A Facebook friend posted the other day how American self-help books are full of nonsense and not helpful. I paused for a second and said, well I have to disagree with that. But that doesn’t mean that all self-help books are amazing. To be honest, some of them are rubbish, but then, there are ones that actually help hundreds of thousands of people around the world in so many different ways.
Some help people to navigate their personal development journeys, some others offer lots of people clarity on a raft of issues while others guide readers to realize the importance of setting goals for themselves. Many people have attained financial success because of those books. Some books help lots of people to heal from post-traumatic incidents in their lives while others helped thousands of youths to turn their lives around. Specifically, for those who have learned under the roof of a weak educational system and lack of mentors in their lives, self-help books can be life-changing to them. For me, as someone who was born in a third world plus being one of the first generations of my family who received higher education, self-help books contributed a lot in enabling me to attain this noble goal.
Although I have been reading books since I learned how to read and write, and have read lots of books then, there is a particular book that I believe has shaped my thoughts and perspectives more than anything else. This book has a special place in my heart, I can say it was my first love book! I came across it when I was in high school. I borrowed it from my cousin. A lot of you may have heard of it, the book is called ‘You Can Win’ by Shiv Khera. Originally the book was published in 1998 and it is quite fascinating how it is still relevant in today’s world. This book challenged my little teenage brain and opened my eyes to wider horizons. It made me ask a lot of questions to examine issues deeply and analyze people’s motivations and intentions. I do remember that I have not only read once but multiple times and yet I find myself reading it again and again. I could say, I can still read today and it is still interesting just like the first day I opened it.
This book contains thousands of lessons, incredible stories, and internationally renowned quotes. When we hear the title of this book, most people remember the author’s most famous quote: “Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently”. For me, it wasn’t this quote or the other lessons in the book that changed the way I perceive the world. On the contrary, it is the theory of optimism and pessimism. The difference between optimistic and pessimistic people, as explained in the book, gave me clarity which I couldn’t get from anyone else or elsewhere. This gave me a direction and a point from where to start my journey. This theory showed me the way, it showed me the route to success and failure. It also classified the characters of good people and bad people. With great examples and very interesting stories, the author explains the world views of those two categories of people and how their view of the world influences what they do daily.
This theory built a solid foundation for my judgmental skills and how I deal with things and people. More importantly, it gave me clarity on different groups of people in society, which has probably enabled me to realize, to know better whom I would want to be a part of, which obviously is the optimistic club of the society.
You may wonder what is the big deal about optimism vs pessimism? Well, to begin with, this was a big deal for me for so many reasons: that was the first time I heard those vocabularies so I have learned the definition, their meaning, and the difference of those words. Not only I have learned but I have also trained my mind to not think like pessimists because I didn’t want to take that route. This theory gave me a key to seeing the world as the way I want to see which to look the good in everything. Knowing and practicing this opened lots of doors and opportunities for me. Finally, by using these rules, I have learned more about people’s behavior and characters.
In short, the author of the book made me realize the importance of not spending my whole life complaining about the littlest things but instead seeing an opportunity in every difficulty. In case you are wondering what the heck is optimism and pessimism? Here is the author explaining the characters of the pessimists in the book. He said, pessimistic people:
- Are always unhappy even when they have no troubles to speak.
- Feel bad when they feel good, for fear they will feel worse when they feel better.
- Spend most of their life at complaint counters.
- Always turn out the lights to see how dark it is.
- Always looking for cracks in the mirror of life.
- Stop sleeping in bed when they hear that more people die in bed than anywhere else.
- Cannot enjoy their health because they think they may be sick tomorrow.
- Do not only expect the worst but make the worst of whatever happens.
- Don’t see the doughnut, only the hole.
- Believe that the sun shines only to cast shadows.
- Forget their blessings and count their troubles.
- Know that hard work never hurts anyone but believe “why take a chance?”
What an absurd attitude. Pessimists have very strange beliefs and thoughts. You may not realize but sometimes we may encounter people who have such characters or we may see some characters in ourselves as well. Look at this interesting story which is about the pessimist’s attitude towards the success of someone else.
“Robert Fulton invented the steamboat. On the banks of the Hudson River, he was displaying his new invention. The pessimists and the skeptics were gathered around to observe. They commented that it would never start. Lo and behold, it did. As it made its way down the river, the pessimists who said it would never go, started shouting that it would never stop!” (Shiv Khera, P10)
This story shows that no matter, pessimist people will always criticize everything they see or heard. Here is the author again explaining the characteristic of those people:
“Some people criticize no matter what. It does not matter which side you are on; they are always on the other side. They have made a career out of criticizing. They are “career critics.” They criticize as if they will win a prize at a contest. They will find fault with every person and every situation. You will find people like this in every home, family, office. They go around finding fault and telling everybody how bad things are and blaming the whole world for their problems. They spread negative messages like a plague and create an environment conducive to negative results” (Shiv Khera, P9)
Well, enough with the pessimists. On the other hand, there are people called optimists and they are well described in the book. Optimistic people
- Are so strong that nothing can disturb their peace of mind.
- Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person they meet.
- Make all their friends feel there is something in them.
- Look at the sunny side of everything.
- Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best.
- Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as they are about their own.
- Give everyone a smile.
- Spend so much time improving their selves that they have no time left to criticize others.
- Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.
Following this, Shiv Khera compared the difference between optimistic people and pessimistic people by referring them to winners and losers in a very simple yet sophisticated way. This comparison is also one of my favorite parts of the book. He said:
- The Winner is always part of the answer; The Loser is always part of the problem.
- The Winner always has a program; The Loser always has an excuse.
- The Winner sees an answer for every problem; The Loser sees a problem for every answer.
- The Winner says, “It may be difficult but it is possible”; The Loser says, “It may be possible but it is too difficult.”
- When a Winner makes a mistake, he says, “I was wrong”; When a Loser makes a mistake, he says, “It wasn’t my fault.”
- A Winner makes commitments; A Loser makes promises.
- Winners have dreams; Losers have schemes.
- Winners say, “I must do something”; Losers say, “Something must be done.
- Winners are a part of the team; Losers are apart from the team.
- Winners see the gain; Losers see the pain.
- Winners see possibilities; Losers see problems.
- Winners believe in win-win; Losers believe for them to win someone has to lose.
- Winners see the potential; Losers see the past.
- Winners are like a thermostat; Losers are like thermometers.
- Winners choose what they say; Losers say what they choose.
- Winners stand firm on values but compromise on petty things; Losers stand firm on petty things but compromise on values.
- Winners make it happen; Losers let it happen. (Shiv Khera, P22)
I do remember reading those pages, again and again until they permanently become written on my mind. As a teenager, those definitions, clarifications, comparisons, and examples shaped my way of thinking and more importantly, added fuel to my passion. The last thing they did for me, is to not stress about the comments from the pessimists I meet in my life because how can it hurt when you know where it is coming from!
The book is widely available online. You can also download from the link below:
Muna Axmed Cumar (Mullaaxo)
12 January 2022