Sunday, June 23, 2013

Books with Numbers

“Well done is better than well said.”

Benjamin Franklin

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

“Classic' - a book which people praise and don't read.”

I love books that have numbers in the titles, such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, or Loving What Is, Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, or 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life, or The One-Minute Manager.  I think books with numbers in the titles appeal to me because they make success and happiness seem less elusive and mysterious.  Instead they become quantifiable and measurable.  I believe that if I can just do the required number of things in the book then I will be where I want to be in life.  But there’s good news and bad news. 
The good news is the titles are true.  Success and happiness can be quantifiable and measurable goals.  The bad news is that the titles are not enough.  There are two more things that are required:
1.     I have to read the book.
2.     I have to apply the learning, constantly and consistently.

First, I have to read the book.  Sometimes when a title or a concept gets popular, people think they understand it.  I remember reading a critique of The One-Minute Manager that made it obvious that the writer did not understand the concept.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the writer hadn’t read the book or he or she would have realized that the book wasn’t suggesting that all managerial problems weren’t solved in one minute.  The one minute referred to the amount of time one takes to correct an employee or discuss an issue.  The critic didn’t seem to know this.
Unfortunately, uninformed critiques are not confined to books with the numbers in titles.  In the movie, Born Yesterday, Melanie Griffith’s character is criticized for her lack of knowledge about Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.  After she reads it, she soon discovers many of her detractors hadn’t actually read it; they were simply using their second- or third-hand knowledge to appear superior.
Reading books is not hard for most people, but apparently reading an entire book is.  Understanding and thoughtful analysis seem even harder.  It’s not that people can’t read, understand or think about a book, it’s that they choose not to.  That’s fine to make that choice.  All I recommend is that one reads a book before acting as an authority on it.
I have certainly been guilty of this.  I did it to appear more knowledgeable than I actually was.  It was a form of lying.  It was actually two lies.  First, I was covering up my laziness.  Then I was acting as if I had done work that I hadn’t actually done.  Sadly, I tried this in college many times.  It rarely worked and my grades reflected that.  I’m reminded of Earl Nightingale’s words:
Once this law is understood, any thinking person can tell their own fortune. If they want more, they must be of more service to those he receives his return. If they want less, they have only to reduce their service. This is the price you must pay for what you want.  If you believe you can enrich yourself by deluding others, you can end only by deluding yourself. It may take some time, but as surely as you breathe, you will get back what you put out.

There are no shortcuts.  There is no “quality time.”  There are no “Cliff Notes.”  There is only consistent applied effort over days, months and years.  Yes, I can try quality time and Cliff Notes, but they are short-term substitutes with no long-term results. This law applies to every area of life, relationships, work, study, or spirituality; the more I put in, the more I get out. 
In addition to putting in effort, I need to be consistently.  I have always believed that if I took one book, idea or set of ideas and applied them consistently, I would have a happy and successful life.  I don’t mean a life without problems, but overall, a happy and successful life.  I think this works for two reasons.
1.     Truth is powerful and living in truth is even more powerful.
2.     Truth leads to other truths.

For example, if I took any one of the following ideas and applied it every single moment, I would see some amazing results.  Here are some I use or have used:
Seek first the Kingdom of God. (Jesus)
Begin with the end in mind.  (Covey)
Be here now.  (Ram Dass)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  Acknowledge him in all your ways and He will direct your paths.  (Solomon)

Pray without ceasing.  (St. Paul)

Don’t wait for opportunity.  Prepare for it.  (Me)

Any one of these principles applied consistently and constantly would also lead to new and complementary ideas.  Learning and growth never have to stop.  In fact, if they do, then I’m probably dying or dead. 
But right now I’m fine, so I’m going to Get Started and Keep Going.  And I’m going to keep reading.