How Successful Would You Like to Be?

By Jim Cathcart

A plant in a small pot will grow only to the limits imposed by the pot. The roots cannot exceed its bounds and therefore the plant cannot access the needed nutrients; plus, there isn’t enough soil to support greater growth.

But put the same plant in your garden with ample soil, sunlight, and water and it will amaze you with its growth. The same is often true for fish in a glass aquarium: put them in a pond and they will grow larger.

I think we can learn from them.

What Motivates You to Succeed?

It’s true: Your thinking is the “governor” that restricts or frees you to grow as a person. Just as a throttle governor in an automobile puts limits on how fast you can drive, your mindset limits how successful you will be. How is it then that many uber-successful people came from extreme poverty and painful life experiences? It’s hard to find a billionaire who didn’t come through some pretty harrowing life experiences before they succeeded.

Pain, fear, and desperation tend to fuel either pessimism and misery or defiance and discipline. The motivational effect of, “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll show you!” is undeniable.

Zig Ziglar, arguably one of the most successful motivational speakers of all time, once told me that, as a youth, he was very poor and was expelled from the community swimming pool. This, combined with other indignities in his youth, fueled his commitment to succeed. Through immense dedication and hard work, he raised himself to world prominence in his field. Then, once he had succeeded, he built a new home with a swimming pool…one foot larger than the public pool from which he had been expelled as a youth in Mississippi. “Told ya!”

Where does this mindset come from? How can you and I cultivate an attitude that will take us far beyond the limits imposed by our parents, teachers, friends, and neighbors in the past? If Mom and Dad grew up in the Great Depression, as mine did, then their fear of poverty and find-a-way-to-make-do attitude was passed along to their kids. Those of us born in the Baby Boom generation (1946-1964) received both their doubts and their dreams. The ones we embraced determined our destiny.

Chances are good that the Baby Boomers are your parents. It was their job to watch over you and train you to meet the world on your own. But they were only teaching you what they had learned and believed. So, if you accept the same governors by which they were guided, your growth will never exceed their expectations. Break free!

In my 20s, I realized my expectations were small – and my life would be too unless something changed. Realizing that my thinking was at the root of my life experience, I decided to spend five years retraining my mind toward optimism and achievement. My tool was the recorded messages of Earl Nightingale – an inspirational speaker and radio commentator who was on 900 radio stations around the world in the 1970s. He was known as “the Dean of Personal Motivation.”

I purchased a library of Earl’s recordings, on a payment plan, and listened to them every day – often multiple times each day. He spoke about the great philosophers, world leaders, high achievers, and down-to-earth thinkers in ways that expanded my mind and removed my learned limitations, my “governors.” At first, I simply listened to him but, after repeated listening, I began to see the world and myself differently.

Train Your Mind to Expect More from Life

Within a year, I was taking more initiative at work and in my community. Within two years I was holding leadership positions. By year three I was winning statewide awards for my leadership achievements. Today, I’m at the top of my profession and – a few weeks ago – I did a round-the-world lecture tour with stops in China and Poland, speaking to as many as 5,000 people for up to six hours.

As a young man back in Arkansas, I expected an ordinary and unremarkable life. But, by retraining my mind and removing my governing thoughts, I have achieved more than anyone in my family before me. You can do this too. But first, you must learn to believe it is possible.

Note that I said, “Learn to believe.” Our beliefs aren’t necessarily true, though we treat them as if they are. We were taught to believe them. We were trained to see the world in ways that may limit our growth. Everything we know has been limited by what we were exposed to so far, and that is much less than all there is to know. It is up to you and me to

  1. Discover what we believe
  2. Test what we believe
  3. Live what we believe

Think about your future. What do you think it will be like? How successful could you become? A millionaire, billionaire, world leader, industry leader, respected by the most successful people in the world, a world record holder, a pioneer? Can you see your name on a building you have donated to a university? Do you see yourself being inducted into the hall of fame for your profession? Look at the gap between what you believe is likely and what could truly be possible. That gap is created by your governor. Remove the governor. Impeach it!

When you test your beliefs and find them to be inaccurate, embrace a larger vision of your future and live today as the person you hope to become tomorrow. Ask yourself every day, “How would the person I’d like to become do the things I will do today?” Upgrade everything you do to the level you aspire to – not the one you feel you’re currently on. Fire your governor and be all you can be.

Mindset is manageable. Take charge of yours.

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE, is the original author of Relationship Selling and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. Jim is a regular contributor to Selling Power and a certified Mindset Trainer. Contact Jim at