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The Magic of Thinking Big Summary – David J. Schwartz

Arthur Worsley
by Arthur Worsley
M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
The Magic of Thinking Big Summary
The Magic of Thinking Big (1959)
by David J. Schwartz
The Magic of Thinking Big is a powerful, practical and uplifting book to help get you out of a rut, invigorate your goals and empower you towards success – by life-long motivational writer and coach, David J. Schwartz. (320 pages)

Note: This The Magic of Thinking Big summary is part of an ongoing project to summarise The Best Mindset Books of All Time.

1-Sentence Summary: “Success is determined not so much by the size of one’s brain as by the size of one’s thinking.” – David J. Schwartz

This summary of The Magic of Thinking Big is perfect for you if:

  • You feel trapped or stagnant at work, at home or at play;
  • You’re tired of thinking “I couldn’t”, “I shouldn’t” or “I can’t”; or
  • You need the confidence or a catalyst to crush an upcoming project.

The Magic of Thinking Big Summary

Born in 1927, Dr David J. Schwartz dedicated his life to teaching leadership development and life strategy. And it shows.

Like other giants in the genre, The Magic of Thinking Big is saturated with a lifetime of hard-won lessons, perfect parables and grandfatherly wisdom.

If you like what you read here today, check out the “Still Curious?” section at the end of the post for more summary suggestions you’re sure to enjoy.

Until then – here’s the bulk of Schwarz’s ideas to get started with, organised in 6 practical sections below:

  1. How to defeat disbelief and the negative power it creates;
  2. How to make your mind produce positive thoughts;
  3. How to set yourself up for success;
  4. How to do more and do it better by turning on your creative power;
  5. How to plan a concrete success building programme; and
  6. How to capitalise on the power of now.

Good luck, good reading and go well!


1. How to Defeat Disbelief and the Negative Power It Creates.


Cure “Excusitis”.

Stop making excuses for your health:

  • Don’t talk or worry about it.
  • Be grateful it’s as good as it is.
  • Remember, “it’s better to wear out than rust out.”

Stop making excuses for your intelligence:

  • Never underestimate your own intelligence.
  • Don’t confuse your ability to learn with your ability to think.
  • Remember, attitude counts for everything: “stickability is 95 percent of ability.”

Stop making excuses about your age:

  • Look at your age positively and capitalise on its unique advantages.
  • Remember, a 50-year-old is barely 50% into their productive adult life.
  • Do what you want to do, your best years are still ahead of you.

Stop making excuses for your luck:

  • Don’t be a wishful thinker – count only on your own persistence.
  • Accept the law of cause and effect – the harder you work, the more luck you’ll have.

Destroy Fear.

  • Isolate your fear: “What exactly are you afraid of?”
  • Remember, “Indecision and postponement fertilise fear”; and
  • Take action: “action cures fear

Examples of Fear >> Action strategies:

  • Fear: Embarrassment at personal appearance.
  • Action: Improve it.
  • Fear: Losing an important customer.
  • Action: Double down on better service.
  • Fear: Failing an exam.
  • Action: Convert worry time to study time.
  • Fear: Things beyond your control.
  • Action:
    • Work on things you can control; and
    • Focus on relieving other people’s fear.
  • Fear: What others may think and say.
  • Action: Be sure your plan is right. Then do it.
  • Fear: Making an investment.
  • Action: Analyse all the factors then be decisive.
  • Fear: Other people.
  • Action:
    • Develop understanding – see beyond the facade to the person underneath; and
    • Remember, “people are much more alike than they are different.”

Unlock Ambition.

Destroy the weapons that murder desire and ambition:

  • Self-depreciation – eliminate excuses and build confidence until you realise you can do it;
  • Security-itis – don’t mistake security for success, don’t let comfort murder your dreams;
  • Competition – competition thins out quickly above the ground floor, think big to get above it;
  • Parental dictation – your parents want you to be successful, don’t let the limitations of their experience hold you back; and
  • Family responsibility – you owe it to your family to be the best person you can be; use them as inspiration, not as an excuse.



Don’t Let Little People Drive You Down.

If you think big enough you will always be immune to the attacks of petty people. To help:

  • Expect to be sniped at – it’s proof that you’re growing;
  • Refuse to fight petty people – doing so only reduces you to their size; and
  • Remember that snipers are psychologically sick – Be big. Feel sorry for them.

2. How to Make Your Mind Produce Positive Thoughts.


Build Confidence.

  • Dwell on thoughts of gratitude and deposit only positive thoughts in your memory;
  • Reframe negative memories in a positive light, refuse to dwell on or withdraw negative memories from your memory bank; and
  • Take action: “to think confidently, act confidently.”
    • Always sit in the front row (figuratively and literally);
    • Practice making eye contact;
    • Stand up straight and walk 25% faster;
    • Practice speaking up; and
    • Smile BIG.

Make Your Attitudes Your Allies.

Grow the attitude of “I’m activated– enthusiasm is contagious, to develop it for things and people:

  • Dig deeper – we become more interested and enthusiastic about things we know lots about;
  • Add energy – add life to your actions, smiles, talk and all that you do and life will be your reward; and
  • Be good news – spread only good news about your experiences and feelings and you will become (and feel like) good news.

Grow the attitude of “You are important” – everyone wants to feel important, to grant that wish for them:

  • Practice appreciation – go out of your way to give honest, personalised compliments on their appearance, work ethic, ideas and loyal efforts;
  • Call people by their names – no sound is as sweet to someone as their name, take pains to pronounce and spell it correctly;
  • Invest the credit in others – don’t just let others take the credit, single them out and give it to them; and
  • Give others planned attention – put others first and be thoughtful about being thoughtful.

N.B., for one of the best books ever written on this topic, see this summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Grow the attitude of “Service first” – and let money take care of itself, to do so:

  • Always give others more than they expect to get.

Believe You Can Succeed And You Will.

Think “I will succeed”:

  • Think “I can”, not “I can’t”; and
  • Think “I’m equal to the best”, not “I’m outclassed”.

Give yourself a pep talk several times daily:

  • Ask yourself: “What are my best qualities?” (don’t be shy);
  • Write them down on paper as an inspirational commercial about yourself;
  • Coach yourself on this commercial out loud, in private (before a mirror if possible) at least once per day;
  • Recite your commercial to yourself silently several times per day; and
  • Believe in the process: success comes from well-managed thinking.

Remind yourself regularly that you are better than you think you are:

  • Successful people are not supermen, they just believe in themselves and what they do; and
  • Anyone who is now good at something was once bad at it.

Believe big:

  • Fact: Big ideas and plans are often easier than small ideas or plans; and
  • Remember, “The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief.”

3. How to Set Yourself up for Success.


Think Right Toward People.

  • Your success depends on the support of others; but
  • To win that support willingly, you must be likeable; and
  • Being likeable starts with thinking right toward other people.

To think right toward other people:

  • Take the initiative in building friendships:
    • Be active and introduce yourself;
    • Be sure they get your name straight;
    • Be sure you can pronounce their name as they do;
    • Write difficult names down and be sure you can spell them correctly;
    • Drop a personal note to or call new friends you’d like to know better; and
    • Say nice things to strangers.
  • Be interested in and like other people – if necessary, practise liking until actual liking sets in:
    • Remember their names;
    • Ask questions, listen to and learn about others with genuine interest;
    • Dwell on the positive thoughts you have about others; and
    • Never miss a chance to congratulate or empathise.
  • Be interesting and give value to others – but guard against being a know-it-all.
  • Smooth the “scratchy” parts of your personality – be a pleasure to be around.
  • Quickly and earnestly find ways to heal any misunderstandings – to avoid them:
    • Accept human differences and limitations;
    • Accept others without trying to reform them; and
    • Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
  • Be generous with your time, energy and strength:
    • Encourage others to talk;
    • Practice courtesy all the time; and
    • Don’t blame others when you have a setback.

Do all these things and never try to buy friendship; it’s not for sale.


Dress Right. You Cannot Afford Not To.

  • You become what you and those around you judge you to be; and
  • We and others judge ourselves overwhelmingly by appearances; so
  • Take care to dress like the person you want to become.

To make dressing right affordable, pay double (pick quality) but buy half as much (over quantity). Aside from looking the part:

  • Your clothes will look and fit you better;
  • Better quality garments will last longer;
  • What you buy will stay in style for longer; and
  • You’ll get better advice in store.

Manage Your Environment to Recondition Yourself for Success.

Manage your mentors:

  • Get your advice from successful people; and
  • Don’t take advice from someone you wouldn’t trade places with.

Manage your peers:

  • Circulate in new groups to energise yourself and find new ways of thinking;
  • Select friends who have views different from your own;
  • Surround yourself with big thinkers and doers; and
  • Don’t let small-thinking people hold you back.

Manage your energy: Don’t gossip, condemn or take part in negative conversations.

“Taking an axe and chopping your neighbour’s furniture to pieces won’t make your furniture look one bit better.”


4. How to Do More and Do It Better by Turning on Your Creative Power.


Think BIG.

Use words that promise victory, hope, happiness and pleasure:

  • Use big, positive cheerful words and phrases to describe how you feel;
  • Use bright, cheerful, favourable words and phrases to describe other people;
  • Use positive language to encourage others; and
  • Use positive words to outline plans to others.

Stretch your vision to see always what can be, not what is. Practice adding value to:

  • Things: “What could I do to add value to this room, house or business?”
  • People: “What can I do to bring out the best in this person?”
  • Yourself: “What can I do to make myself more valuable today?”

Think and talk BIG.

  • Ask, “Is this really important enough to get worked up about?”; or
  • “Is the way I’m thinking about this the way an important person would think?”; then
  • Think above trivial things and focus on getting the big points across;
  • Keep your eyes focused on the big objectives – don’t win battles at the cost of the war; and
  • Remember: “you never gain anything from an argument, but you always lose something.”

Think and Dream Creatively.

Become receptive to and welcome new ideas:

  • Eliminate “impossible”, “won’t work”, “can’t do” and “no use trying” from your vocabulary;
  • Be an experimental person that constantly breaks up fixed routines and tries new things; and
  • Learn and become interested in things around and beyond “your job”.

Devote 10 minutes each day to asking “How can I do better today?”:

  • How can I be a better friend, partner or parent?
  • How can I do a better job?
  • What can I do to encourage my employees? and
  • What special favour can I do for my customers?

Ask yourself daily “How can I do more?

  • Ask: “How can I increase my personal efficiency?”
  • Always look for and take intelligent shortcuts; and
  • Remember, “capacity is a state of mind”.

Practise asking and listening to others:

  • Join and meet regularly with:
    • One stimulating group in your occupational area; and
    • One inspiring group outside your normal occupational/social area.
  • Encourage others to talk;
  • Test your own views in the form of questions; and
  • Concentrate on and really listen to what others say.

Harness and develop ideas:

  • Write good ideas down as soon as you have them;
  • File and review your ideas regularly – keep those with promise, prune those without;
  • Think about your best ideas often, tie them together, read around them and investigate all angles;
  • Develop and make your ideas tangible by working through them on paper; and
  • Put your ideas into action as soon as they ripen.

Think Like a Leader.

One of the best ways to think big is to always think like a leader, no matter who you are. To do so:

  1. Trade minds with the people you want to influence – inhabit their perspective and ask how you would react if treated in the same way;
  2. Think: What is the human way to handle this? – explain, sacrifice, empathise, respect, inspire and let your actions show you put people first;
  3. Think progress, believe in progress, push for progress – think, act, live and believe in improvement and high standards at work, at home, in your community and with yourself; and
  4. Take time out to confer with yourself and tap your supreme thinking power – make quiet, focussed time every day to just sit in solitude and think: confer with yourself.

5. How to Plan a Concrete Success Building Programme.


Use Goals to Help You Grow.

  1. Set a clear vision of where you want to be 10 years from now – visualise your home, work and social/community lives separately;
  2. Write your ten-year plan – ask: What do I want to accomplish? Who do I want to be? What will satisfy me? and How will I get there?
  3. Set goals that excite and inspire you – desire, when harnessed, is what powers the heart-and-soul effort that success demands;
  4. Pick one major goal at a time and let it absorb you – allow your subconscious to go to work for you (see this summary of Think and Grow Rich for more).
  5. Chip away at that goal step-by-step – see even the smallest of actions as steps either toward or away from your goal;
  6. Build 30-day self-improvement goals and work on them daily – look for bad habits to break, ways to sharpen your mind and opportunities to be better at work and at home;
  7. Expect and experiment with unexpected or interesting detours – but don’t let a change of route keep you from moving towards your goals;
  8. Invest in yourself – invest in things that build mental power and efficiency and invest especially in education and idea starters.

Turn Defeat Into Victory.

Every journey has its trials and setbacks, the key to success is how you handle them:

  • Study your setbacks – when you lose, find the root cause of your defeat and learn from it;
  • Be constructively self-critical and seek honest feedback – identify your weaknesses then go to work on them;
  • Stop blaming luck – take responsibility and capitalise on every opportunity to grow bigger, stronger and more self-reliant;
  • Blend persistence with experimentation – there IS a way, you may just need to step back and experiment to find it;
  • Find the good in every situation – and remember, “there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.”

6. How to Capitalise on the Power of Now.


Get The Action Habit.

  1. Be a doer, not a don’t-er – take action every day to move forwards!
  2. Don’t wait for perfect conditionsexpect future obstacles and solve them as they arise;
  3. Remember, ideas alone won’t bring success“Wisdom without industry leads to triviality.”
  4. Use action to cure fear and gain confidence“Do the thing your fear, and the death of fear is certain.”
  5. Start mechanically – act even if you don’t feel like it, you’ll soon warm up to the task;
  6. Think in terms of now – not tomorrow, next week or later, start right away;
  7. Now means NOW – don’t waste time procrastinating, act;
  8. Seize the initiative – be a self-starter, be the starting gun, show the ability and ambition to do; and
  9. Why are you still reading? Get in gear and go!

Conclusion: The Magic of Thinking Big Summary

The Magic of Thinking Big is a powerful reminder that we are capable of exactly as much as we think we are.

And while it’s clearly untrue that nothing is impossible, what I love most about Schwarz is his message that the limits of who we might be and what we might do lie far, far beyond the dip of our current horizons.

So defeat disbelief, cultivate positivity, set yourself up for success, decide who you want to be, clarify what you want and get to work making it real.

Be BIG, believe BIG, take BIG action. And above all, don’t wait – do it NOW.

Because the only person responsible for your thinking is you.

And “life,” as Benjamin Disraeli reminds us, “is too short to be little.”


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The Magic of Thinking Big

12 MINUTE READ | A powerful, practical and uplifting book to help get you out of a rut, invigorate your goals and empower you towards success - by life-long motivational writer and coach, David J. Schwartz.


Author: David J. Schwartz

Editor's Rating:

Enjoyed this The Magic of Thinking Big summary? You might enjoy the rest of the books on this list of The 35 Best Books on Mindset of All Time.

Arthur Worsley
I founded TAoL to discover and share the best wisdom on how to live long and prosper. Before that I studied Psychology, Philosophy & Physiology at Oxford and consulted at McKinsey. Still curious? Learn more or take my FREE productivity quiz.

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