Saidi Mdala – Assessments

As A Man Thinketh
Assessment by Saidi Mdala (Botswana)

1. What is the main idea that the author is trying to convey in the book?

As we choose or change our thoughts, we rearrange reality around us by altering the way we see things and, therefore, possibilities.

I think the main idea in this book is that thought is the ultimate medium of creation through which a person can invent and reinvent him/herself and that because everyone has power over their thoughts they have the inalienable right to determine their destiny; and in the same stroke each one of us has him/herself to thank or blame for whatever result comes out of our lives.

This idea elevates every person to the station of ‘creator’ while at the same time demystifying a lot of myths that humankind has attributed, especially, to his failures to since time immemorial.

The idea permeates individual choices beyond the obvious to the, seemingly, complex social anomalies which have often left many in different historical occurrences, dumbfounded by sudden erratic behavior of a person, up to that moment, quite good and emotionally stable. The insistence is that, whatever action comes to reality can be traced back to the bearer’s thoughts – often those he/she fondly nurtures in private.

Perhaps the single most important idea I have ever come across in all my reading experience.

2. What were the seven ideas which were personally most important to you and why? List these seven ideas followed by an explanation after each one as to why it was important to you. Use personal examples from your own life.

a) Thought determines character.

It made me realize that our thoughts will always be reflected in our character – because character mirrors our thoughts. An embodiment of our personality, disposition and nature; our character will be reflected in the things we say, our actions, even the way we dress and keep our physical surroundings; what we are naturally inclined to, especially the things we are fond of and devote much energy on.

As a salesperson, I have often been able to tell prospects’ inclination to give me business through certain aspects of their character. Most of my clients are those whose physical environment looks organized, orderly and peopled by sunny faces. I have learnt that all these are a reflection of the character of the person in charge – in turn an extension of how he/she thinks.

Also, through thought one can transcend perfection or degenerate into the lowliest of existence.

A former colleague, who worked as a secretary decided to pursue a career in Sales & Marketing because as she told me, “I want to learn and become more.” Her new mindset took her through a college degree which saw her promoted to run her own branch and the last time I chatted her on facebook, she was pursuing a Masters in Business Administration.

I have been through the same transformation since reading three very exciting books in one month five years ago. Coincidentally all the three books emphasized the power of thought, i.e. The Magic of Thinking Big, Think & Grow Rich and As A Man Thinkenth.

Through sheer mindset shift, I literally thought myself through a few corporate rungs at my former employers’, right up to the time I left and trekked my way to my current country of residence and vocation where I am a country manager for the country’s premier monthly business publication.

Every time I tell people that four years ago I was a receptionist/telephonist they look at me with a look that says, “You are stretching the truth too thin.” But that is the truth and it all started with experimenting with an idea from three small books that gave me control over my thoughts.

Still on character, it is true that each one of us is in charge of our lives even at the most desperate or vulnerable point of challenge. There are certain things I have seriously thought about and have resolved that, however desperate I ever become, I would never do them. My mind is irrevocably set to that.

Lastly the connection between thought and character has taught me that everything I need and will ever need is within me. That I am an inexhaustible source of wealth of any kind and form and this wealth is only accessible through much soul searching, pondering and a quest to come face to face with the truth embedded inside me.

I have effectively stopped wasting my time exploring for diamonds and gold in any place other than inside myself. I have realized there is nothing I cannot do if I put my ‘all’ to it. But most importantly that if I grant myself permission, through the release of my thoughts from the clutches of false reality and its shadows of fear and uncertainty, I will fly without wings.

b) Thought determines our circumstances. This I have struggled with for a long time, but eventually became enlightened about and now look at others struggle with the same lack of grasp of this fact of life.

As difficult as it was to figure out the essence of this truth, I have managed to squeeze unlimited value form it. It especially works when I find myself in a sticky situation. After the initial excitement that often persuades one to find some cause of a crisis other than oneself, I quickly remind myself that odds are always very high that I am the sole or major contributor to all the situations I find myself in.

The significance of this is that I then instantly get down to work to ensure there is no repeat of this mess awaiting me somewhere in life’s many turns and twists in future.

Although thought may not determine my circumstances now, I know for sure that it will in future, just as the past determined the very circumstances I am stuck with this moment.

c) Even our wellbeing or dis-ease is hinged on our thought.

This to me was just testimony of how far reaching the effects of our thoughts can be. Now I know I can get ill as a result of the thoughts I foster, by fretting, allowing fear to get the better of me and expecting the worst out of every bad situation.

But most importantly I understand the innumerable benefits of using my thoughts to be well always, making and achieving the best of any situation good or bad. To know that I am my own house doctor and I am glad I never have to think myself into hospitals.

I have learnt to be at peace with myself, by doing my very best always and then waiting patiently for results without worrying myself to dis-ease over things I have no control over. It works like Handy Andy.

d) Thought is focused by a central purpose in one’s life.

Perhaps no concept has ever made more sense in my adult life than this. Growing up people used to remark that I was quite intelligent and must amount to something. Yet as years passed I discovered that not much came out of my life.

The problem: my thoughts and all the various things I could do were scattered all over the place and I cannot remember how many unfinished projects I have left behind and how much some people who knew where they were going exploited my brilliance.

What I do remember is that for 34 years since arriving on this ever green earth I wandered and floated around aimlessly without any specific purpose or central focus. My ideas always seemed to be inadequate to constitute a single progressive or tangible achievement. I almost thought I was cursed and the more I think about it the more I sense some traces of reality to that concept.

Having no purpose is life is a curse, because purpose is the tool that converges all our efforts, especially thoughts which drive everything else, together into a small but formidable point that will burn holes or leave scars on the toughest of surfaces.

Yes, purpose harnesses resources and thoughts and ideas are not exception.

I have adopted as my purpose “to give others maximum advantage” through self designed personal development programmes and since making that decision some years ago, my own development has been exponential. In the not so distant future, this programme shall assess one of my books.

e) Achievement is a direct result of thought

Simply put, you think achievement; you become an achiever and I wish it was this easy. A closer look has revealed to me that both action and indolence are direct products of thought, making success and failure common by products, respectively.

I grew up in an environment where they touted smartness as the best way to become wealthy. Alas, being smart in this context meant doing little and getting much. Nowadays this does not happen even in movies. But that is what I thought, so I did very little in school, slept more hours than all my classmates and read my notes for a few days or hours before using a photographic memory to get some decent mark from exams.

I discovered the hard way that smart was actually a combination of sweat and toil for a particular purpose and now, a bit wiser, I know the easiest way get anything accomplished is to work so hard on it any passerby will feel sorry for it.

It is my new way of thinking and feeling (attitude) and it invariably always translates into achievement. I could not agree more, achievement is a direct result of thought and, for that matter failure.

f) Nothing gets attained that is out of the ordinary without the agency of dreaming

As long as I remained without a dream I had very little enthusiasm and, therefore, energy to do anything to deserve the label ‘outstanding.’

I went to college after high school intending to study Library and Information Science but wound up doing some office management course because that was what was available. I had nothing to lose. Afterward I moved from one menial job to another and as long as I got a paycheck, nothing further mattered.

But one day a seminar I attended challenged me to dare to dream and dream so big everybody else fit in that dream.

Beginning that fateful day I said to myself I wanted to touch the lives of others the way this inspirational leader had touched mine and my dream was born: “To become a world class personal development agent, inspirational leader and bestselling author.”

Since that moment I never woke up but with that dream on my mind. I now have something to lose and, therefore, to protect.

g) Patient effort and self control form the seat of mental restfulness.

I have had my fair share of struggles as I trudge toward my own destiny and the two most trying and constant characteristics of that journey is patient perseverance and discipline. In their absence focus is lost and replaced by mental restlessness punctuated by erratic behavior.

Many of us abandon any pursuit at the first or second hurdle and switch to something else, and there is always a million reasons to justify oneself. The problem is that without staying power it is difficult to make it any far without throwing the towel, resulting in agitation

On the other hand, keeping one’s eyes on the ball patiently and turning up every day without fail, however bad the weather, is the secret to resilience and mental calmness. It is a virtue exclusive to just a few.

3. How will these ideas or lessons help you in a practical way, both in your daily personal life and in helping you to create a better world? If so, how?

Knowing I am responsible for my destiny has empowered me to manipulate it to my benefit always; while the realization that character is a result of my thoughts has helped me cultivate a character that attracts people, ideas and resources to inch me toward my dream.

I have spared no effort in cultivating the most nourishing thoughts which I have always used to feed and nurture enabling circumstances. I am in charge of my environment wherever I go. I carry my weather in my bag.

The realization that thinking has a direct bearing on wellness and achievement has kept for me dis-ease at bay and allowed me to apply myself as much as my faculties can take without snapping. Now I can proudly count my blessings.

I have kept my dream alive by consistently working towards it and this has kept my fire burning.

And my relentless efforts and ability to brave and do what has to be done (discipline and self control) are reassuring mechanisms from which I draw peace of mind. I am sure, more than ever before, that one day I will get there and that, that fateful day shall come to pass.

Mahatma Gandhi insisted that, “Be the change you want to see,” and through the transformation of my own thoughts, the world around me will, in the least, look different.

4. Quotes: Are there any statements which the author made that particularly got your attention? If so, please quote them and comment as to why they were important to you.

“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”

Character a very pertinent aspect of success is an aggregate of what we think. If character delivers success, all I really have to do is feed it with the right thoughts and all my actions will become profitable.

“Man is made or unmade by himself.”

This made me realize the buck stops with me and put me in a position to mold the best out of myself and this is my ongoing quest, challenges and shortcomings notwithstanding.

“That man is the master of thought, the molder of character, and the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.”

All I have to do now is disabuse myself of any doubt concerning this jewel of truth and the world is my oyster.

“Every man is where he is by the law of his being; the thoughts which he has built into his character have brought him there, and in the arrangement of his life there is no element of chance.”

I am always very careful what I do now, which I pick very cautiously because I am assured that come harvest time, I can only reap what I have sown. It is a very effective mechanism for staying power and saying NO! when I should.

“Not what he wished and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonize with his thoughts and actions.”

I had this in reverse and life was always frustrating when my prayers seemed to be ignored. I am always working diligently to prepare myself to receive all the things I wish for.

“A man only begins to be a man when he ceases to whine and revile, and commences to search for the hidden justice which regulates his life.”

This used to be my pastime and was often capped with a dutiful headache. Both whining and reviling are very comforting useless and shameful traits. Allen beautiful captured that truth.

“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.

The dreamers are the saviors of the world.

He who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in his heart, will one day realize it.”

The three quotes give me guts, encouragement and assurance that buoy me on when the tide is rough.

“Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.”

This statement helps me dream extravagant – I, who always shortchanged myself when dreaming.

“You cannot travel within and stand still without.”

“You will always gravitate toward that which you secretly love most.”

I use this as both an encouragement and warning; and regulate and direct my thoughts accordingly.

“In the ocean of life the isles of blessedness are smiling and the sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming.”

Inspiration and motivation that I so badly need.

5. Is there anything in the book that you do not understand or are unclear about, or are there ideas which you disagree with and, if so, why?

There are lots of things I am yet to fathom and I guess I will need a lot of experience, mine and that of others, a lot more knowledge to unlock the many secrets abounding in this amazing small volume. Only when this is out of the way can I even think of disagreeing.

6. Did the book contain exercises for the reader to complete? If so, did you complete all of the exercises and did you find them helpful?

Not in a direct way – but it was in evitable to start following some of the guidance.

7. Was there anything you read in the book that you would like to comment on that was not covered in the previous questions? If so, please comment.

There always is, but I was pressed for time.

Please rate the following questions on a scale from 1 to 10. Ten is good and one is poor.

A. How interesting was it to read?                                   10
B. How helpful were the contents?                                  10
C. How easy was it to understand?                                   5
D. Would you recommend it to others?                          10
E. What is the overall rating you would give it?            10

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull
Assessment by Saidi Mdala (Botswana)

1. What is the main idea that the author is trying to convey in the book?

There is more to life than the basic aspects required for us to survive from day to day. In other words life is not just about surviving. Survival is permission to play – when you really boil it down, survival is a given. It is routine, but the essence of living begins when one abandons or graduates from run of the mill activities to explore the many other uncharted waters or territories of life experiences that are always found on the other divide of fear or its many other forms like uncertainty and tradition.

Life is about evolving from one stage to another with the result that if one stagnates at a certain point not only does very little happen, but what has already been gained will be dissipated. It is like building the foundation of a house and leaving it there without further development – passage of time will wear it down and all effort go to waste.

But it goes beyond that, perhaps as a way of reinforcing the above invariable theme of life, and by extension, success. Tradition, culture and all other types of fears that cow us down from going beyond the ordinary, will always be vigilant to discourage or beat down the individual who tries to step out of the usual mold and cause, as it were, the ‘unnecessary’ unrest or discomfort that often accompanies new adventures.

So in a nutshell, the main idea in Jonathan Livingstone Seagull is that life is more than what mediocrity dictates, but society, since time immemorial, holds taboo any attempts to break out of the ordinary and try what has not been done before.

2. What were the seven ideas which were personally most important to you and why? List these seven ideas followed by an explanation after each one as to why it was important to you. Use personal examples from your own life.

a) Life really starts beyond bread and butter. It is more than catching worms, eating them and then digesting them while you think of the next meal.

I was born and grew up in a community that was content catching worms and eating them and not worrying about anything more adventurous than that. It was an ideal environment for nurturing a mediocre life.

Almost all institutions were in pairs; two bakeries, two banks, two primary and secondary schools, two hotels, two service stations, two supermarkets, two health centres (a clinic and the referral hospital) and even two soccer teams! It was as if the community officials could not count beyond two.

These institutions (add to that a police station, council offices and a prison) were default employers and the choices were limited to being a bank clerk, teacher, fuel or shop floor attendant, nurse, constable or prison guard. Soccer still remains a tricky profession in Africa. One will be lucky to even get ‘worms’ from it as regular employment.

Growing up in this environment, my options were limited accordingly and I did not find any particular interest in what was available such that I just channeled all my efforts to getting best grades and reading as much as I could. By the time I had reached the seventh grade I had read 67 novels in the local language and a few in English. If I had known then that I was destined to be a writer or more precisely journalist cum author and personal development agent, I would not have lost over three decades before hitting jackpot to start my career at 38!

I would have done that sooner.

b) But Society or tradition will not allow you to disturb or break the bread and butter routine. You will meet resistance and punishment will be meted of you. If necessary – and it often turns out so – one will be punished for challenging the status quo and the consequences will be as vicious as the deviance is daring.

My society was as harsh as Jonathan’s but in a very subtle way. It simply did not offer any alternatives and, therefore, restricted you to what was available. I remember our grade three English textbook which was supposed to introduce us to careers after school, had a steam engine guard as the only exceptional career – so even if I shouted “when I grow up I want to be a guard!” it made very little sense for two reasons:

There was no railway in my small town and our teachers often told us in very severe terms to stick to possibilities. You guessed right – becoming a teacher or nurse were very sane wishes.

c) Breaking beyond bread and butter takes more than the will to confront your own fears; you have those of others around you to contend with first. Coming second in a family of six meant that I was somewhat a pacesetter, being the first boy in the family – a factor that could not be ignored during my childhood. It is still a gender concern in Africa.

My father was an Imam of a local Muslim congregation and always wanted that I go to some Muslim country like Saudi Arabia or Egypt to study Islam and come back to pursue a career as an Imam or Sheikh. He had good connections in this regard and that could have been a piece of cake. His fears: I might leave the fold of Islam if I chose any other career. Someone had to carry on his legacy.

My mother thought there was no future in that idea. My father’s career as an Imam, though spiritually successful, was not at all illustrious materially. He raised a family of 8 in a two bed roomed house and none of us ever got anything beyond basics. My mother’s fear exactly: In her words, “You will only become a loser like your father.”

I ended up becoming a temporary teacher, then later went to college where I studied the wrong course because I did not know the procedure for getting enrolled in a college where they trained journalists. I sent in a written application – they only entertained personal applications where you went there in person and filled in forms. It put my career on hold for 20 years.

d) You might need to change the environment just like Jonathan did. Someone once advised that if you can’t change people, change people. Jonathan could not change the people around him and had to eventually leave them to another environment that allowed him to nurture his vision and experiment with his latent potential.

I live in Botswana now (originally from Zimbabwe) and since my arrival here I have achieved in under two years what I have for the rest of my life before then.

For the first time my dream is clearer and nearer. The sky is no longer the limit but just a launching pad.

Meanwhile this is not an easy choice to make. A lot is left behind or even lost. I had to leave behind my former job where they were preparing me for a management post. The same applies for my family, both nuclear and extended and I inevitably lost all the comfort that comes with being near these people.

e) But then when you want different results you have to change the way you do things. Like Jonathan I have had to throw myself in the fray of things and do all the things I have never done before.

Although I later trained as a journalist I never worked as one and never intended to in this lifetime. But now not only have I worked as a journalist for the past 18 months, but I have also sold advertising space and trained subordinates in both areas. The means justify the end and I have found out that I can use my current vocational phase to harness future opportunities.

Suffice it to say journalism is a very powerful occupation, especially when you climb to the very top end – where I am now. But it does not end there.

f) You need staying power. Once you have gravitated to a new station, you need to ensure you stay there – by getting ahead. A lot will need to be done consistently and to perfection.

There is only one known method to ‘keep on keeping on’ as Martin Luther would have put it. Like Jonathan you work very hard to continuously develop yourself even if it means stretching yourself to the limit. In fact I have discovered that you do not get very far not testing your abilities beyond snapping point.

Working hard on something consistently needs a few things to be constantly taken care of: learn new skills (preferably from the best you find), read as much as you can, remain focused by continuously redefining or fine tuning your vision (You must have one by any means) and always do your very best always if you ever decide to do something.

Working hard entails practice, permanent practice that must seek to propel you to mastery and even artistry. No one will ever pay attention to what you do until it attains the level of artistry. I write as much as I can for my publication and in the past 18 months I have finished putting together four training modules on personal development – to wit, living a focused life. Starting this course was a golden opportunity for more practice doing exactly what makes me tick.

From all these I build and refuel my passion and that passion helps me retain my staying power. Although I have not really gotten to a point where I can disappear into rocks like Jonathan, I know it is possible and that knowledge helps me through a lot of rough patches and long plateaus of no results.

g) The journey ends when you have returned home to change the status quo. Home in this case, literally where you started or the attainment of your vision. This is the point when all your striving translates into service to others – an own testimony that, “It can be done.” No stroll in the park, but still possible.

The point where you celebrate and give positive meaning to all the ridicule, the rejection, the banishment and sacrifice that life used to tamper you into sterner stuff.

3. How will these ideas or lessons help you in a practical way, both in your daily personal life and in helping you to create a better world? If so, how?

To dare to suggest an alternative for the norm for more and better results. I have concluded, from leading a banal life up to age 34, that there was something wrong with the educational system in my part of the world. After the flag independence from the colonial masters, those who took over the running of the social systems adopted, without altering anything, a barren educational system that only prepared learners to go out there and find worms, come back eat them and sleep while waiting to go back again and perpetuate this poverty cycle. It is not difficult to wonder why someone once bragged that if America refused to develop for a whole 250 years, Africa would never catch up with it.

Painful but true and I, like Jonathan am doing everything I can to get up and running, a learning system called focused learning that seeks to help its beneficiaries identify, early in their lives, an overriding objective to which they will direct all their energy and focus by subordinating every other life’s pursuit.

Like Jonathan I am always in search of new skills and knowledge, and when I set my mind on something I become so obsessed with doing my very best.

4. Quotes: Are there any statements which the author made that particularly got your attention? If so, please quote them and comment as to why they were important to you.

“Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight – how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight.”

For a long time I have always believed in life backwards, that it is eating that matters and that everything else will come naturally. Now I know from bitter experience that it is flight that matters and that I have to like flying more than anything else, for in flight comes many opportunities.

“Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull’s life is so short.”

And these, I have come to realize are a result of pursuing nothing in particular and getting ever diminishing returns from daily efforts while getting older and less effective.

“For each of them, the most important thing in living was to reach out and touch perfection in that which they most loved to do.”

Discover what you love doing most and never rest until you have discharged it to perfection. After discovering this truth, I stopped wondering how it was possible that people like film stars, athletes and other types of artists could each earn millions of dollars every year, when some people lived all their lives without spending a single million dollars, despite hard work.

“There is such a thing as perfection … our purpose for living is to find that perfection and show it forth…”

To me this unlocks to secret to success, wealth and fulfillment.

“The same rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.”

Substitute ‘world’ above with ‘situation,’ and reality will hit home faster.

“You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.”

“To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is,” he said, “you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived…”

The certainty that I can do it is most of what I will need to accomplish anything.

“It always works, when you know what you’re doing.”

There is no substitute for knowledge (what to do) and skill (how to do) in the action triangle.

“But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.”

These I consider the two secrets to daring (overcoming the void of fear in our heads) and doing (stopping loss of time). Here and Now are all the realities we have that are eternal. At this point the past is history and the future, an illusion. Yet both history and the future are determined Here and Now.

This, I must admit, has caused me many sleepless nights – trying to capitalize on the Here and Now. The only thing I have control over.

“He was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all.”

So am I! or in Jonathan’s own words “We’re free to go where we wish and to be what we are,”

“You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and to help them see it in themselves. That’s what I mean by love. It’s fun, when you get the knack of it.”

I equate this with further growth through coaching, mentorship and service to fellow humanity. Transition into and beyond mastery.

“You need to keep finding yourself, a little more each day, that real, unlimited Fletcher Seagull. He’s your instructor. You need to understand him and to practice him.”

All I (or anyone) ever really need to get anywhere and anything I want is within me. I am all there is to understand and the more I understand and practice myself the less barriers I have in life and the more unlimited I become.

5. Is there anything in the book that you do not understand or are unclear about, or are there ideas which you disagree with and, if so, why?

This is what I would only call the naked truth!

6. Did the book contain exercises for the reader to complete? If so, did you complete all of the exercises and did you find them helpful?

Not exactly, but I have certainly started practicing, ‘flying’ in most of what I do personally and at work.

7. Was there anything you read in the book that you would like to comment on that was not covered in the previous questions? If so, please comment.

The book is so deep, there is always going to be that something, but right now I have not really put a finger on it.

Please rate the following questions on a scale from 1 to 10. Ten is good and one is poor.

A. How interesting was it to read?                                      10
B. How helpful were the contents?                                     10
C. How easy was it to understand?                                     10
D. Would you recommend it to others?                             10
E. What is the overall rating you would give it?               10