#90 Jack Canfield

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 “If you’re willing to work the principles, the principles always work” – Jack Canfield (Tweet This)

Jack Canfield (@jackcanfield) joined James Altucher to talk about the release of his book, The Success Principles, telling stories, and why you should make up your bucket list now. James tells Canfield that he is “one of my heroes” and that his initial book “practically saved my life.” That’s a ringing endorsement and he’s probably not the only one. Among his other books, over 500M copies of the Chicken Soup series have been sold.

Canfield’s origin story is as compelling as many of the other podcast guests. He tells James that he was teaching high school students but they just didn’t care. He noticed that that weren’t motivated to learn and they didn’t value personal improvement. This was during a time when Canfield himself was in the midst of self improvement, meeting W. Clement Stone, a friend of Napoleon Hill. The problem, Canfield resolved, was that schools weren’t teaching things like goal setting and the kids weren’t getting this important lesson anywhere else. So he began to teach it. Around the same time in the late 1960’s, but in California rather than Chicago, another person was putting goal setting to use. Arnold Schwarzenegger told this Tim Ferriss:

“My confidence came from my vision. I am always a big believer that if you have a very clear vision of where you want to go, then the rest of it is much easier.  You always know why you are training five hours a day. You always know why you are pushing and going through the pain barrier. Why you have to eat more. Why you have to struggle more. Why you have to be more disciplined. All of those things become much more clear. It’s not like, oh my god, I have do another two-hundred sit ups, it’s more like I can’t wait to do two-hundred more sit ups because that will get me one step closer to the abs that I need to win the Mr. Universe. And that’s my goal.

This was the mindset Canfield was trying to teach.

Another things Canfield was trying to impart was a willingness to try and fail. Throughout the interview Canfield brings up our resistance to trying things, telling James that many people would rather know their discomfort than discover their joy. Amanda Palmer (episode #82) told James that risking anything is hard. For her the risk was in asking. It was putting her art on display and being judged. About this Palmer says “there’s not an easy way, and that’s the point. If there was an easy way we’d all be happy and everybody would do it all the time and we’d be living in a fantastic society.”

Canfield says that he also finds himself teaching people that life’s not fair or unfair.

“Life is just the way it is. Life’s not unfair. It’s just so.” – Jack Canfield

He eventually left the school to teach these ideas to everyone rather than teacher history to kids, but he took a tool from teaching history; stories. This interview with James is full of stories and Canfield says that he clips them whenever he can. He copies pages from books, cuts out newspaper articles, or grabs pages from Parade magazine. He also suggests that all authors put a blurb at the end of their book and ask readers to write in about how that book helped them. This is another way to accumulate stories.

His 10th anniversary edition of The Success Principles has some of these stories and a few other updated sections.

  • About Leadership. “Everyone should be a leader” Canfield tells James and this is one of two things Seth Godin (episode # 27) thinks should be taught in school.
  • About Networking. “Most people when they are networking are saying refer people to me, or buy my whatever.” Canfield says. Rather we need to focus more on sharing. Adam Grant (episode #73) found that people who give rather than take have better, wider, and more diverse networks. Giving is also central to Gary Vaynerchuk (episode #2) who advocates building relationships.

My favorite part of the interview (13:45) is when Canfield tells the story about being overseas and talking to an interviewer who had almost nothing, $3 or so. Canfield gives him some money and wants to give him one of his books, but he doesn’t have any so he goes to a local bookstore to buy his own book to give the guy. Then the story gets crazy. He tells James the guy made this resolution.

 “I’m going to do everything in this book for one year. If it doesn’t work all I’ve have wasted is a year, if it does work maybe I”ll be as successful as Jack.”

Things work out for the guy in quick time, but often it takes much longer. Canfield says that Chicken Soup was rejected 144 times before finding a publisher, and then he gives one of the best answers I’ve ever heard. James asks, when do you give up?

Jack responds, “When would you give up teaching someone to walk?”

It reminded me of this:

“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”

Canfield tells James that the universe will test us by throwing things at us to see if we are really resolved to the course we are on. This verges on something that Ryan Holiday (episode #18) told Altucher “This is what successful people do. Period. They don’t get impeded by things, in fact, when bad things happen they get better.”

Canfield and James caution the excited listener to not have a single goal, which James says, “is almost self-sabotaging because it’s too easy to fail.” Canfield says that the successful people find a passion umbrella to roost under.

Past guest Scott Adams would say that you need to focus on a passion system. “Goals suck” he writes, because you’re either in a state of not achieving them (failure) or you have achieved them but then you have nothing else to pursue.

Another one of the success principles James and Jack talk about is that success leaves clues. In 2005 Steve Jobs spoke to the graduating class at Stanford and said:

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Steve Jobs did some amazing things in his life, but there is an aura about him that we propagate in our stories. James takes a crack at it, saying that Jobs succeeded in part because he combined the art of calligraphy with that of computers but that he wasn’t great at either one. This is what Scott Adams advocates, to build up very specific skills so that when you combine them, you’re the only one who can combine them well. He writes:

I’m a perfect example of the power of leveraging multiple mediocre skills. I’m a rich and famous cartoonist who doesn’t draw well. At social gatherings I’m usually not the funniest person in the room. My writing skills are good, not great. But what I have that most artists and cartoonists do not have is years of corporate business experience plus an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

You don’t have to be the best saleswomen. You just have to be the best saleswomen in the Pacific Northwest selling diamond engagement rings.

My own take on Jobs is this, he was very smart, very lucky, and worked very hard. The only person who had the chance to be Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs. That’s the best lesson we can take from his life, work hard, do your best possible work on everything, and hope to get lucky. Though Canfield has advice on this last part – to use the law of probability, meaning that we need to take a lot of chances to have something hit. Seth Godin (episode #86) told James that he would be the first to admit that selling his company to Yahoo! 18 months before the stock market crashed was luck. But he’ll also point out that he was unlucky hundreds of times before and after that, saying “you have to get up to bat many times” to have a success.

Canfield advocates finding mentors and gives some advice for people who don’t have a mentor. Start small he says, asking for a ten minute phone call once a month. If you get that, try to have something specific to talk about and give back to the person who is taking time to mentor you. When they give you advice, take it, act on it and report back. Ramit Sethi (episode #36) told James that this is the best way for people to reach. Tell them what you’ve done, how you applied something they suggested and what happened.

For a more nuts and bolts punchlist about what it takes to create a mastermind event, the Tropical MBA podcast has Taylor Pearson on to talk about the ideal size, logistics, format, and the 3 biggest mistakes a mastermind CEO makes.

Canfield tells James that mastermind groups and meditation are the two most powerful techniques included in the book. Dan Harris (episode #12) had a wonderful exploration of meditation and mindfulness if you want more of that.

Toward the end of the interview James says that the Rule of Five is one of the “most powerful ideas in the book.” Canfield explains that his is the idea that everyday you take 5 actions to move something forward. You tweet to people, you email contacts, you generate ideas. One of the ways his team did this was sending out free books to certain groups like the OJ Simpson jurors and Navy families after the attack on the USS Cole. Unfortunately I couldn’t’ find pictures of the front page newspaper coverage the Canfield says both acts got. That sort of advertising may be priceless, but Google failed to archive it.

The end of the interview has a bit of talk about the current state of a book tour. James says that “the podcast tour has replaced the book tour” and that “marketing is happening everyday.” Canfield echoes the advice of Gary Vaynerchuk (episode #2) that guest posting is one of the most important things you can do.

Finally, you can buy Canfeild’s book at TheSuccessPrinciplesBook.com and get $100 of free material with it. But that’s not all! It also comes with a money back guarantee.

Thanks for reading. Every 10th one of these I ask for something. If you enjoyed it could you please share it on your social network of choice, or make a donation.

Whenever these type of guests come on, I get excited and ready to take over the world but need to remember that passion alone won’t get me anywhere. If passion and the law of attraction is hooking a fish, doing the work is reeling it in. As always, let me know what you liked or didn’t on Twitter, @MikeDariano.

17 thoughts on “#90 Jack Canfield”

  1. […] Jack Canfield cautioned Tim Ferriss about pegging “being great” on only one thing. He tells the story of a family friend who wanted to be in the NBA. Of course, the guy wasn’t good enough to play professional basketball, so he took another route. He worked to get in the front office. He’s in the NBA, just in a different form than he first imagined. […]


  2. […] Jack Canfield told the story of a family friend who wanted to play in the NBA. The young man was good, but not good enough to fulfill his dream of playing professional basketball. Okay,  Canfield recalled, if that’s too hard, what’s a parallel path? The young man figured out a front office job was more achievable. He did it. He made it to the NBA, as an executive. […]


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