9 Things You Simply Must Do to SUCCEED in LOVE and LIFE

By Dr. Henry Cloud

A book summary by Jeff Abbott                                                            


“9 Things” is a personal best book of 2006 for me.  Dr. Cloud submits that though hardships befall all of us in life, there are people in life who seem to be more successful than others in grappling with the challenges.  They seem to find their joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction despite pressures and realities.  Others seem to be stuck in ruts, unsuccessful in their endeavors of undertakings in relationships, businesses, and personal matters.  What is the key?


The author suggests the answers have always been at our fingertips.  If we avail ourselves of some simple truths, timeless wisdom from Proverbs and life and apply it, we can experience change in our lives; change for the better.  Dr. Cloud submits the 9 things that are the most applicable truths to follow and then outlines steps we can take to change our outlook and paradigms.  Why don’t we do what is best for us?  Why don’t we act on what we know?  Why do we blame others?  Why don’t we see the value?  Why don’t we get good counsel?  Why don’t we invest in wisdom?  The answers are “hidden in plain view”:


Ø  Successful People – are the people the author refers to as people who have applied wisdom to their lives proactively and reactively.  They are free of the baggage and consequences of the build-up of bad decisions.  These successful people have learned to act on wisdom and benefit from its effects. 

Ø  Hidden in Plain View – The wisdom spoken of in this book is garden variety, not understood by experts only.

Ø  Be proactive – Most often we are driven to sources of wisdom by some kind of pain and we recognize it’s time to grow when we are forced in that direction.  We tend to manage our lives by these exceptions.  We should rather manage our lives by the rule, not the exception.  We should find out what makes for healthy lives and emulate these behaviors.  How do the healthiest people get that way?  Growth is about learning how to live well.

Ø  Laws of Nature – like gravity and such are dependable rules to live by.  You can learn how life works.  Do the right thing, and you’ll be fine.  Do the wrong thing, and you’ll pay dearly.  The wisdom of Proverbs is similar to laws of nature.  Apply these “laws” and begin seeing fruit in your life.  The differences you can expect are real.  The deep respect for God and His ways is the beginning of wisdom.  Hold on to it; don’t let it go.  Guard it closely; it is your life.


Here are the 9 points you need to carefully consider; “The 9 Things”:


1.  Dig it up:  The author makes the point that the most awesome structure in the architectural world began as a child’s fantasy.  The visible world began deep in the invisible world.  The seed planted in fertile soil of the mind will develop into strong tree if nurtured.  If not nurtured, the thoughts and desires of the child will die a certain death.  These buried treasures need to be recognized and dug up.  We all have buried treasure that needs discovery.  The successful person:

Ø  Becomes aware of the dreams, passions, desires, talents, and treasures deep within

Ø  Listens closely to them and values them like life itself

Ø  Acts upon opportunities to develop them

Ø  Cares more about their expression than absolute results

There are no shortcuts.  It is important that you risk your fears and dig up your talents.  “Better to die with failures than to die with potential”.


2.  Pull the tooth:  Successful people get rid of negative energy.  Like a bad tooth, they have it removed.  They locate things that steal their energy, joy, and ability to perform and remove them.  Consider doing some spring cleaning and find those negative things that have crept into your life over time.

          Relationships, activities, and “time sinks” nibble away at your purpose.  These are smaller items.  The Big League items that cause major pain are Fear, Anger, Dependencies, Resentment, Hatred, and etc.  You know what these things are in your life.  The process of managing these in your life can be compared to the immune system of your body.  Your success in life will be enhanced or limited by your ability to confront and to let go in all contexts in your life.

The author points to a case of a lingering lawsuit he decided to walk away from even though he stood to lose substantial money.  How destructive and distracting was the process of litigation in his life?  He decided to move on.  “Know when to hold em; know when to fold ‘em.”  Sooner than later.

New things that offer hope for the future cannot appear until you get rid of what was taking up the space that the new thing needs.  So let go.  When making decisions, don’t agree today to what will become the toothache of tomorrow.  If it doesn’t feel right, bring you peace, is not what you really want, violates some important value, or you just sense trouble…….step away.  Avoid accumulating trouble.  Better to cultivate a cheerful heart than a crushed spirit.


3.  Play the Movie:  Here is one of the more profound points in the book.  Successful people rarely make a move or not make a move without considering its long term consequences and effects.  Too many of us consider only short term payback. 

There is an illusion that we can avoid experiencing the passing of time if we avoid doing hard things that take time to accomplish. The book gives an illustration of a young woman who was frustrated in life because she had a job far below her dream career as a trial lawyer.  Her reason for not achieving her goal was the time involved in completing her education in law school.  That was time she didn’t have, she thought.  Dr. Cloud questioned if she believed she would be alive in three years.  Of course, she would.  He then encouraged her to “see” the difference in her life in three years whether or not she finished law school.  If she played out her life like a movie to the final scene, she would see her self working as a trial lawyer.  She would be happy in that scene and glad she had made the investment.  On the other hand, the movie played out for her life as is ended up with an unhappy person in the final scene, then three years removed, all the more upset with life.

What would she do to change that final scene?  She would change a few scenes, do the right thing, go to school, even at the price she did not want to pay.  Turns out 3 years later she did graduate and began working in the field of law.  Fulfilled and challenged, off to a new life.

How would your movies end if you fast forwarded them to see the consequences before making important moves, (or not making them)?  Proverbs 27:12 says a wise man sees trouble coming and hides, but the fool walks right into the buzz saw (loose translation).

     (Think of Charles Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol”.  The three spirits were in essence “playing the movie” for Ebenezer Scrooge.  It was effective in changing a stubborn person’s paradigms.  It can probably also change ours.)

Another great use for this technique is helping you “see” consequences in planning for contingencies.  What is the worst case?  Play that movie.  Live that experience while you have your senses about you.  Unemotionally plan the moves you would make if things go wrong.  Live it out.  Deal with it now.  A death in the family.  A disability.  A failed business.  A significant downsizing.  Foreclosure.  Chapter 11.  Losing your job.  Losing your home.  All of these situations happen in life daily.  It is unrealistic to believe that they would never happen to you. It will not devastate the person who has come to grips with God and self over these possible happenings.  Play the movie.  Make plans.


4.    Do Something:  This chapter deals with the situation of being a party to some kind of event or relationship in your life that controls you instead of you controlling it.  The author suggests the key is identifying your “locus of control”.  Who has it?  If not you, then there are most likely many ways to move the locus closer to you.  It may not be easy, but it’s possible.

The reason it may be hard is this:  You may well be the obstacle.  Can you let go of certain things you are allowing to control you?  You can have freedom in relationships, finances, morality, feelings, choices, attitudes, reactions, careers, stress and more by taking some simple steps that take courage to do.  You may have heard the saying that “resentment is the poison pill you take to kill the other person”.  This is an example of self destructive attitudes and behaviors that control us.  Some examples of courageous steps you can take to regain the “locus of control”:

Ø  Ask if anything in my actions or attitudes have contributed to the problem

Ø  Deal with my hurt and anger before communicating

Ø  Go and apologize or go and confront

Ø  Go and listen or go and make amends

Ø  Get broader, honest feedback

Ø  Get others to help

Ø  Inform the other person of the negative behavior that must stop before you can work out the issue (abusive talk, alcoholism, blaming, angry exchanges, etc.)

Ø  Get help/coaching on how to respond constructively

Ø  Manage your expectations of self and others

Ø  Love and give first instead of expecting the other party to initiate

Ø  Stop your enabling behaviors

Ø  Set consequences and act on them, enforce them

     Go from wishing and hoping to taking positive actions.  If sales are down, find another niche, hire more salesmen, hire a consultant, do more advertising, move locations, get networked in.  Don’t just sit around and wait.  “Hope is not a strategy”.

     If you have more power in a situation, don’t expect the subordinate or younger, less mature person, to remedy the situation with you.  Be a big person.  God does not expect us to be victims.  We often wait for the person who offended us to come and apologize.  This is a poor management of expectations.  We often brew over things expecting the other person to initiate.  So we are controlled by the situation that never changes.  It just silently dogs us.  So go from being controlled to being in control.  Move the locus to your side.


5.    Act Like an Ant – Dr. Cloud related a life experience of having to do a dissertation for his doctorate degree.  Most people can’t finish their work because of problems getting over this “mountain”.  It is just too big a task.  There is no urgency (three year schedule), no structure like classroom routines, no deadlines, and no one checking on you.  So it is a huge task with no clear path.  To him, he saw it as “all or nothing”.  He was the kind of person who wanted success now, so he feared failure and shared that with a friend.  He was urged to “Go to the ant” as suggested in Proverbs 6:6-8.  Mimic their behavior.

So this friend encouraged him by buying him an ant farm.  Dr. Cloud set it up and sent away for the ants.  The ants came in the mail and were loaded in.  He went away for a long weekend and when he returned, there was a small city emerging.  Studying the progress, he noticed no big events going on, only one ant after another moving one grain of sand after another.  He was so impressed.  Fast forwarding a few weeks, a civilization was formed, one grain at a time.  He knew what he needed to do: Act like an ant.

So Dr. Cloud moved one “grain” at a time towards his dissertation.  One “grain” was making an appointment with the research instructor.  Another “grain” was to get some input regarding his topic.  Another was to spend time in the library pulling files.  Little by little, progress was made.  Over time, his paper was forming.  The mountain was being carved down one “grain” at a time. We find out that if we break down our tasks like this, it all becomes small and doable.

Most of us have an “all or nothing” mindset that needs to be converted to a “little by little” mindset.  That takes discipline because of our interpretation of success.  Change your view of success rather to completing those little steps that lead to your final goal.  Avoid making excuses, avoid procrastination.  Get going on that first grain of sand.


6.    Hate Well – Proverbs 6:16 says “There are six things the Lord detests…..make that seven”. We don’t like to admit we hate things sometimes.  We’re not supposed to, we think.  Rather we should love and show grace.  However, there is a healthy disregard needed in our lives to create an immune system to certain harmful elements in life.

Of course, we should hate what God hates, but often it is a much more subtle matter.  One businessman in the story called a meeting with his partners to inform them that he “hates surprises”.  Surprises in this case came from people not doing a thorough job in their areas of responsibility, not being honest, not fully disclosing the truth, until it arises as a problem.  He had no problem expressing his hate for these things and let it be known.  His hate would help the organization build an immune system to the sloppiness that could ruin his chances for success in getting a return on his investment.

Successful people can hate the act and not hate the person at fault.  Using the immune system analogy, some of the worst diseases we know are auto-immune responses.  They are cases where our bodies go haywire trying to attack the wrong agent.  It attacks self.  It attacks the body.  That is hating unwisely.  We need to avoid allowing our focus to go haywire and attack our own team, our own bodies.  Instead, hate the real culprit and attack it.  Don’t attack the person.  That, Dr. Cloud explains, is hating wisely.

Two types of hate:  Subjective and Objective.  Subjective hate is “unassigned”.  It is a result of a buildup of anger and frustrations over unresolved issues and relationships.  It resides in a pool of feelings and attitudes built up over time.  This kind of hate is the type encountered on the freeways when small, unintentional moves become major offenses in the other driver’s eyes.  He is willing to go to great lengths to retaliate. 

People can turn subjective hatred into objective by transforming it into the energy to solve problems, protect things you value, and stand against the things you do not want in your life.  Take up the issue with the specific person where the problem resides rather than dumping it on an unsuspecting driver in the lane next to you or “kicking the dog”.  The more skillful an individual is at this kind of transition, the calmer the exchanges can be to resolve differences.  For best results, “Go hard on the issue and soft on the individual”.  Over time, the “toxins” of life will subside and small offenses will no longer result in declarations of war. 

Finally, “You get what you tolerate”.  If you tolerate vulgarity, violence, anger, or any other dysfunction, you will end up with a dumping grounds effect in your life.  Ever notice how people who tolerate litter and graffiti end up with a lot of litter and graffiti?  Where trash is built up and tolerated, the rats move in.  You get what you tolerate.  Don’t tolerate it.  You can increase the effectiveness of your immune system and rid your life of rats by being intentional.  Deal with your anger and let love and respect prevail.


7.    Don’t Play Fair – If you want to destroy all of your relationships, all you have to do is try to make everyone happy.  “Play Fair” in all things. 

People have an obsession for fairness.  It sounds good at first, but giving “my fair share” guarantees that I will end up measuring what I believe to be enough from me and I’ll begin looking for measurements of the other party to see if enough has been given by them.  “You can depend upon me as long as you are pulling your load and doing your share, but don’t cross me….don’t screw me; you’ll be sorry”.  Fair.  But who wants a friendship like that?  “I bought last time.”  Are good relationships built by keeping score?  If you make a mistake, do you want your partner to be fair?  Or do you want him to help you?  What if it is an area where many mistakes are likely?  Peter asked Jesus if 7 times was good enough for tolerating mistakes.  Using the “philosophy of the masses”, it was probably going overboard.  That’s the way the Gentiles do it. 

Remember the “He started it!” conversations in the back seat of the car?  Weren’t those petty?  Weren’t those juvenile?  Do they happen in our lives still 25 years later? If you always go for “fair”, they will likely continue.  What are some things ruined by fairness?  Consider these:

Ø  “Good people” and “fair people” getting divorced every day

Ø  Good and fair business partners split up every day

Ø  Good families get estranged every day

Often times, these are just the results of exchanging fair for fair, good for good, evil for evil.

     Instead of falling into the trap of fair exchanges, try giving the opposite.  Good for evil.  More for less.  The second mile.  Instead of seeing who can be louder or more vocal, try a gentle answer.  Instead of retaliation, seek connection.  Seek peace.  Revenge is for the immature.  It sows seeds of retaliation.  Proverbs 24:17,18 says, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls, when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.”  Face things in a way that does not add another injury to the score.  Avoid further hurt. 

     Successful people will not play fair.  They will see life as a place to give.  They will seek out opportunities to “give their lives away” and thereby gain it back.  When they see trouble, they don’t coil up and fire away on people.  They instead ask the upset person if everything is OK.  What is the deal?  How can I help?  Instead of fighting fire with fire, “overcome evil with good.”  Good things happen as a result of their love and grace.  People are transformed.  These healthy people do not have an inner drive to get even.  There’s no score to settle.  They are free to move on.


8.    Be Humble – The book illustrated the power of humility in the story of a man who went to China to start a soap company.  The funny thing is, when people asked him about how he was so successful, what was his secret, he pointed to a period of time working on a rice farm with the people of the country. He learned what drove the people to buy soap.  He found that people traveled long distances to do their laundry because all of the available soaps were not able to create sudsing action in their homes.  The soaps could not contend with the hard water. 

So the man went to work to solve the water problem.  His humility allowed him to find the drivers for soap usage and he created a soap that was impervious to the hard water and lathered up well.  Bingo.  People bought his soap and he ended up with monster sales. 

There are many stories in industry, such as those told by Tom Peters in “In Search of Excellence” and by Jim Collins in “Good to Great” that illustrate the power of humility.  Humility makes us “greater than we are”, not lesser.  Humility contributes to success in work relationships, both internally and externally.  Most people can “smell” true humility and arrogance from a long distance.  We need to know humility in ways we can put into practice.  It is good to see models to learn “what it looks like”. 

Arrogant people can be successful looking, but they will be limited by their obstacles.  Arrogant people stop learning.  People who stop learning stop succeeding.  They become the ceiling for themselves and of the organizations they lead. 

Ø  Successful people show love, kindness, grace, and understanding to others who fail

Ø  They are not derailed by their own failures; they accept them as part of the normal       process

Ø  They do not condemn themselves for failure; they accept it as normal

Ø  They do not disqualify themselves when they fail from future opportunities to succeed

Ø  They use their failures

Ø  They don’t need to be more than who they really are

Ø  They are smart enough to know where they are not so smart

Ø  They quickly admit when they are wrong

Ø  They receive correction and confrontation by others well

Humble people are givers. They care. They experience great relationships as a result.  People appreciate them and their lives are full of love, both in the workplace and personally.  The people they have been helpful and gracious to are grateful. Their giving is pure. They don’t give to get.  They give altruistically. They expect nothing in return, for if a reward was sought, it would not be kindness at all.

Successful people are OK with not being “right” all the time. They give up defensiveness, not in self deprecation, but in knowing they are not better than others. Successful, humble people practice these behaviors:

Ø  They say they are sorry to their children, spouse, coworkers, family, friends, and co-workers when they fail them

Ø  They seek first to understand situations before reacting

Ø  They rid themselves of defensiveness

Ø  They serve others who might be considered “under” them

Ø  They rethink attitudes when they detect a superior thought about others

Ø  They root out and rid themselves of feelings of being entitled

Ø  They listen when someone hurt by them expresses their feelings

Ø  They stop trying to “look good” falsely

Ø  They embrace their imperfections

Ø  They learn from their failures

Ø  They are humble


9.    Upset the Right People

Sometimes when it comes to improvements in situations and organizations, the first thing that needs to happen is some action that upsets much of the group.  Hard decisions sometimes result in the masses becoming upset.  Fear of upsetting certain people in the group can keep the right moves from happening.  Doing the right thing often comes with those downsides.  Successful people will not allow that risk to keep them from proceeding with the right moves. 

Fear of hurting someone’s feelings will often derail good judgment. Worrying about someone’s reactions can paralyze you, cause you to lose your way, your clarity of thinking and your common sense.  We need to learn to upset the right people.  What you “Should Do” and how someone will react are two different subjects.  Knowing that, successful people do not mix the two.  Some of those situations include:

Ø  Firing a person

Ø  Confrontation

Ø  Saying no to a request to spend resources

Ø  Saying no to a request that violates values

Ø  Telling someone when they have overstayed their welcome

Ø  Making someone aware of a harmful flaw

Ø  Breaking off a relationship that is no longer desired

Some people insist that they have been “hurt” and “harmed” using the same definition. But there is a big difference between being hurt and being harmed.  Hurt sometimes is needed to help you.  Surgeons hurt you.  Dentists hurt you. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”.  Rejection hurts us but does not harm us.  Bad news can hurt us as can disillusionment, but it may be necessary in order for us to learn what we need to learn.  We are not being offensive when we make a decision that causes pain to someone if it is done for a purpose or for one’s well being.  This is true even if the person on the receiving end acts as if it is harmful.

This is not a natural deal.  We don’t naturally react to these situations correctly. Our guilt feelings will try to convince us that we have done something wrong.  This often causes the wrong types of behaviors to go on indefinitely.  Again, what you tolerate, you encourage.

Do not rescue an angry man….

The author points out a Scripture passage in Proverbs 19:19 that directs us not to “rescue an angry man”.  The point is that you will only have to do it again.  There is a direct correlation with people who are out of control in their lives and their hatred of the word, “No”.  Responsible people don’t get all out of shape and go on the attack when they don’t get what they want.  What is with the temper tantrums at this point in their adult life?  There was never a time where they were told no to what they want.  These people are “the right people to upset”.  Do not allow them to control others’ lives with their temper tantrums.

One example stated that a woman whose husband had a drinking problem ignored his duties as father and husband.  Her way of dealing with it was to whine and nag him about his obligations.  She was advised that her response was effective only to perpetuate the problem.  She was enabling him to go on this way.  She was advised to put together a support team, determine to stand up to him, and then stop giving him all of this control. 

She understandably rejected the idea at first because she knew how angry he would be if she confronted him.   “Who cares?” her advisors said.  “It’s part of the treatment”.  He should have his consequences explained to him if he is to continue living in her home as determined by her and her support team.

When confronted, it was as if aliens had landed in the yard.  She amazed herself that the strategy worked so well in the face of his anger.  For the first time, it dawned on her that his anger was not the powerful compass to which everyone else set their heading. 


Fear of the loss of love

The other fear is the fear that you will lose a good thing, either short term or long term.  The author recalls a story of a successful businessman who was a father who wanted his son to take over the business.  However, his son had his heart set on his calling to become a pastor.  The father wanted to manipulate his son to take over the business, citing the higher validity of going into business and the problems with his choice to become a pastor.  The son risked losing a lot of benefits of his father’s favor if he went in the direction he was headed. 

He ended up standing up to his father and sticking to his convictions and calling.  He temporarily lost all of the benefits he feared losing, but was eventually reconciled.  The father became a proud father of a successful pastor.  The son, meanwhile, learned that it was better to suffer the loss of approval than to be the “successful” puppet of his father’s desires. 

Successful people go against the odds if it means doing what is right.  They know that it is not very fulfilling to acquiesce to the desire of others who would control and manipulate. 


How does one deal with a controlling person?

You really don’t change a controlling person, but you can convert their position from one of control to that of frustration.  The only way they can be controlling is if they control; if they get what they want.  Simply refuse to give into their demands.  A statement like, “I’m sorry it is frustrating to you when I say ‘No’.  I can see it is hard for you to accept.  I’m sorry that it feels like I don’t care.  That must be difficult, but you see I really do care.”  You just cannot allow other people to steer your life course.  In life, it will be impossible to live without upsetting people.  Just make sure you upset the “right ones”.


Conclusion:  You Can Become a “Successful Person”

With the right strategies, you can become a successful person.  There are no silver bullets.  God will not use a magic wand.  This is what God DID do for you:

Ø  He puts people around you who know the path you need to travel.  They will show you the way

Ø  God is there to help you if you ask Him

Ø  He gave us innumerable truths and principles to guide us in a life that is designed to work

Ø  He rewards those who practice those ways with good things and results

     Your job is to actively seek out the four steps as you learn the “Nine Things”. 


There Are “Twelve Steps to Applying the Nine Things”

     In fact, failure to grow in the level of success in life can normally be traced to failure to    employ one or more of the steps listed below:

  1. Don’t Go It Alone.  Get wise mentors, friends, and loving people to partner with you.  Be accountable to them.
  2. Receive Wisdom.  Seek it out and receive it when it shows.  Wisdom is really much closer to you than you think;  it’s all around you.
  3. Receive Feedback and Criticism.  Wise people receive feedback.  Get used to the fact that you need correction and correction will get you closer to your goals.
  4. Find Models.  We can’t easily do what we’ve never seen.  You can’t correct your own golf swing.
  5. Review Your Patterns.  Do you have a pattern of failing?  Look back and see what has stopped your growth and apply the quarantine principle in step 10.  Arming yourself will protect you.
  6. Deal With Impediments.  You have to deal not only with technique, but with fear.
  7. Add Structure. There is no such thing as self help. Use structure. Go to AA. Get a counselor.  Go to Weight Watchers. Join BBL. Hire a personal trainer. Gritting your teeth and hoping will not get it done.
  8. Practice and Fail.  Give up the impossible demand of having it all together right now. It will come in time, so practice and be patient.  Do the right things like the ant and it will come.
  9. Change your beliefs.  Knowledge gained that old belief systems held you back will also help you to go forward.  Continue learning and abandon the thinking that you cannot succeed, that success is only for others, that you are not good enough or smart enough, or whatever.
  10.  Quarantine Your Weaknesses.  We all have weaknesses, even if we appear to be the strongest person. Respect your weaknesses and protect yourself from them. Learn your triggers for failure and protect yourself.
  11. Put Your Vision and Goals on Paper.  Written goals and stated goals are more likely to be reached. Structured goals turn themselves into reality when written and accounted for. 
  12. Pray, Pray, Pray. “Seek, knock, and you’ll find.”  That’s what Jesus said. Always ask for help, because God has proven Himself;  He WILL help you.


Success and these “Nine Things” are for EVERYONE: Ordinary people who are connected in special ways.  It is the author’s hope that we all can realize these successes, too. 


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