By Matthew Arnold Stern
We have dozens – dozens – of self-improvement
books at our house. The ones I've read all say the same things: be positive,
set goals, focus on priorities, take care of your body, believe in God, and so on.
John C. Maxwell's Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee
Tomorrow's Success better than any of the other self-improvement book
I've read? First of all, it functions like a workshop. For each of the 12
practices described in the book, Maxwell provides exercises where you
reflect on how you can use these ideas and implement them right away.
The most illuminating of these exercises is when you look back on how
you have used and misused these principles in the past, a section he calls
"Making Up for Yesterday". He leads you through a series of questions
where you review your past actions and feelings. (In the chapter about
values, he asks, "Who are your heroes and role models?" and "What do you
think about most, especially when you're alone?") He then uses these
questions to guide you towards making better decisions today and in the
The second attribute that makes this book stand out is his examples of people who haven't lived up to these
principles he describes. Many self-improvement books are gratingly optimistic, filled
with "If I can do it, so can you" rah-rah cheerleading that winds up
sounding hollow. The negative examples provide a useful counterpoint. But Maxwell doesn't merely point fingers at famous lapses
of character like Armand Hammer and J. Paul Getty, he is willing to point
out his own failures. He describes how he struggled to expand his church
in his thirties and how his neglect of his own health caused him to have a
heart attack in his fifties. His courage in pointing out how he didn't
follow his 12 principles greatly adds to his credibility and makes for
some engaging reading.
The third strength of this book is its focus on what people can do
today to improve themselves.
Most people don't start or stay with self-improvement programs because the
results seem too far off to be achievable. Maxwell encourages us to focus
on what we can do right now to improve our lives. For each of his
principles, he asks the reader, "[W]hat is the one discipline you must
practice today and every day in order to be successful?" (Author's
Today Matters goes beyond other self-improvement books that
merely describes lofty principles and interesting anecdotes. It provides
practical tools and step-by-step procedures to help you overcome past
mistakes and make changes you can apply today. Maxwell guides and
encourages you to develop principles that will make your life more
rewarding, more positive, and more successful in many ways.
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