Saturday, 28 February 2015

The recurring theme in Horatio Alger's stories

Chances are that you have never heard of Horatio Alger. In his time, that is, during the last two decades of the 19th century, he was one the best-selling writers in the United States of America. Alger was the author of dozens of novels aimed at young readers, telling for the most part rags-to-riches stories.

"Ragged Dick" was his most famous book. Its protagonist, a quintessential Alger character, tries out his hand at different professions until he finally achieves the life of prosperity that he pursues. "He went into business," wrote Alger in that novel, "starting in a small way, and worked his way up by degrees."

The spirit of his time

If you read Alger's novels nowadays, you might find their plot too simple. His characters were, to a certain extent, stereotypes. Did Alger's stories take place in exotic, exciting settings? No, that was mostly not the case. Was Alger an author known for his ability to write impressive dialogue? Hardly. His prose was fine, but not spectacular.

Literary critics who have studied Alger's work often conclude that his extraordinary popularity was based on the fact that "his stories responded well to the spirit of his time," a period of adventurous entrepreneurs and rapid economic progress.

This conclusion might be true, but in my view, it still leaves an important aspect out of the picture. If you read Horatio Alger's stories, you will find that they address important life issues. His novels revolved around fundamental values such as ambition, independence, and integrity.

Depicting a better future

The recurring theme in Alger's books is that you, the reader, have the same right to succeed as anybody else, irrespective of your origin, family, or personal history. If you don't give up and keep on pushing, you might just make it.

"Keep up a little longer and we will save you," wrote Horatio Alger in the final chapter of his best-selling book. "Dick heard the shout and it put fresh strength into him. He battled manfully with the treacherous sea, his eyes fixed longingly on the approaching boat. Hold on tight, little boy, there's a boat coming."

No wonder that those who read Alger's novels in the late 19th century liked them so much. At that time, when the world was still untouched by radio, films, and television, Alger's popular fiction was a bright sign pointing to a better future, telling each of his readers that he had been selected to make his dreams come true. Today, a century later, this message of hope is something that we don't get to hear often enough. 

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Friday, 27 February 2015

Worrying is essentially a waste of time

Economic problems are similar to the influenza virus that marks the arrival of winter every year. Exaggerated concern seldom improves anything. Instead, individuals should identify the path that minimizes trouble and, if possible, find ways to profit from it.

Incomplete information 

Whenever you hear that inflation or deflation are coming, ask yourself how you can structure your finances in order to benefit from the situation. Can you link your income to a product whose price is likely to increase or decrease at the same pace as the overall economy? Can you reduce the amount of cash that you require to live and invest the remainder in assets that will profit from upcoming economic changes?

Economists speculate all the time about next year's rates of unemployment, inflation or deflation. For your personal investment decisions, you don't need to wait until the exact figure is known. On most occasions, knowing the general trend is enough to make rational investment choices.

If newspapers are discussing whether next year's inflation is going to be 6% or 7%, that tells you as much as you need to know. Take swift action and reflect about how to structure your finances to deal with such price increases. Worrying is essentially a waste of time. Although you cannot reshape the world according to your taste, nothing prevents you from taking measures to minimize trouble. 

Risk diversification

Discard stress, anxiety, and depression, learn to face problems in the best possible way, and become a rational investor. Your financial and philosophical sharpness will grow together. Your personal effectiveness will increase and you will become more tolerant and self-reliant.

Stop worrying, take action, and start making money. Never place all your savings on a single investment. If you acquire the habit of diversifying your investments amongst different types of assets, chances are that you will be much less troubled. If you purchase shares of solid companies around the world, your portfolio will tend to be less affected by problems in specific countries.

Learning to deal with the world's problems is a better approach than being paralysed by them. Wisdom is the process of learning what a man can achieve and what he should rather let go of. Becoming a rational investor will make you a better human being and help you overcome whatever financial fears the day may bring.  

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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Acquiring the ultimate advantage for personal growth

Human action produces the greatest benefits when it is focused on providing rational solutions to critical problems. A wise man uses logic to determine which difficulties are to be addressed with priority. He applies his energies to overcome major obstacles and ignores small inconveniences.

Actions that lead to happiness

Given sufficient time, logic and consistency produce positive results. A rational approach to living gives you the ultimate advantage in the fields of investment, health, career, or relationships. Barring extreme bad luck or misfortune, ethical actions lead to happiness.

The easiest way to accelerate your personal growth is to concentrate your efforts on the area of your life where problems are most pressing. Successful managers apply this strategy to their businesses. For instance, when assembly difficulties slow down production in a furniture factory, the solution might call for simpler designs.

You only have one life to enjoy and it is up to you to decide which path to follow. Assess your situation objectively, placing facts above prejudice. Ignore empty promises and select your best alternative on solid grounds.

Do not waste time trying to impress people who do not care for you. Discard nonsense and embrace logic. Design your strategy according to reality. See what works well in the world and identify the keys to prosperity.

A sense of purpose

Complaining and wishful thinking are ineffectual. Ambitious goals can only be achieved through thoughtful plans and consistent implementation. Psychological balance can only be maintained through rational values and a sense of purpose.

Sound principles are as beneficial as they are demanding. Irrationality may seem comfortable in the short-term, but contradictions ultimately result in failure. Individuals determine their own future by their passion to turn dreams into reality and their logic in the choice of means.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Overcoming the psychological resistance to action

The world is plagued by problems of all sorts. During your lifetime, chances are that you will go through periods of inflation, deflation, unemployment, rising share prices and stock market crashes. Newspapers report these problems with regularity and it seems that some of them will remain unresolved in the foreseeable future.

Protect yourself

At the time of this writing, most economists agree that increased consumer prices are coming, although nobody can tell precisely when this will happen. If you live on a fixed income, as it is the case of most pensioners, you should view inflation as a cause of a serious concern.

When the media mention that a loss of purchasing power might take place within months, danger is already looming in the horizon. If you do nothing, inflation will catch you unprepared. If you take appropriate measures, that will not be the end of the story either. As soon as inflation is under control, the next problem will come to haunt us, possibly another stock market crash.

Even if you occupy a position of influence, your possibilities of changing society remain minuscule for the simple reason that millions of people out there don't care about what you think and never will. Major changes in History ultimately result from ideas held in high regard, rightly or wrongly, by significant segments of the population. Those beliefs evolve through generations and change very slowly, even in the era of the internet and the global economy.

An effective strategy

As an investor, you will be much better off if you realize your impotence to bring fundamental changes to society and stop worrying about it. An effective strategy to help other people, which is by all means a laudable intent, is to focus your efforts on a restricted field where your contribution can really make a difference.

Adopting a rational investment philosophy involves giving up unrealistic expectations and concentrating on what is feasible. You cannot prevent inflation or deflation from taking place, but if you play your cards well, you can make money from them. Instead of worrying about the disadvantages of rising or falling prices, why don't you figure out how to use each financial phenomenon for your personal profit?

Achieving a positive result in your bank account will allow you to devote your gains to helping others, if that is your wish. For each disruptive event, there is an investment strategy that can help you make a profit. Rising share prices represent the easiest situation to deal with because most people can figure out that there is plenty of money to be made if you borrow at 6% interest and invest at 12% return.

Practical action

What makes rational investment difficult is our psychological resistance to letting go of worry, recognizing past mistakes, and taking practical action. In addition, a wise man must accept that an investment method that proves successful in one environment frequently becomes unsuitable when the context changes.

Real estate and gold coins may be great investments during inflationary periods, but tend to be lousy places to keep your money when the curve turns and prices begin to fall. You certainly don't want to be caught with a huge mortgage at a high rate when the price of residential properties begins to fall.

It is up to you in each case to take sensible measures to profit from the situation or, at least, to minimize its negative consequences. As individuals, our best strategy consists of letting go of anxiety and viewing inflation, deflation, unemployment, or any other economic challenge just as another problem to be handled. 

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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Would you recognize yourself in the crowd?

The 10 Principles of Rational Living
by John Vespasian 

In order to improve your life, you don't need to place your hopes on a lottery ticket or wait for the world to grant you the perfect opportunity. There is a better way and it is condensed in the principles of rational living, principles such as “think like an entrepreneur, not like a crusader,” “ignore the noise and focus on results,” “stay away from high-risk situations,” “find people who share your values,” and “develop strong long-term passions.” 

This book presents the principles of rational living in great detail, with numerous examples of people who have applied them successfully. The principles of rational living are sound ideas that can dramatically improve your life. Learn all about them and start applying them today.

1. Think like an entrepreneur, not like a crusader
A recipe for getting ahead in good and bad times
Debating and arguing are a waste of time
The true believer is the one who preaches by example
Entrepreneurs thrive on trouble and inconvenience
Unlike resources, opportunities are infinite

2. Ignore the noise and focus on results
If one road is blocked, take another
How to keep calm when you are surrounded by nonsense
The effective way to handle work overload
Learning from people who never feel discouraged
A proven strategy against career stagnation

3. Live inexpensively and invest for future income
Why the stock market offers the best opportunities
Common traits of great businessmen and investors
What kind of companies should you invest in?
A simple strategy is all you need
Adopt a realistic and practical approach

4. Choose a simple and healthy lifestyle
Don't just eat well, eat wonderfully
What is healthy, tasty, and easy to cook?
How to reduce everyday risks to your health
Eating healthily when you are travelling
Is it possible to slow down ageing?
Why it is so difficult to lead a simple life

5. Find people who share your values
Why you should ignore most of what you hear
The ugly duckling story repeats itself every day
Overcoming the resistance to changing jobs and relocating
Don't be original, be unique
Proven strategies for building great relationships
Would you recognize yourself in the crowd?

6. Listen to your emotions, but check the facts
Beware of exaggerated romantic tales
In dating and cooking, choose natural ingredients
How far are you willing to go for happiness?
Conflicting values lead to contradictory behaviour
The short distance between infatuation and obfuscation
Do not waste your best years pursuing unworkable ideals

7. Accept the inevitable hassles of life
Putting an end to exaggerated fears
Extreme reactions are foolish and wasteful
In praise of caution and circumspection
Can you remain self-confident in times of trouble?
How impatient people become stoic philosophers
Never grant problems more weight than they deserve

8. Stay away from high-risk situations
Death statistics make great bedtime reading
Tranquillity seldom comes cheap
Do not make an obsession of the perfect profession
Three situations that you should avoid like the pest
Every archer needs more than one arrow
The jungle never sleeps

9. Acquire effective habits
An hour has sixty minutes, a day twenty-four hours
In praise of staying behind
How a proactive attitude helps you overcome difficulties
Let go of the dead weight of prejudice
Smooth operators get more out of life
Personal effectiveness depends on patterns

10. Develop strong long-term passions
Comparing yourself with other people makes no sense
Don't drink the poison of contradiction
What heroes are made of
The myths of the single skill and the unique opportunity
Become tolerant of mistakes, since you will make so many
The link between integrity and passion

The 10 Principles of Rational Living
by John Vespasian 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Before moving forward, it is wise to clear the path

Concentration improves results in business and private life. Shepherds cull herds to prevent contagious sickness to spread. By nurturing only healthy sheep, they ensure an optimal result. The benefits of concentration also apply to human affairs. Minimizing stress involves abandoning wasteful activities and focusing our time in areas of importance.

Abandon wasteful activities

Selection frees up time for what really counts. Every man should aim at a future that is better than his present. Know your priorities and reaffirm them at every opportunity. Clever retailers sell slow-moving items at low prices in order to make space for more popular goods. In order to minimize stress, we need to make clear decisions and abandon unattainable goals.

Individuals succeed in reducing stress when they acquire a rational approach to living. Anxiety disappears from our lives when we follow logical and consistent principles. Thinking long-term allows man to identify his goals and priorities. Thoughtfulness allows man to gain visibility and increase his efficiency.

Make your priorities visible

Productivity experts will often advise workers to clear the factory floor in order to allow them to see their own mistakes. It is only after misplaced tools and obsolete inventory have been removed that people figure out how to improve and change their ways. Without visibility, there can be no transformation. Without choices, there can be no progress.

Setting priorities and making rational decisions constitute the best way to reduce stress in our lives. A cluttered agenda is a cage full of paradise birds waiting to be released. Those birds are your best ideas, the ones that you have not yet formulated. Simplify your life and sharpen your ambitions. The birds are ready to fly. Open the cage door and set them free.

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Sunday, 22 February 2015

How to minimize stress in daily life

There is a cure for stress. It is not a drug and it is not a fantasy. It won't cost you money, but it is not for free. Many people who try it out feel born again, others rejuvenated. The remedy is known under many different names. You may call it simplification or streamlining, reduction or selection, focus or elimination, logic or rationality.

An efficient approach

An efficient approach to living is easier to name than to implement. Minimizing stress requires man to concentrate his energies on the essential areas of his life. This is a goal that can only be achieved by establishing priorities. Eliminating stress results from making choices and embracing simplification.

Why are so many people reluctant to set priorities in their lives? Why do they prefer to run in circles rather than follow a straightforward path towards their objectives? Individuals affected by stress frequently lack consistent criteria to make decisions. Men and women who live in anxiety often fear standing still for a minute and questioning their own contradictions.

No more overload

Overloading one's days with senseless activities is a psychological defence mechanism against the fear of taking responsibility. Rational decisions are impossible for people who lack a sense of direction. On many occasions, having too much to do is an excuse to avoid facing indecision. Small talk with one hundred acquaintances cannot replace a deep conversation with one close friend.

Stress is to the human soul what indebtedness is for a business. Both are problems that compound with time unless a workable strategy is adopted. Intelligent choices enhance professional and private results. Efficiency begins with clarity.

Choices need to be made

Resources, in particular time, are limited in all human endeavours. We minimize stress when we apply simplification, concentration, and selection to make the best of what we have available. Those three elements constitute the rational approach to eliminating anxiety and maintaining a healthy psychological balance.

Simplification, the opposite of complexity, results in more energy. Fruit growers prune trees once per year in order to reinforce the vigour of the healthiest branches. Lean trees produce more fruit than those loaded with moribund branches. In the same way, stress is minimized when we make rational choices and discard activities that waste our time and bring little satisfaction. 

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Saturday, 21 February 2015

Why I place resilience above all other virtues

The life of French writer Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) offers a fascinating example of the role that resilience plays in success. It took him 14 years of continuous failure before he actually wrote a book that sold well. During that time, he cumulated business disasters and incurred such enormous debts that he was obliged to hide from creditors.

Personal growth against all odds

His desire to become writer grew slowly during his time at school and his experience as an employee. In his youth, he laboured for two years as a clerk at a notary office, where he learned to draft marriage contracts and property mortgages. Balzac was 20 years old when he decided to quit his job at the law firm and devote the rest of his life to writing.

After a long discussion, he managed to convince his father to grant him a small allowance for a year. That was the time that Balzac had allowed himself to write a brilliant novel that would immediately propel him to the highest echelons of literary fame.

During those initial 12 months, Balzac produced two appalling books which were quickly forgotten. A long string of poorly crafted novels followed during the next years; none of those earned him sufficient money to break out of poverty.

In his late twenties, Balzac contemplated his massive failure and resolved to abandon his ambitions. He told himself that he had done his best, but that becoming a writer was too difficult. Would he not rather make a fortune in business and later, when he was free of material concerns, return to literature?

Dealing with catastrophic failure

His entrepreneurial attempts soon ended catastrophically. He borrowed large sums of money and established himself first as a publisher and later as a printer, two businesses about which he knew little. Competition was hard and Balzac lacked the experience to run such operations with any chance of success.

He brought out books that did not sell and saw financial losses accumulate. In less than a year, he had wasted his complete capital and was obliged to shut down his business. His dreams of prosperity were shattered; his personal debts, astronomical; his prospects of turning around the situation, negligible.

Psychological misery followed financial ruin. For an extended period, Balzac spent his days feeling sorry for himself and hiding from creditors. He was so poor that he only escaped hunger thanks to family and friends. They provided him a roof over his head and helped him regain his self-confidence.

Balzac's healing took place slowly. Eventually, his pride returned to his previous size; his ambitions were rekindled; his persistence was reborn, stronger than ever before. He announced to his family that he was going to retake his literary career and that, this time, he was not intending to stop until he had attained popularity and sales.

How to overcome lack of support

When he told them that he was willing to do whatever was necessary, his declaration was met with scepticism. Had he not tried to become a writer for longer than a decade? Had he not failed completely at every attempt?

Balzac nodded, smiled, and replied that he had conceived a plan that would put him on the map as a writer. His past novels had been dead-end projects composed without grand ambitions; his future works would form a collection integrated by a single idea, a final goal, a fundamental purpose.

Popular success came to him in 1833 and continued for a good part of his life. Balzac baptised his collection of novels La Comédie Humaine, which grew to encompass 95 books. At several times in his career, he played again with the idea of acquiring a business and living a different life. Fortunately for his readers, he stuck to his final goal. 

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Friday, 20 February 2015

The key to extraordinary self-confidence

If you have made a mess of your life in the past, you are in good company. Thousands of successful people have embarked themselves on dead-end projects leading to catastrophic losses. Failure is always a discouraging experience, but wise men never view it as the end of the game.

Overcoming adversity

They take some time to rest, regroup forces, and gather resources for their next venture. The consequences of dead-end projects are rarely lethal. Entrepreneurs that incur losses see them as the price of pursuing their dreams. If they suffer damage to their reputation, they pick up whatever is left and move on.

People possessed by doubt quit when they encounter difficulties. In contrast, individuals motivated by strong desire cannot imagine a life a passive acceptance. Both types of persons may advance at the same speed for a while, but only the relentless reach the end of the path.

The key to amazing resilience

Consistency and persistence, like any other conviction, cannot be purchased with money. We know that personal psychology plays an important role in how actively people work at improving their lives, but we still ignore the precise mechanics of motivation.

Why do certain individuals develop extraordinary drive and exploit possibilities to the maximum? What makes other persons in similar situations waste their lives and resources? Biographers of high-achievers tend to agree that ambitious goals open the door to excellent performance.

While indecisive people move at random, determined individuals walk as fast as they can in their chosen direction. While weak companies spread their resources too thin, strong enterprises concentrate forces on their most profitable markets. While the members of one group hesitate, the others are already half-way. Their final goal makes all the difference.

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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Why you shouldn't care too much about other people's opinions

If you wish to become a poet, I can give you some clues, but please take your heart medication before you read this through, since it contains some strong truths.

Nobody else cares, so what?

First, you have to realize that nobody cares about what you want to be, so don't go around complaining that you are misunderstood. Artistic sensitivity is fine, but please keep it to yourself, since there is already too much noise in the world.

Second, you should just start writing poetry and do not ask anyone for permission. If you do happen to ask someone for permission, you most likely won't even get a response. Again, it's not that most people won't understand you, it's simply that they are too busy with their own lives.

Acquire this essential quality

Third, you have to develop a thick skin. This is a quintessential requirement for any artist, as it is for salesmen and lawyers. People will criticize your work for no reason, editors will correct the unique syntax that you have worked so hard to create, and bookshops will place your poetry books in the cooking section.

Fourth, you have to show your work around and try to find the small percentage of people who might like your poetry. No matter how good a poet you are, that percentage will always remain small, but remember that there are 6.7 billion people in the world. Even if only one person in a thousand likes your poetry, that still makes 6.7 million people.

How long it takes to win

I know that you are going to ask me when you will know for sure that you are a poet. This is an easy question for me to answer. You will know one day in the evening, after many years of taking daily steps towards your goal.

By that time, you might be already discouraged and ready to quit poetry altogether, but take heart. On that evening, you will be invited to a party by someone you barely know. You will attend in the hope, after so many years, of meeting a publisher who will really appreciate your work.

Ten minutes after you arrive at the party, your hope will vanish. Nobody will pay any attention to you and you will wonder if you have received the invitation by error. You will retire to a corner to sip your green tea in loneliness, but then, you will realize that two young women are staring at you from the opposite side of the room.

The two will cross the room and stand still a meter away from you. "Can we ask you a question?" one of them will say. "Sure," you will reply, wondering if they are mistaking you for someone else.

A crucial piece of advice

"We want to become writers," they will continue. "Could you give us some advice about how to write a book?" At that point, you will frantically try to figure out a brilliant answer, something that will identify you as a successful poet.

You will look around the room, a little desperate, realizing that you have no good advice to offer. You will wish that someone would join the conversation and give you the answer, but of course, no one will.

As you mumble your piece of advice, you will feel embarrassed by your lack of ideas and imagination. "Writing a book is easy," you will say, "you just start at the beginning and finish at the end." Then you will blush, ashamed of having spoken out such triviality.

The two women will stare at you in silence for a long time and then exchange a satisfied look. "I told you he was a poet," one of them will comment in awe. "You were right," the other will concur. And at that moment, at that very moment, you will know yourself for sure.

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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

In case of doubt, focus on what you really want

Studies have identified many factors that contribute to career success, but so far, nobody has been able to build a convincing model to predict an individual's future or how much happiness a certain profession will bring him. In case of doubt, people will opt for the safe choice and this is why you seldom hear career counsellors recommend risky artistic professions that may lead to unemployment.

In case of doubt

This sort of routine advice aims at achieving social insertion. Risk is identified as a problem, safety as the solution. However, a career recommendation based on conventional truth is never going to inspire a daring adventurer. In times when the market requires creativity at all levels, a fearful approach might prove fundamentally wrong, or perhaps, it is wrong in all circumstances.

In the year 1820, Bertel Thorvaldsen, an acclaimed romantic sculptor, travelled back from Rome to his native Denmark. Thorvaldsen was then 50 years old and at the pinnacle of his fame. During his stay in Copenhagen, he talked to many aspiring artists, giving them generous advice and encouragement.

One night, when Thorvaldsen returned to his hotel after a reception in his honour, he was told that a boy had been waiting for him all day. Intrigued, Thorvaldsen looked around the hotel hall and found a poorly dressed kid asleep on a chair.

A long waiting time

He walked up to the boy, shook his arm gently, and whispered to him: "It is late, kid, go home." Startled, the boy opened his eyes and jumped to his feet. "I was waiting for you, Herr Thorvaldsen. I have been waiting for you all day."

That must true, thought Thorvaldsen, since the boy looked so exhausted and hungry that he was pitiful to see. "I wanted to ask you for advice on my career," the kid went on. "I cannot decide whether I should become a novelist or a poet."

Out of compassion, Thorvaldsen ordered a glass of warm milk for the boy and listened to his story. It was a heartbreaking tale. With adolescence, the kid had lost the striking voice that had gained him praise and a small income in his home town, and had joined the thousands of unemployed youth that roamed the streets of Copenhagen.

"This is why I have thought of becoming a writer," the boy explained shyly, taking three ruffled pages out of his pocket and handing them over to Thorvaldsen. Strangely enough, the idea of asking a sculptor for literary advice seemed to fit the kid's pathetic situation.

When you have no chance 

Thorvaldsen devoted a few minutes to reading the text and was appalled to see that it contained innumerable grammar and spelling mistakes. It was obvious that the boy had no chance of becoming a writer. Even if it was cruel, it was better that he learned the truth right away, so that he could at least learn a trade.

"What is your name?" asked Thorvaldsen, returning the pages. "Hans-Christian," replied the boy full of hope. "Hans-Christian Andersen." A silence ensued, as Thorvaldsen searched for the least hurtful way to express his judgement.

Leaving hesitations behind

He stared at Hans-Christian Andersen for a long while as he remembered his own artistic ambitions as a young man, many years ago, but of course, his own situation had been completely different. Thorvaldsen took in a deep breath and shook his head. "Look, Hans-Christian," he began, "I don't know how to tell you this."

At that moment, Andersen nodded and gave the sculptor a crazy smile. That was what he had been waiting for. He was about to hear the words of encouragement that he needed so badly. He was sure that an artist of the calibre of Thorvaldsen would be immediately able to recognize his literary talent and point him in the right direction.

"What do you think, Herr Thorvaldsen, should I become a novelist or a poet?" he asked again, this time full of confidence. Fascinated, Thorvaldsen looked at the kid's bright eyes and realized how foolish he had been. "I have no doubt, Hans-Christian," he answered softly, "that you can become both."

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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The rational way to overcome misfortune and bad luck

"I have never seen times like these," admitted Bernardino. "The pest has wiped out half of the population of Siena." Giovanni Capistrano looked at his friend and shook his head. "We are indeed facing the end of the world," he replied.

"We have run out of salt for the fish, ink for the copyists, and candles for the chapel," enumerated Bernardino. "We don't even have cloth to make robes for the novices!"

Facing problems effectively

Capistrano took in a deep breath and, instead of giving an answer, he murmured a prayer. He was convinced that the catastrophes that had happened during the last years were a punishment from God and that no resistance was possible.

In the year 1419, the economic depression ravaging Tuscany had reached gigantic proportions. Bernardino was 39 years old and he had seen with his own eyes land prices go down by 80% in a twenty-year period. It was difficult to imagine that things could get worse than they were already.

Although Bernardino appreciated Giovanni Capistrano highly, he was also conscious that his friend was more gifted for theological disputes than for solving practical problems. Since Bernardino was the prior of Santa Maria Monastery, finding solutions was his job.

After the morning prayer, he left the chapel through the back door, crossed the monastery's orchard, and walked into the woods. Like every time he had to make a difficult decision, he needed to be alone for a while.

"We have hardly enough to eat as it is now," Bernardino reflected as he advanced towards the river. "Should I tell novices that our monastery cannot accept new vocations at this time and send them away?"

Suddenly, Bernardino stood still and looked around puzzled. Something had changed since the last time he had been in the woods, but he couldn't tell what. Intrigued, he advanced fifty steps and reached the riverbank. It was only at that moment that Bernardino realized what had interrupted his thoughts. It was the noise! He was so used to long hours of silence in the monastery that he had forgotten the relentless sound of nature.

Summer had arrived and Bernardino was immersed in a cacophony of cries from birds, cicadas, and tree frogs. He sat down on a stone in front of the water and tried to concentrate his mind on the most pressing problems.

Like every year, the summer had made the river water level go down by two feet, uncovering in the middle of the stream a long, narrow island. Bernardino knew it well, since it had served him as playground in his childhood, many years ago.

Bushes that had remained submerged during the winter were now showing deep green colours and had become the ideal basis for swallows to build their mud-nests. Bernardino smiled when two yellow butterflies flew above his shoulders, fearlessly headed towards the island.

Focusing your efforts

He lowered his head and prayed silently for guidance. Nine young men had requested to join the Santa Maria Monastery as novices. Bernardino was the prior and it was up to him to decide on the admission of novices.

The economic depression had drained the monastery's resources to such an extent that there was no way for Bernardino to feed nine additional monks, let alone provide them with novice's robes. On the other hand, additional help was badly needed to cultivate the monastery's land.

When Bernardino returned to the monastery one hour later, he found Giovanni Capistrano sitting on a bench in front of the chapel, reading the Bible. "I have found a solution," announced Bernardino approaching his friend. Capistrano lifted his eyes from the book and scrutinized Bernardino's face. "To the economic crisis?" he retorted sceptically. "Or do you mean a solution to the pest that is decimating the population of nearby cities?"

"If we cannot change the whole world," went on Bernardino, "let us at least focus our efforts on doing whatever we can to improve our situation." Giovanni Capistrano closed the Bible and stared at Bernardino, wondering what he was talking about.

"I was sitting by the river thinking about our problems," Bernardino continued, "when I realized that the solution was before my eyes. It is summer now and swallows have built their nests on the island in the middle of the river."

He turned around and pointed at the cedar tree beside the chapel. "The energy of nature never stops. Season after season, year after year, animals and plants grow and live further. If there is a storm, birds might stand still for a few hours, but only to move on relentlessly as soon as the weather improves."

Don't fall into paralysis

"Swallows don't sit around paralysed by fear of the end of the world," continued Bernardino. "They pick up whatever materials are available and build their nests, trying to make the best of any given circumstances."

Giovanni Capistrano shrugged his shoulders. "Indeed, birds are always moving, but they are stupid animals that cannot reflect about the future. Otherwise, swallows would not build nests on the island every summer. When the river water level goes up in September, the island will be flooded and the nests will be washed away."

Bernardino nodded. "That's the point, Giovanni. We are men, not birds, and we don't have to repeat our past mistakes. On the other hand, we can learn from animals that life is meant to be lived by relentlessly moving forward, not by complaining that things should be otherwise than they are."

"That's very philosophical, but I can't see how it relates to our current problems" objected Capistrano, laying the Bible on the bench and standing up. "That will not help the Santa Maria Monastery feed nine new novices. Unfortunately, we have to send those postulants away."

"No, let's welcome those new vocations and thank God for sending them to us," answered Bernardino. "Those nine novices are the help that we need to cultivate the monastery's land. If necessary, we will pawn our gold chalice to get us through the next months."

Incredulous, Giovanni Capistrano shook his head. "Even if a pawnbroker in Sienna took the chalice, that wouldn't bring us enough money to purchase nine monk's robes for the novices."

"Follow me," ordered Bernardino, starting to moved towards the chapel. With Giovanni Capistrano on his trail, he entered the chapel, walked past the wooden benches, and stood still in front of the brown drapes that covered the wall. "We'll use those to make monk's robes. When the economy recovers, we'll have new drapes made for the chapel."

Indeed, the economy recovered little by little. Six years later, by 1425, the Santa Maria Monastery was restored to its old splendour. Bernardino's pro-active attitude in difficult times earned him a well-deserved reputation and, soon after, Pope Eugene IV offered him a bishop's appointment. 

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Sunday, 15 February 2015

Ten powerful advantages of motivational consistency

Few persons establish a definite direction for their life, but those who do, can reap enormous benefits. Motivational consistency brings, amongst others, the following advantages.
  1. Financial resources can be used with a minimum of waste by avoiding random decisions and useless purchases
  2. A clear vision of the future feeds the motivation to develop specialized skills and accumulate intellectual capital.
  3. Consistent objectives help you build perseverance and credibility. On the other hand, random behaviour tends to damage a man's reputation and destroy his assets.
  4. Rational goals lead men to entertainment that reinforces values and involves aspects of learning.
  5. Compatible, long-term objectives provide the energy needed to undertake ambitious projects that make a difference in one's living conditions.
  6. Logic and ambition supply the resilience needed to undertake boring maintenance tasks that bring substantial long-term benefits.
  7. A stable vision and a lifetime perspective lead man to avert excessive risks, lotteries and other forms of gambling.
  8. Consistent objectives render man's mind active and willing to explore innovative options. In contrast, contradictory goals lead to mistakes, waste, and paralysis.
  9. Long-term ambitions enable man to accept mistakes as part of a learning process. The opposite phenomenon, intolerance, frequently arises out of pursuing contradictory targets. Individuals torn apart by diverging goals find difficult to explain their own actions.
  10. Convictions in line with reality allow man to connect deeply with other human beings. Irrational objectives prevent individuals from communicating clearly, leading to irritation, confusion, misunderstandings, and errors.
Personal effectiveness

Human beings cannot guide their lives properly without reason. Dogs and cats perceive a narrow part of reality, but man is aware of hundreds of interconnected details, past and present, that are relevant in each situation. Our mind calls for logic and consistency. Self-confidence and happiness become impossible if we ignore our rational nature.

Workable, compatible, long-term goals render man truly human. Leading an effective life requires individuals to select rational objectives that comprise their whole lifetime. A consistent vision that reaches into the next decades is the most reliable tool for making optimal choices in the present. 

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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Pursuing your goals despite obstacles and distractions

Ideas are precious and constitute the basis of civilization. Without the concepts of free trade, freedom of speech, and human rights, our standard of living would rapidly fall to medieval levels. Personal goals shape a sustained vision that transforms our talents into valuable products of services.


Closed doors reflect fear of change. Rational objectives will take you forward, but it is essential that those are compatible. Inconsistent principles rob each other's force and deplete each other's resources. Keep you door open to new concepts and ideas, but make sure that those are logically integrated.

When you discover that some of your goals are wrong, you should discard them. On the other hand, if your ambitions are annoying but consistent, keep them, since they might lead you to a breakthrough improvement.


Consistent, integrated goals will take you places, but inconsistent ambitions will only wear you down, making you stressed, anxious, and depressed. Pursuing compatible goals increases personal effectiveness and enhances creativity. 

Consistent ideals also improve man's reasoning capacity. Modern life requires instantaneous choices. Individuals who possess well-integrated goals can deal with complexity in the most effective manner.

Rational men ensure the consistency of their actions by defining clear objectives for the remaining decades of their life. Effective living requires that our choices, minor or fundamental, are aligned with our overriding goals. Individuals who follow this principle tend to become an outstanding success.

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Friday, 13 February 2015

Continuous action breeds opportunities

The Philosophy of Builders
by John Vespasian 

The factors that lead to prosperity and happiness have changed little through the ages. From the lives of accomplished men and women, we can extract the three principles that they have used to build a better future: self-reliance, tolerance and entrepreneurship. 

This book presents how individuals can use these principles to overcome adversity and improve their lives. Through the analysis of situations in the areas of relationships, career, health and investments, it shows how to overcome pessimism and discouragement, walk the path of least resistance, simplify your life and reduce costs, and focus on real opportunities. 

The ideas are illustrated with examples from the lives of Paracelsus, Jane Austen, Thomas of Aquinas, Gutenberg, Jules Verne and many other historical figures, showing how they overcame obstacles and built a better future for themselves.

1. Achieve basic stability
Never underestimate what one man alone can do
Establish the foundation of long-term achievement
Attack problems one by one
Do not allow vanity to paralyse you
Pay attention to danger signals
Build on existing strengths
Learn to view problems in perspective
Wait only the strictly necessary

2. Overcome pessimism and discouragement
Assess risks rationally, not emotionally
Quantify what you can expect
Passive acceptance is not the way to go
Dispute negative thinking patterns
Embrace a philosophy that leads to happiness
Avoid inconsistent decisions
Read inspiring authors

3. Walk the path of least resistance
Discard unworkable plans
Use realism to avoid waste
Look at what people are actually buying
Adopt a lifestyle that suits your temperament
Use long-term goals to determine your direction
Stay out of hopeless ventures
Avoid relativism and scepticism
Find an outlet for your talents

4. Take measures to prevent problems
Be prepared to face misfortune
Concentrate on crucial factors
Pay attention only to quality information
Identify potential threats
Look for simple prescriptions
Protect yourself effectively
Increase your resilience against adversity

5. Simplify your life and reduce your costs
Don't fall in the trap of short-term thinking
Enjoy the benefits of the immigrant mentality
When should you be willing to overpay?
Choose inexpensive alternatives
You can learn the basics quickly
Being healthier by consuming less
The solution to stress: simplification

6. Start new projects with minimum resources
Gather support as you go
The danger of getting stuck in abstractions
Avoid inaccessible markets
Do not be intimidated by other people's achievements
Most barriers are psychological
Small but regular steps often lead to success

7. Focus on real opportunities
Select a low-risk approach
You can profit from troubled times
How to identify promising ideas
Should you worry about the state of the economy?
Use low-cost marketing techniques
Redefine what is essential
Value creation begins with observation

8. Adopt productivity as a way of life
Do not assign excessive weight to mistakes
In case of doubt, opt for a logical explanation
Steady work is preferable to occasional jobs
Choose stories that promote achievement
A change of speed might be all you need
Work only on one major project at a time
Let go of linear expectations
Never entrust your future to chance
Keep flexible and alert

9. Take relentless action
Fill your days with worthy activities
Experiment to find out what works
Adopt effective routines
In crucial matters, do not leave anything untried
Continuous action breeds opportunities
Rewrite your personal history
Can you turn adversity into an asset?
Action is the best way to overcome obstacles

The Philosophy of Builders
by John Vespasian

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The massive psychological benefits of frugality

The law of cause and effect governs the world. Nothing escapes its reach, no one can circumvent its application. What you do today determines the level of tomorrow's pay. In addition to economic advantages, frugality also brings psychological benefits. Stress, anxiety, discouragement, and fear will not haunt the house of the austere.

Finding serenity

Discarding waste and embracing frugality lead to peace of mind. Worries won't keep awake at night those who live with measure. Leading a rational life spares man the effort of following the latest fashion. When we dismiss artificial alternatives, we are left with the fundamental. Serenity is the result of simplification.

Choosing frugality instead of waste will allow you to make fast and consistent decisions. When you trust your own judgement more than external opinion, you learn from mistakes and develop your skills. Frugality, which is based on stable values, leads to decisiveness. A man who possesses clear priorities can reject inconsistency without need of long discussions.

No short-sighted decisions

 A prudent conduct brings the added benefit of risk reduction. A judicious man protects himself when at risk and tries to avert threats whenever possible. The tension of complex choices can wear out even the most balanced mind. On the other hand, a straightforward and consistent approach reduces errors of oversight. Shunning unnecessary cost keeps risk exposure low.

Ignore the noise

Ignoring the noise of false opinions liberates resources. Frugality enables man to breathe free of encumbrances and focus his efforts on what really counts. Happiness is not the result of accumulating tasks, but of a few essential activities that make a difference.

Discarding waste brings man wealth, but the material advantages of frugality go hand in hand with its psychological benefits. Disregard the unnecessary and pay attention to the crucial elements of a good life. Realizing that most things possess little relevance is what enables man to make wise choices.

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The iron principle of personal development

Biographies provide details about how eminent persons waste opportunities and turn themselves into fools. On some occasions, errors are made out of insufficient knowledge, but frequently, vanity and greed play a major role in self-destruction. What readers of biographies seek to learn above all is how to overcome feelings of sadness and guilt after having made a gigantic blunder.

The ultimate form of waste

As soon as we realize the full extent of a major mistake, emotional misery arises from comparing our present to a parallel universe that would have existed if we had not wasted our opportunities. Such negative reactions overlook that errors and waste are the result of the knowledge available to a person at a certain moment. In essence, what an individual knows and feels are the only relevant factors in his decisions.

A man should strive to discard waste as matter of principle, but after making a dreadful mistake and suffering major losses, he should avoid above all the ultimate form of waste: comparing himself with someone else. It makes little sense to lament how well you could be doing if you had made wiser choices. The only thing you can do is to learn from the situation so that you can perform better next time.

Each human being is born in different circumstances, each life is unique. Individuals grow at their own pace and learn their own lessons. Errors and waste provide us with painful but irreplaceable experience.

The iron principle

The iron principle of personal development is that illogical comparisons bring nothing but misery. Instead, you need to stand up and look ahead. Your next achievement will bring you farther. Mistakes will make you a better human being and show you the way to happiness if you acquire rational habits. When it comes to avoiding waste, no other habit is as powerful as frugality. 

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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Happiness calls for steady purpose and continuous action

Large number of people believe in arbitrary moral standards, but you are not obliged to imitate their foolishness. The idea that things can be done only in one specific way is false. The expectation that people must accept imposed values is unworkable. If you have ethical questions, look around until you find logical and consistent answers.

Abandon contradictory goals

As friends or spouse, seek out exclusively individuals who can think for themselves. Abandon contradictory goals. Never get involved with persons whom you know to be dishonest, since they are unable to maintain good personal relationships. Deceit is synonymous with inconsistency. False ideas conflict with facts and with each other.

Anxiety is the mark of those who move at random, without destination. Animals do not need perspective, but humans do. In order to achieve great personal relationships, you need to determine your direction. A wise man cannot be satisfied with short-term relationships. Superficial personal bonds take a disproportionate amount of time and cannot provide the pleasures of deep conversation.

The law of cause and effect

Rational values embody principles that are common to all thinking human beings. Those values are distilled from reality by means of observation and logic. Irrational people cannot establish steady relationships because their behaviour continuously clashes with the demands of the world.

The law of cause and effect, the fundamental principle of existence, governs the relations between men and women. The relationships that you build today will determine how your future plays out. Your choice of friends and spouse will play a key role in your happiness.

Reason tell us how to lead our lives, whom to befriend, and who is worthy of our love. Let reason establish your ambitions and priorities also in the field of human relationships. Fashion and imitation provide the short-term contentment that comes from conformity, not real happiness.

Superficiality adds much expense to you detriment and brings little worth to your experience. Shrug your shoulders at unrealistic advice. Ignore invitations from irrational people, either as friends or love companions. You will spare yourself enormous costs and trouble.

Happiness calls for steady purpose

In your choice of spouse, never pay attention to fashion or cultural expectations. Do not sell yourself short by exchanging your rational values for the worthless pleasures of conformity. Adopt logic and consistency as your only criteria for love and friendship.

Happiness calls for steady purpose and continuous action. Choose the way of reason and adopt consistent values. Developing relationships with other rational individuals can be a slow process, but it is extremely rewarding. It will enable you to lead a successful life and enjoy the company of the best of humanity. 

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Sound choices play a key role in attaining happiness

Relinquishing individual thinking and embracing a standard lifestyle brings enormous advantages. For instance, it will save you time when making decisions. It will also spare you embarrassment when it comes to hiding the truth. However, irrationality and conformity cannot provide the basis for good relationships.
Values that make no sense

The opposite side of the psychological spectrum is filled by non-conformity, which often boils down to blind loyalty to some other style. For instance, non-conformists prefer to practise dangerous sports instead of spending their holidays on the beach.

Their hobbies might include playing exotic games instead of watching films. They seldom go for a walk in the park, but they might spend a fortune on a tour in the tropical forest. The clothes of non-conformists, instead of clean and well ironed, tend to be messy and torn.

Whether you choose conformity or non-conformity as basis for your relationships makes little practical difference. In both cases, your years will be filled with more or less colourful souvenirs, not with happiness. Imitating distorted pictures is not the way to create great paintings.

Adopting values that make no sense will not move you towards success and happiness. The exaltation of inconsistencies will not render your feelings more intense. Walking a downtrodden track leads to a dejected spirit. In the field of love and friendship, thoughtlessness is not a path you want to take.

The key to wisdom

If you embrace logic, you won't need to spend your days wondering which of all sub-cultures is the least dysfunctional. Wisdom consists of identifying principles of human relations inspired by reason, applying them in our daily lives, and correcting our mistakes.

Seeking out thoughtful persons as friends or spouse plays a crucial role in attaining happiness. Sound choices are the result of man's rational evaluation of people and events. Achieving individuality requires our deep involvement with human beings who respect logic and consistency.

In order to develop happy relationships, we must allow our mind to filter out the noise of culture and fashion. We need to stop believing in myths. Neither specific clothes, nor gadgets, nor living in a specific location can provide the basis for good personal relations. Only people who share rational values are really able to communicate, understand, and appreciate each other.

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