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by David Schwartz
Sound Ideas, 2003
Review by David M. Wolf, M.A. on Aug 5th 2004

The Magic of Thinking Big

    Professor Schwartz wrote his modern classic in 1959, and the title is familiar to millions of readers ever since who have used his ideas to sell, build careers, launch businesses, and generally get ahead. This review will take a retrospective look at the ideas themselves.

    But first let's evaluate how the CD/audio works in relation to the book version. Those who want bigger success, may indeed want the CD. The reviewed copy did not include any printed outlines, not even indexing on the disks themselves, which is less than optimum. And unlike the book, the CD set does present some problems of application. How do you write down the key idea without transcribing the whole four disks? Should you use the book as a guide to the CD? Also, if you listen to this CD driving, you may lose all the value, unless you have first listened to it with pen in hand, made notes, and listen while driving only for review or as motivation (say on way to a sales call).

    Now let's look at the ideas themselves.

    The basic ideas of The Magic of Thinking BIG are practical adaptations of philosophical Idealism: thought governs action and result. But Schwartz adds another major premise: the size of thoughts will modify the size of success. And he believes, like most Americans, that happiness is the real goal of life. What is distinctive about David J. Schwartz' approach is that he shakes these basic notions out into a set of precepts, rules of conduct, approaches to thinking and action in which thoughts become motivators. In other words, use the rules and prescriptions, and they work.

    Other reviewers have said, it's the kind of book to read again and again. So the magic of thinking big may be only part magic--the rest is the harder work of keeping at it.

    Still, there is magic here. And the CD preserves it nicely. The magic is that thoughts are things and the Self can change these things any time the Self chooses to change. It's incredibly simple although, in practice as everybody already knows, damned hard to do. The Magic in what Schwartz provides may simply be the everyday, down-to-earth ways he brings some lofty concepts into ordinary experience. If magic is slight of hand, you need to learn the trick in order to practice it; Schwartz breaks it all down to a point anybody who desires it can get it.

    And there, in the word desire, is the secret wrapped inside the magic. You have to want to--enough, often enough, clearly enough. Schwartz provides the things to repeat, the clarity. You just bring the desire. Together these two things become the ingredients of true motivation, a being not just thinking anymore but thinking and acting, doing, becoming, changing, or to use one of the Schwartz' verbs, "conquering."

    The main idea is that "The size of your thinking determines the size of your success." In other words, those who make five times your salary aren't five times smarter, better, luckier--they are thinking five times bigger. A not-so-hidden presupposition of all this is the arguable premise, bigger is better. Schwartz goes, it must be said, to great lengths to provide a satisfying understanding of what he means by "thinking bigger."

    And most self-help buyers think both thinking bigger is better and bigger (itself) is better. After all, life occurs in a market economy. And remember the title: it's not the magic of thinking more clearly or thinking through things or thinking with a computer running. It's thinking BIG. We will get back to that.

    Permit this reviewer an aside. I have an odd bias. I think it would be better if David Schwartz first leaned to pronounce the "ee" sound in "belief" before recording. He says "blief" so much that it becomes distracting. This reviewer means no disrespect to the departed master motivator, just that perhaps Simon and Schuster could use some digital magic of their own to edit these vintage tapes used in the CD. To their credit, however, they have added several other voices, reading much of the material, giving Schwartz long rests throughout the four disks--which greatly improves the listening quality generally.

    So, getting back to thinking BIG, success is linked here to bigness. It's that link that most indelibly secures this work to its origins in the 1950s. No escaping that. But is it wrong? Is it even dated when you consider the even more compelling interest in bigness in today's Microsoft- ($359 Billion) and Google- ($60 Billion?) economy? It's humbling to see the answer: If bigness isn't better, it is certainly dominant in the life of our economies worldwide. Think small and the world will pass you by.

    Schwartz uses other locutions that, regrettably, border on what's terminal in discourse: "excusitis" is the most salient. That's a "disease," he says, of the intellect to be avoided. It's small thinking run rampant, making excuses for all the little failings that lead to a life of failure. People make excuses to cover their self-defeating choices. Instead of your goal achieved, what you have is your excuse for why you didn't reach your goal. It's a disease: excusitis.

    The cure is all the things Schwartz outlines and describes: creative thinking, eliminating negative words like "impossible," avoiding the "negators," those downer people who steal our dreams; developing skills in listening, building confidence by overcoming fear, building self-belief, solving problems by taking action, using special techniques like "mind force," smiling to win support, getting people to support your goals, and generally using thought to influence people and events toward success.

    The rules Schwartz describes are more than useful. They are factual, tested, undeniable. And that's why The Magic of Thinking BIG is a classic in its field. Thinking includes time out to think alone, planning, thinking balanced with action, thinking positively, thinking choices, "directed and undirected thinking," setting goals, thinking through 30-day plans, thinking through investments in education and "idea starters" like good books, thinking about attitudes, thinking about complimenting people. On the whole it's a powerful program for individuals.

    But it must be said there is no false modesty in it. Nor is it for those who need or want to look more deeply into the questions of what comprises happiness, or even success. It assumes that happiness is linked to material success, which itself can be better when it's bigger. It's not for everyone.


© 2004 David Wolf


David Wolf is the author of Philosophy That Works, a book about the practice of philosophy. His book page for orders (hardback & paperback) is ; readers can also see the first chapter there.

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