soul contributors, so this book is a good starting point for the rest of my year’s reading. I made notes in the front cover of books that he mentioned or that came to mind to read next.

There were two instances that occurred throughout the book that I found obnoxious. The first and most common was Canfield’s focus on material wealth as success. In his section on affirmations, he describes the visualizations he used when he wanted to earn $100,000+ a year: “I envisioned the house I would live in, the furnishings and artwork I would own, the car I would drive, and the vacations I would take. I also created the feelings I would experience once I had already attained that lifestyle” (p. 79). This is a good example of visualizing success, but I take issue with the idea that these things—the house, the art, the car, the vacations—are what brought Canfield the emotions he attaches to them. One of the principles of hedonic adaptation is that we become inured to a more lavish lifestyle and it stops bringing us the excitement we initially felt. This proves true in Canfield’s case as well. After they earned $92,000 in one year, his wife asked, “‘if affirmations worked for $100,000, do you think they would also work for $1million?’” (p.80). Once they had $100,000 income, they still weren’t happy! These examples of a lavish lifestyle were common throughout the book and distasteful to my own way of thinking. On the plus side, I figured if Canfield could achieve such outrageous “success” then surely, I could achieve my own more moderate goals as easily.

The second thing I found hard to swallow was much less common, but still present. Early in the book, Canfield states “You either create or allow everything that happens to you” (p. 14) Okay, I can accept the premise, but he goes on to give the following example: “You didn’t demand he join you in counseling or leave the first time he hit you, so now you’re still getting hit” (ibid) which is a pretty casual and superficial gloss of domestic abuse. It is victim-blaming and it is gross.  It’s not as if there aren’t other factors affecting that situation, but considering those would obstruct his principle: you either create or allow everything that happens to you. He could also easily have written, “You refused to go to couples counseling and you hit your wife, so you lost custody of your children in the bitter divorce” but he took the disgusting cultural cliché instead. This, plus a few references to being the victim of reverse racism (without ever detailing the incident which was probably not reverse racism) makes it hard to look past the author to the solid advice. I believe that you can learn from flawed individuals (and misogyny and racism are unfortunately common flaws), but I wouldn’t want to know Jack Canfield any better than I do now.

Turning a blind eye (which makes me uncomfortable) to these factors, I still believe that Canfield’s book is useful and I plan to implement his success principles into my life (though not his lifestyle and interpersonal principles). The hardest one is going to be the first one: “Take 100% responsibility for your life” which means giving up all excuses. He also calls for readers to give up complaining and in most cases, I can agree with that, but I think there is a place for complaining when you’re agitating for change. And I think that “complaining” is often in the eye of the beholder. We should not stop agitating when the enforcers of the status quo accuse us of “just complaining.” But even in spite of that objection, I think there is plenty of room to cut out most complaints and all excuses in my life, as well as adopting the other principles of success. They can’t hurt, right?

Overall: read this book with a grain of salt and a handy pencil. There are sections I underlined because of their value and there are sections I underlined because of their outrageousness.

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