Note: This is a transcript of a video I posted on 19 Jan 2020. I have only slightly edited the text for improved readability.
If you struggle to drive yourself to do the things you know you need to do and you need some no-nonsense tips to improve your self-discipline, then this book may help you. But there are some fatal flaws in this book that I just can’t ignore. stay tuned to hear what I have to say.
Hi I’m Leslie and I am a Life Coach based here in Brisbane, Australia. I also read a lot of personal development books as part of my ongoing education but also for my own enjoyment. Today’s book is this one…
“No Excuses: the power of self-discipline” by New York Times bestselling author Brian Tracy. Now there are a lot of things I really like about this book. For instance, I like that the lessons that the author presents are very clear and to the point. The recommendations that he makes aren’t necessarily anything new, which he does explain in the introduction, but the way he bundles them together is very consumable. So for people who don’t read many personal development books, it would be a great launching pad for continued developments. And for people who are very well-versed in personal development media, it’s a good, succinct summary of some concepts that you are likely already familiar with.
One thing that makes the concepts in this book so easy to digest and to implement is the way the content is organized. The titles for each chapter follow the same structure: self-discipline plus and plus a short noun phrase. So the titles are things like self-discipline and courage, self-discipline and time management, and so on. If the intended audience for this book is people who want to improve their self-discipline, reading that word at the beginning of each chapter over and over again can really help to embed the idea deep into your brain. This really resonated with me because my word for 2020 is self discipline. As you know, I’m leveling-up this year: in my coaching business, in my fitness and some other things. Because I made a promise to myself a long time ago that on my 40th birthday, I would wake up feeling absolutely amazing. For me 40 is only a year away, so I’m pretty pumped. For anyone, developing your self-discipline is the key to staying on track with any goal.
The style that Brian Tracy generally uses in his writing is very direct and this book is no exception. So, if you’re the kind of person who responds well to being given instructions, you’ll probably appreciate that sort of writing style. Now, of course, not all of his tips apply to everyone’s contexts because that’s impossible to do in a single book. But a lot of the ideas that he presents are very relatable across various segments of society. For example in chapter 2: self-discipline and character, in a section titled ‘always behave consistently’ he states
Whenever you act in a way that is consistent with your values, you feel good about yourself. Whenever you compromise your values for any reason you feel bad about yourself.
Yeah, cool, so that’s pretty relatable. Now let’s look at chapter 10: self-discipline in business. Under the heading ‘think about the solution’, this is an idea that can actually be applied to non-business contexts as well, he states…
To succeed in business you need the self-discipline to be proactive rather than reactive. You need to focus on solutions rather than problems. You need to concentrate on the most important thing you could possibly be doing every hour of every day, rather than getting side-tracked by low value or no-value tasks and activities.
Great, and sure, it’s not a ground-breaking insight, but it’s really useful. There are a lot of ideas in this book that are stated very clearly, in a very direct manner. There’s no wishy-washiness, which I think is great and that makes it quite an easy read as well. I think I finished this in, like, a weekend or something. However, there are some aspects of this book that I couldn’t ignore that did turn me off.
This the book is divided into three sections. It was really that third section that kind of got under my skin. The two chapters that really jumped out at me here were chapter 18: self-discipline and marriage, and chapter 19: self-discipline and children. Towards the beginning of the marriage chapter he says,
Men and women are born to be two halves that make up one whole.
In an another section he says,
You will always be always be most compatible with a person who has an opposite or counterbalancing temper and temperament to your own.
That’s fine, I mean he’s supporting the idea that opposites attract. But to say that this is always true gave me goose bumps. Like, not in a good way. He uses examples like extroverts pairing with more introverted types and, yeah there may be a good match there, but depending on the people in question, it could also be disastrous. It’s a major oversimplification and that’s one of the main complaints that kept coming up again and again when I read through other reviews for this book.
That said, I think the oversimplification that Tracy is accused of in this book isn’t actually that big a problem in parts 1 &2. As a rule I don’t rate books strictly on whether or not I agree with the author, but one thing that really rubbed me the wrong way in this section was the fact that it presented a complete and total erasure of same-sex relationships. I mean, a very bold implication that the only valid kinds of relationships are between one man and one woman. This is probably most clearly illustrated in statements that he makes about faithfulness. On page 253 he says:
There are two ways to help you avoid the regular temptations that can damage or even destroy the most loving of relationships. First, make a decision in advance that you will never, never be unfaithful to your spouse.
That’s fine, you know, if you’re in a monogamous relationship and you have that sort of agreement then it’s not bad advice. But he continues by saying…
Second, discipline yourself to stay out of harm’s way. Refuse to go anywhere or do anything where temptation may exist. Except when essential for business purposes, avoid having lunch, drinks or, dinner alone with a member of the opposite sex.
Now, Brian Tracy, I don’t know what your actual feelings are about homosexuality, but I think we need to have a little talk. And, anyway, the whole idea of avoiding temptation in that way seems contradictory to his previously stated notions about self-discipline. Like, that’s kind of a funny place to to draw the line in terms of when self-discipline is actually required. It also perpetuates this archaic idea that men and women who are in a committed relationship cannot just be friends with members of the opposite sex, which is dangerously restrictive in terms of maintaining support networks and a sense of community.
That links to my main concern about chapter 19: self-discipline and children. Now, I love the way this chapter starts. He comments on the cross- generational impact of parental behaviors, the need for kids to have unconditional love, and the idea that children spell love T-I-M-E. Now, that’s really sweet, but one thing this chapter seems to neglect is the impact of a parent’s personal fulfillment on the well-being of the child. I mean this in the context of maintaining some semblance of self while raising kids in order to avoid, you know, really going down a deep dark path.
Yeah, as a parent, I agree that my child is my number one priority. But in order for me to be a good mother I recognize that I need to have some semblance of an identity outside of Parenthood. My daughter is my number one priority and thankfully my husband Tony and I manage our time in such a way that we can still connect with our own friends and indulge our personal interests so that our daughter sees her parents in top form as much as possible. This section of the book is one of those where I think oversimplification may actually encourage behaviors which contribute to feelings of parental isolation. I would advise any parent reading this section to really take it with a massive grain of salt.
So, in light of the ideas in these chapters that I find a bit, archaic, I decided to revisit the earlier parts of the book, and it had me slightly…crestfallen… because I had just finished telling a good friend of mine how much I was loving this book! One thing I did, as the self-professed ‘Queen of the deep dive’ was look at the people that Tracy cites as examples of leaders, winners and so-called superior people. So I actually went and I made a list. I listed each person that he quoted or referred to by name in this book. There were a total of 77 of people, and I found something troubling about this list. To illustrate, I made a pie chart about it.
Now, remember there were 77 different people cited or referenced in this book. The named women, in order of appearance, were Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Brian Tracy’s own daughter Christina, Miss Manners (her pen name not her real name, Judith Martin) and…Bridget Jones, who is not a real person. Now, when it comes to people of color: Francis Fukuyama an Asian-American philosopher / businessman. Izhrat Kahn, a Sufi philosopher, and Buddha. I’ll be honest I hadn’t heard of Izhrat Kahn before…and, apparently, neither has Google. Can someone out there please tell me if this person actually ever existed? I’d really appreciate it. You know it could have just been a spelling issue but I tried a few different spellings. I did some research on Sufi philosophies and I didn’t find any exact match, but who knows?
The lack of a broader representation of perspectives along with the bold heteronormativity of chapter 18 points to a very old-school mentality. This, to me, brings the book down a bit on the scale of what’s relevant to modern times here in 2020 or even back in 2010 when this book was published. That was only 10 years ago, so you can’t really argue that the book was just a product of its time. Not even like a token mention of Dr.Martin Luther King jr. or whoever?
My last issue with this book is something I spotted in chapter 3: self-discipline and responsibility. In a section titled An attitude of irresponsibility, he states…
People don’t want to accept responsibility. People spill hot coffee on themselves and sue the fast-food restaurant that sold them the coffee in the first place.
He goes on with a couple more examples, but that one really grinded my gears because it is a reference to a famously misreported case from 1992, that being the McDonald’s coffee case. To summarize the case, a 79-year-old woman named Stella Liebeck went to McDonald’s and ordered a coffee. She was with her nephew. They went through the drive-thru and she was in the passenger seat. She opened her coffee in the parked car and accidentally spilled it on herself. She wasn’t driving, remember, and she was in the passenger seat. She ended up with severe burns all around her groin area, all down her legs, and she needed a ton of medical care. She sued McDonald’s for compensation for her medical care and she won. Because, by then, McDonald’s had known, and there was clear evidence, that they had known that they were serving coffee that was way too dangerously hot. The story was grossly misreported to make me Liebeck look like she was just irresponsible and foolish, which is not only unfair and an oversight. It’s also a really easy story to fact-check. So, I find it rather irresponsible to include it as an example of not taking personal responsibility and that, for me, knocks off a few more points on the credibility and relevance scale.
Critical thought is super important to me, and you know I spent the majority of my former career teaching critical thinking skills. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing these book reviews. So the lack of representation, the archaic stance on relationships and parenthood, and the off-balance use of oversimplification in some pretty crucial areas of the book are some things that I found disappointing coming from someone as prolific as Brian Tracy. I mean he’s written, like, a lot of books, and claims to have read thousands of books and articles on success and achievement.
That said, however, I still find this book to be very useful. I do share carefully selected elements from it with some of my life coaching clients and I have recommended this book to people. I will continue to do so but, you know, I will choose those people quite carefully. Because in the wrong hands, I think some of the messaging in this book can be pretty alienating. So, it is going on my shelf. It’s gonna stay in my studio, and it will be available to borrow, to reference, for anyone who’s interested.
So, I would love to know whether you’ve read this book, if there’s anything you agree or disagree with in terms of what I said, what your own review of this book might be, and any other books that you would like me to talk about. Leave me a comment, get in touch, and hit me up on my socials. If you want to talk about developing better self discipline, come have a chat. You can book a free consultation with me through my website, leslievcoaching.com, and don’t forget to subscribe to my channel because I will be doing more book reviews and I will continue to post videos about various personal developments topics.
Okay, well, it’s getting quite a bit darker outside, so I’m gonna start walking home soon. I’m gonna sneak past the yoga class that is in session just outside my door in the main studio and start reading (or start making notes) for my next book review. Alright, have an awesome week and I’ll see you next time.