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By the time I was 15 years old, my mom, sister, and I had moved homes at least 25 times. My father was an alcoholic. I was getting government-paid school lunches and had a weekend job at a local bakery. I was not surrounded by much ambition or inspiration.

But I knew the life I was given was special. I yearned to do something important with it, but I couldn’t find the words to explain this to anyone (and even if I could, I doubted I could find anyone who would entertain my “very optimistic” ideas).

Then I stumbled across a book in a secondhand store, and it changed my life. The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, Ph.D., brought my inner-knowledge words to life. This book heard me. It understood me. It gave me support, ideas, and endless encouragement for years.

Although the author died soon after I was born, he became my mentor, my inner coach, and my closest friend. He taught me to set my goals high, take action toward them every day, and always think positively to achieve them. He told me not to let any small circumstances (or small thinkers around me) make me small-minded.

His book turned me from feeling like a restless teenager into a formidable force in the world. I still cherish my original (enthusiastically highlighted!) copy.

Point being: I know the power of a good self-help book. The strength given to me by the books I’ve read vastly outweighs any other source of influence in my life. I’ve read hundreds since that day and have found common themes throughout them all. From the spiritual side to business advice and from age-old to contemporary authors, the same golden threads tie their words together. Here are the top five.

The 5 Key Principles I’ve Learned

1. Take 100-percent responsibility for your life.

This is Jack Canfield’s No. 1 Success Principle. It encapsulates the importance of owning every part of your life, including your mistakes. There is neither success nor joy to be had in blaming others and relinquishing control to other people or your circumstances.

To create the life you want, you have to take sole responsibility for it. Forget your parents, your exes, the opportunities (or lack thereof) you were given. Your life’s direction is entirely up to you. Zero excuses. Success has no prerequisites, and there is no quality, certification, background, or nationality that has a monopoly on success. It’s all up to you.

2. You are allowed to be anything you want.

“Inherent in every desire is the mechanics for its fulfillment,” Deepak Chopra writes in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. It’s no accident that if you love to sing/write/teach/build companies/fill-in-the-blank, you were given talent in this area. And you are meant to be doing it!

The extent to which you use your gifts and capabilities is up to you (remember point No. 1), but they exist to be shared and to serve others. You have an obligation to be who your heart knows you can be. This way you make your highest contribution to the world and live regret free.

There are no accidents or unreachable goals that exist within your desires. You are also worthy of receiving the blessings (including financial blessings) that result when you bring value to others.

3. Your thoughts are everything.

In As a Man Thinketh (Tony Robbins’s favorite book and what some refer to as “the original text behind The Secret”), James Allen writes that with our thoughts we create our world. He’s right. It’s beautifully (if not deceivingly) simple.

Feel like sh*t? It’s because of what you are thinking in that moment (probably fear- or guilt-based thoughts). Feel elated? It’s because of what you are thinking in that moment (probably gratitude or satisfaction with the world). The best news? Every single thought can be changed! You can choose to feel good in every single moment.

Every day, in every way, always reach for your highest-feeling thought. Focus only on what you want. Visualize. The Law of Attraction works like the law of gravity. It’s real. Every single area of your life right now has been manifested as a result of your thoughts. So guard your thoughts like a pitbull (and lose the negative people, pronto).

4. Love yourself.

In Life Loves You, Louise Hay suggests looking in the mirror and into your eyes every day and saying, “I love you. I really, really love you.” You do not need to do, have, be anything different to be worthy of love. You are worthy simply because you exist.

When you truly love yourself, you allow yourself to be the real you. When your self-love is high, you vibrate at a frequency that deflects fear and that inspires others to be themselves too. It’s alluring. It keeps you present. It allows you to reject self-sabotaging behaviors.

You don’t busy yourself with what other people are doing. You understand that your needs matter and that when you fail sometimes it’s OK because life is giving you either a lesson or a detour. Which leads us to…

5. There is always a higher power at work (and it’s on your side).

Every biography I have read—from Steve Jobs’s to Maya Angelou’s—shares a similar truth: Do your best work and trust in a power that is bigger than you.

Here’s a little secret: We are all terrified. We all feel uncertain about one million things. We are all just doing the best we can. But when you apply the above principles of ownership, action, thinking, and self-love, you will be unstoppable. Why? Because you’re not alone here. We are all connected. We are all from the same source.

The higher power at work in our lives (call it God, the universe, source energy, it doesn’t matter) is working right alongside you—always. In moments of discouragement, don’t despair. Remember that you have already survived everything that has happened to you so far, and you will continue to do so. The universe’s helping hand is on call, waiting to lift you back up as soon as you center yourself and allow the above truths into your life.

The Takeaway

Every life is special. You matter. Your dreams matter. It’s up to you to take action in the direction of your dreams, and when you do, you’ll be met halfway—I promise.

David J. Schwartz still talks to me. In the moments that I doubt myself (including this morning, when I needed to summarize 17 years’ worth of reading into five simple lessons), I hear his voice saying, “Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”

Originally featured on Greatist.


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