Monday, August 21, 2006

Professor Harold Hill Was on to Something


Last week I talked about how Professor Harold Hill, the fast-talking salesman of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” relied on something called “The Think System” to get the boys of River City, Iowa to produce the Minuet in G on their brand-new instruments…without the benefit of any prior musical training. But the Think System was only a Hollywood invention, of course. Or was it? For the sake of the movie, it was. Yet I think the River City Boys Band had a little extra magic going for them – something that Claude M. Bristol called “The Magic of Believing.”

You may recall how in a previous entry on the importance of desire in effecting change, I described that commodity as being the fuel that drives the car, so to speak. Well, if desire is the gas, then belief is the vehicle. One without the other doesn’t accomplish much. The importance of belief was something that kept cropping up in various motivational materials I acquired, so it was with interest and anticipation that I picked up “The Magic of Believing,” a bestselling classic originally published in 1948 that has never gone out of print, and which is subtitled “The Science of Setting Your Goal and Then Reaching It.”

Claude Myron Bristol (1891-1951) was a journalist and businessman who got his start as a police reporter. As he says in Chapter One, “police reporters are trained to get facts and take nothing for granted.” He was also born with a perhaps above-average capacity for curiosity, an “insatiable yearning to seek answers and explanations” that led him to read thousands of books on such subjects as modern psychology, metaphysics, ancient magic, voodoo, yoga, theosophy, Christian Science, and many others that dealt with what he calls “Mind Stuff” (yes, you read that correctly!). Some of these books were nonsense. Some were strange. Still others were profound. All had one common thread through their teachings, a thread that made them work for those who accepted and applied them. That thread was belief.

Bristol’s own experience with “the magic of believing” began in 1918, when he was a soldier in France. While the exact details of his experience are a bit sketchy, the outline goes like this: Frustrated by his lack of spending money, Bristol made up his mind that when he returned to civilian life, he would have a lot of it. His Army classification card listed him as a newspaper man, yet he found himself “pushing wheelbarrows and lugging heavy shells and other ammunition” until he was suddenly transferred to the First Army Headquarters and placed in charge of a daily progress bulletin. During the next months he “frequently thought about the commission to which I was entitled.” Then, again quite suddenly, he received orders transferring him to the Army newspaper, the staff of which he had long wished to join, although he had done nothing about that ambition. In August of 1919 he returned home, eager to begin building the fortune he’d envisioned. The morning after his arrival, he received a phone call from the president of a club in which he’d been active. This man instructed him to call another, “a prominent man in the investment banking business who had read about my return and had expressed a wish to see me before I returned to newspaper work.” Bristol made the call, and two days later began a lengthy career as an investment banker, which later led to the vice-presidency of a well-known Pacific Coast firm.

Now here, readers, I had to stop for a second. What’s going on, I thought? A man with no prior experience whatsoever gets called out of the blue to join an investment banking firm? Up till now, Bristol has never mentioned an interest in that field. Sounds like sheer beginner’s luck to me. I read on.

Bristol’s salary was apparently satisfactory at the start, but he realized that there were many opportunities to make money in his new field. Exactly how he was to make it was not then clear, but, he says, “During those years I had constantly before me a mental picture of wealth.”

Constantly. Mental picture. Those words stood out to me as if highlighted. They sounded familiar. I read on.

Bristol describes how many people doodle while they’re distracted or talking on the telephone. I certainly do – primarily faces, though I have no idea why. Bristol’s doodling took the form of dollar signs, on every piece of paper that crossed his desk. “I want my readers to remember this detail,” he says, “because it suggests the mechanics to be used in applying this magic which I’ll explain in detail later.” (Hint: it’s not in Chapter One.)

Bristol next describes his unusual-sounding luck while en route to Asia on the Empress of Japan. In his previous travels he’d developed a fondness for Trappist cheese, made by the Trappist monks of Quebec. Failing to find it on the ship’s menu, he made a laughing complaint to the chief steward, who told him that there was none aboard. That didn’t stop Bristol from thinking about it, and increasingly wanting it. One night, after a ship’s party, he returned to his cabin after midnight and found a table with the largest cheese he’d ever seen on it. You guessed it – Trappist cheese! When Bristol again questioned the chief steward, he was told that since he’d seemed so set on having some, the steward had searched all the ship’s stores until a cheese turned up in the emergency storeroom in the bottom of the hold.

But the author’s seagoing luck wasn’t confined to a certain brand of cheese. On a second, homeward-bound voyage, he often thought about how nice it would be to receive the “VIP” attention he’d experienced on the Empress. As he started up the gangplank of the second ship, he said to himself, “They treated you as a king on the Empress of Japan. The least you can do here is to sit at the captain’s table. Sure, you’ll sit at the captain’s table.” You can guess what happened next! Later, Bristol got a letter from the captain to substantiate his story, which he included in his lectures. The captain said that as Bristol came aboard, “something” told him to seat Bristol at his table. He could not give any further explanation.

Not surprisingly, Bristol notes that many who heard this story declared it to be coincidence. He is positive that it was not. “It’s the belief or the basic confidence within you that brings outward material results,” he says.

Chapter One cites other instances of belief bringing results, ranging from the curing of warts to the doubling, trebling and even quadrupling of personal income. In one particularly notable instance, Bristol describes how his firm was “going on the rocks” during the Depression, “not because of the threatening outside happenings and events, but because of the mental attitude of our employees. We were all succumbing to mass-fear thoughts….With our own thoughts of ruin, we were attracting the disaster to ourselves.”

What did Bristol do? As he says, to save his firm and begin fighting the Depression itself, “all I needed to do was reverse the thinking of every person connected with our organization.” ALL, indeed! Yet apparently he was successful, because, according to the man who wrote the introduction for Bristol’s first book, this insight was followed by “the most remarkable transformation of individuals and organization as well.”

No doubt you’re wondering, “Well, what’s the secret? How did he do it?” Patience, readers! I’ve only just finished Chapter One!

Actually, that’s not quite true. I had made it about halfway through the book on my first reading a few months ago, but the going isn’t light, and the material should definitely be studied more than once for full absorption. However, in my own case, I had a particular motivation for restarting the book: a couple of weeks ago, I once again (involuntarily) joined the ranks of the unemployed. In the weeks ahead, as I consider studying a new career path, and in the meantime finding a new job that will pay for my training in that path, should I choose to pursue it, I’m going to have a far greater need for the power that comes with believing than I did before.

How about you, readers? Is there a need or lack in your own life for which you need the power of belief? Have you ever read, or are you currently reading, “The Magic of Believing”? If so, how have you applied it and what have you learned? I would love to hear about your experiences.


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There’s no “magic” involved in the recipe I’m featuring this week as a thank you to my readers for hanging out with me these past few months…just a whole lot of good taste and decadent calories. (Disclaimer: I refuse to be held responsible for any extra exercise that may be necessitated by your indulgence in it.) This simple peanut butter pie – and I can personally testify as to its deliciousness – came to me courtesy of a former coworker. You can, of course, make it a little less decadent by using low-fat versions of the ingredients.

Treader Lucie’s “Thanks for Reading!” Peanut Butter Pie Recipe

Mix together one cup of Cool Whip, one cup of peanut butter, one cup of powdered sugar, and one block of softened cream cheese. Place in eight-inch graham cracker piecrust shell and chill for several hours. Eat and enjoy!


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I’ll be continuing with Claude Bristol’s “The Magic of Believing” next week. Hope to see you then! In the meantime, as always…Keep on Treading!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

what have I learned about the power of believing? Is it enough to desire and visualize receiving? Or must we believe we deserve to receive? I think to convince ourselves at a core level that we deserve what we desire is a lot harder than just visualizing and voicing said desire. What I mean is recieving will be undermined by self destructive sabotaging somewhere soon after if we don't really deep down believe with all our being that we deserve to receive--to be loved--to be healthy and thin--to be all we were born to be. We will gain wisdom in one hand and in the other reach for a mouth watering fat ass piece of peanutbutter pie! Peanut butter AND cream cheese--holy cow--what is that a kajillion fat grams at least and to really top the calorie binge scale add a mound of sugar! God help me--yes I'd savor every mouthful--and spend the rest of the evening washing it down with self loathing. Yet I so desire to be thin and not die of diabetic complications like my father and his mother. How about you Lucie brave blog warrior. How much have you lost so far? How are you really feeling since you started this journey? Healthier? Has your pant size gone down. Are you feeling firmer? How about your energy level? You've passed along lots of wise information but left out how's Lucie really doing. What's working for you and how? Tell us about your results.

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Anonymous said...

Has anyone else out there noticed that sometimes ignorance is an advantage? I'm thinking about past accomplishments that took bold moves--a boldness I was oblivious to because I had no knowledge of the predicted odds against my success. I miss that side of youth! That same stupidity that often got me in trouble also shielded me from that voice that said you can't do that! You hear so much info on how it's done you don't even bother stretching your creative mind to do otherwise. Anyway, after checking in on your journey to be whole--mind body spirit. To shed the weight! I've been so on the edge of committing to really doing it myself. I'm a well read person--lots of expert info stored in this noggin. Waiting for what? The right day? The right magic formula? I really think I just need to do it--not in my head but in a way that holds me accountable. I've always been very competitive so is anyone out there up for the challenge? I weigh in at an all time high of 212 and a half pounds--there I said it! Today is the day. I will check in regularly with my progress!