Just Do It

For expert motivator Jim Rohn, success is no mystery--it's simply a matter of discipline.
Magazine Contributor
12 min read

This story appears in the January 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

When he was 25, Jim Rohn had pennies in his pocket, no money in the bank and creditors calling. He was straight off an Idaho farm, clerking in a store, and didn't have much planned for the future. Then Rohn met Earl Shoaff-an entrepreneur who had made a fortune in vitamins-and Shoaff told him his future would look exactly like his recent past . . . unless he made some big changes.

Like what? For starters, Shoaff told him he had to face the fact that it wasn't the government or taxes or competition that was keeping him down. What was? Rohn's own thinking about success: "My philosophy was all wrong," says Rohn. "I was preventing myself from succeeding."

So Rohn set about discarding his old thinking and adopting new disciplines for sharpening his skills and goals. "Do that," said Shoaff, "and you'll make millions."

Guess what? Shoaff was right. By age 31, Rohn had left clerking to become a top-flight salesman for Shoaff-and he had earned his first million. Rohn was on his way.

That was more than three decades ago, and today, Rohn is a staple on the motivational speaking circuit. But in an era where positive-thinking proponents are a dime a dozen, Rohn swims against the current by teaching the tough-love formula he learned from Shoaff. "It worked for me," he says, "and that formula for success works today just as it did yesterday."

Here, Rohn-creator of the videotape How to Have Your Best Year Ever-offers no easy answers, no quick rides to prosperity. But give him a close read, and you just may learn the secrets to the successes you dream of at night.

Entrepreneur: You say we have the ability to design our future. What about outside forces we can't control-such as competition, government regulations and so forth?

Jim Rohn: We tend to blame whatever happens to us on those external things, but we need to take personal responsibility. I used to say, "I sure hope things will change." Then I learned from my mentor, Earl Shoaff, that the only way things would change for me is when I changed.

We cannot change the circumstances, but we can change what we do. Either you design your future or somebody else will design it for you-and guess what they may have done for you? Not much. The ability to design our future is in our hands, if we wish it to be.

Entrepreneur: What's the key factor in determining our future?

Rohn: It's your philosophy, the sum total of what you know-that's your guidance system. Unless we are exposed to ideas that let us expand and refine our guidance system, we will get stuck with the system that was handed to us. If we learn from our experiences, other people's experiences, books and seminars, we can expand our guidance system. That helps us discard errors we had been making in the past and take on new disciplines for the future.

When I met my mentor at age 25, I had been working six years, but I was broke. Within the next six years, I was rich. What made the difference? Simply this: Correcting my old errors and setting up new disciplines. Mr. Shoaff told me to read, and I did-not trash but books full of information that I needed to know about sales, management, financial planning and more. He told me to take classes, and I did. And that's how I changed my philosophy.

But how can you think about changing unless someone presents you with alternative thinking? You won't change where you are overnight, but overnight you can change the direction in which you are going.

Entrepreneur: You have said that we can change our lives in a day, and in fact, you provide the prescription for doing so. What's the starting point?

Rohn: Disgust. Disgust is a negative emotion, but it can have a powerful impact on that day you become disgusted with being on your knees looking for pennies. It's the day when something clicks for you-and it can click for any of us.

One day years ago, a Girl Scout came to my door and asked if I would buy some cookies. I didn't have the money, so I lied to her and said, "I already bought lots of boxes." After she walked away, I said to myself, "I don't want to live like this. How low can I get-lying to a Girl Scout?" That was a turning point for me.

Entrepreneur: Nowadays many of us have that kind of experience, and afterward we decide to "affirm" ourselves into prosperity by saying things like "I am living a wealthy, successful life." Does that work?

Rohn: Affirmations without disciplines are the beginning of delusion. I believe in affirmations if they are true. If you are broke, the best thing to affirm is "I am broke." Put that up on the refrigerator and see it every day until it becomes powerful enough to prompt you into a life change.

Until you see the truth about your condition, positive thinking won't work. Listening to thousands of pre-conscious, subconscious, high-tech affirmations will not help. All you have to say is "I am not where I want to be in life, and something is wrong. What? Something is wrong with my philosophy." Once you understand that, your life can totally change.

Entrepreneur: To start a life change, don't we first need to absorb a healthy dose of motivation?

Rohn: For 25 years, I have debated with motivational speakers who say we should start [changing a person's life] by building motivation. But I say if you are on the wrong track and you get motivated, you'll just get to disaster quicker.

The first step is for you to be unhappy about where you are and to accept the blame. This is a traumatic decision to come to, but once you recognize you need to do the new disciplines to make changes in your life, you can get motivated. But just walking around telling yourself "I'm terrific, and I'm getting better"-that's not going to help.

Entrepreneur: What do you mean by "do the new disciplines"?

Rohn: Doing a discipline is trying things that lead to progress, to productivity. For example, a discipline might be taking a class one night a week to develop a new skill. Or reading a book a week, listening to tapes, making cold calls, creating a financial plan. All these are disciplines.

Discipline means we don't let go of the things we know we should be doing-we do them! Disciplines are the miracle workers. Knowledge not invested in disciplines is wasted.

Entrepreneur: Where do we learn our disciplines?

Rohn: Most of us pick up our disciplines from the people who surround us. I teach people to ask themselves: "Who am I around? What are they doing to me? Is it OK?" To start the process of change, we may need to disassociate from some of the people we know, and we also need to expand our associations by finding people of value and spending more time with them. You want to be around people who have turned pennies into fortunes.

Entrepreneur: Should we avoid people who have failed?

Rohn: Not entirely. There are some people with whom you want limited contact. In fact, I teach that for proper learning, you should talk to the failures as well as the successes. It's too bad failures don't give seminars. It would be great to hear from someone who really messed up a business.

Entrepreneur: Isn't one of your key teachings that failure befalls us not as a result of a major catastrophe but because of a series of little neglects?

Rohn: That's all failure is. Neglect starts as an infection; if we don't take care of it, it becomes a disease. Here's the formula for failure: Failure is a few errors in judgment repeated every day. Success, on the other hand, is simply the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.

Entrepreneur: Let's go back to that life-changing day. After we feel disgust, what do we need next?

Rohn: The desire to change. You have to want it bad enough to do it. A great mystery is why some have the desire and others don't. I've also known people in whom the desire was suppressed for years, and one day, suddenly, it's there.

Once you have the desire, get working. That's the next step-taking action. Since I was 25 years old, nobody has had to say to me "When are you going to get going?" Once you have the desire, you see rest as a necessity, not an objective. When you see rest as an objective, you haven't learned that the great delight in life isn't rest, it's productivity-and productivity only happens when you have the disciplines.

Entrepreneur: On that life-changing day, what else do we need?

Rohn: Resolve. That means saying "I will do it in spite of (whatever) until I succeed. I will keep doing the disciplines."

Recognize, too, that your battle often is within yourself. It's the whispers in your mind that tell you to relax, to let that task go without doing-just for today. Resolve is the turning point where you just say, "I will do it."

Entrepreneur: How do we maintain resolve in the face of obstacles?

Rohn: Paying the price is easy when the promise is clear and powerful. True happiness is making steady progress toward defined goals. You won't get there all at once. But if you are making reasonable progress, that's the recipe for happiness. And as you make progress, your resolve grows.

Entrepreneur: What's the secret to goal-setting?

Rohn: I teach a simple process: Decide what you want, write it down, and regularly check off the steps you're taking toward your goal. That's simple, but success is usually the result of doing simple stuff.

Ask yourself, "What do I want? What skills do I have to develop to get there? How will I do it? What disciplines do I need to follow?"

Entrepreneur: You also teach that we should make it a discipline to regularly reflect on what's happened to us.

Rohn: Reviewing your experiences makes them more valuable for the future. I call it "running the tapes again." You see the highs and the lows, what you've done, and what you need to do.

At the end of every day, take a few minutes. At the end of every week, take a few hours. At the end of every month, take half a day. At the end of every year, take a weekend. We all need some solitude to think about who we're seeing, what we're doing, what went right, what went wrong. Reflection helps to lock the experiences in your mind so you can draw on them in the future.

Entrepreneur: What do you tell entrepreneurs who say they understand what you are talking about but they're too busy?

Rohn: You cannot be too busy to reflect. This is the time when you will come up with new ideas and refinements of existing ideas that will let you double or triple your productivity. If you don't take that kind of time, it's easy to stay on the track you're on and to miss some really big stuff.

Entrepreneur: Why do you advise entrepreneurs to work even harder on personal development than on business?

Rohn: Income seldom exceeds personal development. There may be a time where you have a little good fortune and your income soars beyond your level of development, but in time it will come back down. That's why you need the discipline to read that book, to take that class.

An entrepreneur, in particular, needs to learn a variety of skills. Just a tiny refinement of your thinking can multiply your results. If you don't do it-if you don't study-you may be missing huge chunks of money and satisfaction.

Entrepreneur: When we're making progress on the road to success, what pitfalls should we look out for?

Rohn: The twin killers of success are greed and impatience. The movie "Wall Street" told us greed is good, but it isn't. Greed means working toward something at the expense of others. True ambition, which is good, means working toward something by serving others. Help enough people get what they want, and you will get whatever you want.

As for impatience, that's being unwilling to wait for the process to unfold. If you've only been at the disciplines for a week and you give them up because you are impatient, you've aced yourself out of what could have been your fortune.

Picture the farmer who plants his seeds and, a few days later, is out in the field saying "Where's my crop?" Of course the farmer is a fool, but how many of us forget that it takes time to build a great company? That's something every entrepreneur needs to understand.

Entrepreneur: When you say "This stuff is easy," do you mean it's easy to understand?

Rohn: And to do. The key is to not neglect what's easy. Is reading a book hard? Taking a class? Ask a person why he or she neglects the easy stuff, and you'll never hear a good answer. If there's something we should do and we don't do it, whose fault is that? Nobody's but our own.

Anybody, anywhere can take the steps toward success. Success isn't magical or mysterious. It's easy if we consistently follow the disciplines. As time unfolds, add more disciplines. As you accomplish one goal, go for the next. Just have patience with yourself, and in due time, you will do it.

More from Entrepreneur
Entrepreneur Select: A Fund For Entrepreneurs, By Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs require more than just money, which is why we aim to empower you, as well as act as a catalyst for value creation.

Make sure you’re covered if an employee gets injured at work by
  • Providing us with basic information about your business
  • Verifying details about your business with one of our specialists
  • Speaking with an agent who is specifically suited to insure your business
Try a risk-free trial of Entrepreneur’s BIZ PLANNING PLUS powered by LivePlan for 60 days:
  • Get step-by-step guidance for writing your plan
  • Gain inspiration from 500+ sample plans
  • Utilize business and legal templates
  • And much more

Latest on Entrepreneur