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Book Review: No Excuses by Brian Tracy

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Recently, I finished “No Excuses” by Brian Tracy as part of my Goodreads reading challenge. I wanted to use this post to reflect on why I read the book, my overall thoughts and things I highlighted.

Why I Read It

I am huge fan of the self-help genre. Shortly before I left Arizona, I grabbed coffee to catch up with my old-time friend Lee. A short-back story—Lee and I met through the React.js meetup. He used to sponsor the meetup as a way to give back to the community and meet developers for his company. Through that, I got to know him.

He reached out on LinkedIn asking me to meetup. By coincidence, he happened to be near Old Town Scottsdale on a day that I was free. Prior to that day, we had really only talked about my career aspirations and how he could help me find a job that aligned with those.

When we met for coffee, we started talking and he shared some updates from his life. He left the company he had worked for and started his own company. I felt excited to hear that because I have a deep admiration for entrepreneurship. It can be a big risk and a lot of people fail.

Lee and I started talking about entrepreneurship, mentorship, and later realized we both enjoy self-improvement, reading and learning. When I asked what books changed his life, he suggested “No Excuses.” He swore by the book and said I’d love it. I took his word and ordered it later that evening.

Overall Thoughts

Lee was right. This book is powerful. I would highly recommend reading this. Personally, I am someone who loves formulas. Math was my favorite subject growing up because it gave you a plan. You could take and use it to solve problems. Now as adult, I’m constantly looking for formulas to improve myself and my life. The thing I love about this book is the number of formulas Tracy presents you with in order to practice self-discipline.

As with most self-help books, these aren’t new ideas. They’re old ideas told from a different perspective.

If I had to sum up my number one takeaway from this book in my own words, it would be this,

I am responsible.

I haven’t read it but it reminds me of “Extreme Ownership.” This idea that you take responsibility for everything in your life and seeing how that shifts your perspective.

Overall, I’m glad I read this and would read it again. If it sounds like your thing, I’d be able to lend you my physical copy.

Highlights & Notes

Think of this section as my highlights/cliff notes for the book. This is a mix of things from the book plus my commentary. I’ve broken it up by chapter so that it’s easy to follow.


Another definition of self-discipline is self-mastery. Success is possible only when you can master your own emotions, appetites, and inclinations. (Tracy 8)

I liked the term “self-mastery.” Meditation/Buddhism has definitely helped in this area but there is always room for improvement.

…“successful people make a habit of doing the things that unsuccessful people don’t like to do” - Herbert Grey (Tracy 11)

An example of this that comes to mind—body-building. Sure, I’d love to be ripped but I don’t want to track my calories or spend 2 hours in the gym every day. Hence why I’m not successful in that area.

The more you practice self-mastery and self-control, the more you like and value yourself. (Tracy 15)

A technique for boosting your self-esteem.

Chapter 1 - Self-Discipline and Success

…the greatest reward of success is not the money you make but rather the excellent person you become in the process of striving toward success and exerting self-discipline every time it is required. (Tracy 34)

We, as a society, so often associate money with success. I like this perspective because it’s a reminder to focus on the journey and look at the person’s character. Not their material wealth.

Chapter 2 - Self-Discipline and Character

All of life is a test, to see what you are really made of deep, down inside. Wisdom can be developer in private through study and reflection, but character can be developed only in the give and take of daily life, when you are forced to choose and decide among alternatives and temptations. (Tracy 36)

I loved this. It gives new meaning to the concept of “character” and how it compares to wisdom.

Study the values you admire. You learn values by studying them closely. The Law of Concentration says that “whatever you dwell upon grows and increases in your life.” (Tracy 40)

At certain times in my life, I’ve reflected upon the values I admire but I’ve never sat down to actually study them deeply. This is a reminder for me to set aside time and do that one day.

Emulate the people you most admire. Much of your character is determined by the people you most admire, both living and dead. (Tracy 41)

Over the years, I’ve most admired teachers and professors. Now that I’m in a different field, and recently, a different city, I need to find people I admire and learn from them. I have some in mind, but this is a reminder to spend more time in this area.

Practice the values you respect. You develop values by practicing them whenever they are called for. (Tracy 41)

It’s easy to say, “I value X” without ever practicing it. I want to take more responsibility in this as well.

Trust is the key. Trust is the lubricant of human relationships. (Tracy 44)

I associate this closely with reliability, though they’re not always the same. For instance, I could trust Sally to keep a secret, but it doesn’t mean she’s reliable (i.e. she says she’ll remember to bring my phone charger to party). I sometimes mix these up so this is a reminder to focus on the trust aspect.

By the Law of Concentration, whatever you dwell on grows and increase in your life. (Tracy 48)

This reminds me of manifesting i.e. putting energy into what you want to happen in life. If you dwell on negativity, I believe you will attract it.

Chapter 3 - Self-Discipline and Responsibility

The fastest and most dependable way to eliminate negative emotions is to immediately say, “I am responsible.” (Tracy 57)

It’s dangerous to pull this out of context. It’s not always this simple but I highlight it to say that in some situations, I believe this can work. For instance, I submitted a pull request to an open source project. I fixed a bug, but also included a commit to fix a typo in the docs. The reviewer was rather strict and said, “Why is this in there? This isn’t part of the bug fix.” I felt upset. Angry. I stopped and practiced this technique and realized, I was responsible for these negative emotions. Once I accepted that, I could let them go.

The Law of Substitution says that you can substitute a positive thought for a negative one.” (Tracy 58)

Choosing what to focus on is powerful.

What cannot be cured must be endured. (Tracy 61)

This is in relation to being upset over past events. You can’t change what happened in the past, so you must not allow yourself to be angry and unhappy in the present because of those things.

You take charge of your emotions by accepting 100 percent responsibility for yourself and for you responses to everything that happens to you. You refuse to make excuses, complain, criticize, or blame other people for anything. (Tracy 61)

I’d like to focus on this one a lot. I don’t complain often but I will make excuses or occasionally blame others. I hope to work on that.

Chapter 4 - Self-Discipline and Goals

It seems that only 3 percent of adults have written goals and plans, and this 3 percent earn more than all of the other 97 percent put together. **(Tracy 64)

I don’t know if this is still true, but it may be fair to say you’re more likely to earn more if you write goals and plans. Not always the case, but for someone like me, they help. Friendly reminder to revisit my goals and always have a plan.

This does not mean that writing out your goals guarantees success, but rather that it increase s the probability of success by ten times. (Tracy 66)

This was in regards to writing goals and achieving them. Again, it’s safe-bet to write down your goals. I love this because I love goal-setting. Maybe a little too much.

There are seven simple steps that you can follow to set and achieve your goals faster. (Tracy 70)

Remember how I said I like plans and formulas? Well here’s one I enjoyed from the book. I won’t quote everything from this plan but I will outline the seven steps:

  1. Decide exactly what you want
  2. Write it down
  3. Set a deadline for your goal
  4. Make a list of everything you can think of that you could possibly do to achieve your goal
  5. Organize your list by both sequence and priority
  6. Take action on your plan immediately
  7. Do something every day that moves you in the direction of your major goal

I don’t think this strategy can be applied to every goal you’re actively working on, but I do think it could be applied to a major goal you have. For instance, getting a new job/promotion or developing a new skill. I plan to use my own version of this for working towards a promotion.

Chapter 5 - Self-Discipline and Personal Excellence

…your earning ability can be either an appreciating or a depreciating asset. (Tracy 80)

Friendly reminder to continue to work towards promotions, raises, new income, new skills, new knowledge, etc.

When you decide to be one of the best people in your field, look around you and identify the people who are already at the top: (Tracy 85)

The idea here is to follow the “leaders” in your field. He suggests asking things like, “how do they dress?” or “How do they spend their spare time?”

Your natural tendency is to adopt the attitude, styles of dress, opinions, and lifestyles of the people with whom you identify and associate most of the time. (Tracy 86)

A reminder to surround yourself with people whom you would like to be like.

If your goal is to be in the top 20 percent of money-makers in your field, the first thing you need to do is find out what the people in the top 30 percent are earning today. (Tracy 89)

Life is not all about money, but I think this information can be relevant for negotiating raises. If you know what those above you are making, then you have accurate information on how to move up in your income bracket.

To guarantee your lifelong success, make a decision today to invest 3 percent of your income back into yourself. (Tracy 90)

This is probably one of my favorite suggestions from the book. I hadn’t heard this rule before but I like it. It’s easy to remember. If you make $100K/year, invest $3k/year back into yourself. This rule would help me justify paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for courses/workshops focused on improving my skills. I don’t do this yet but would like to start.

There are three simple steps that you can follow to become the very best in the field. (Tracy 92)

Another beautiful formula! Here it is:

  1. Read sixty minutes in your field each day
  2. Listen to educational audio programs in your car
  3. Attend courses and seminars in your field regularly

This read a bit outdated with the way Tracy phrased it with “audio programs” in your car. I think podcasts suffice. And for #3, you could do this with online courses/workshops too.

The starting point of your achieving mastery is for you to commit to excellence. (Tracy 93)

Ah, another positive affirmation. Telling myself to commit to excellence on a regular basis. I hope to keep this front of mind.

It ha been calculated that all you need to invest is about two extra hours per day to move from the average to the superior. (Tracy 95)

Not the biggest fan of the word “superior” or promoting workaholism, but for me, it’s nice to have numbers and understand what it takes to move up.

If you were to manager your time a little better, and work on more valuable tasks, you would quite easily increase your output by 1/1000th in a day. (Tracy 97)

I am a big fan of small increases that compound over time.

Seven Steps to the Top (Tracy 99)

Yet again, another formula. Do you see why I love this book?

  1. Arise two hours before your first appointment, or before you have to be at work.

When you get up, invest the first hour in yourself, say by reading.

  1. Rewrite your goals, every day. Write them in the present tense every morning.
  2. Plan every day in advance
  3. Discipline yourself to concentrate single-mindedly on one thing
  4. Listen to educational audio programs in your car
  5. Ask yourself two magic questions after every call or event? What did I do right? What would I do differently?
  6. Treat every person you meet as the most important person in the world.

Chapter 6 - Self-Discipline and Courage

Fortunately, all fears are learned; no one is born with fears. Fears can therefore be unlearned by practicing self-discipline repeatedly with regard to fear until it goes away. (Tracy 106)

I feel like this could be applied to something like public speaking. Something like sharks though? Maybe. Maybe not.

By visualizing yourself performing with confidence and competence in an area where you are fearful, your visual image will eventually be accepted by your subconscious mind as instructions for your performance. (Tracy 108)

This one reminded me of manifesting what you want to happen. I made a note that maybe one day I’ll check out toastmasters to help me learn how to be a better public speaker.

The Disaster Report (Tracy 114)

This is a report he suggests you fill out whenever you are worried about something. It has four parts.

  1. Define the worry situation clearly.
  2. Identify the worst possible thing that could possibly happen.
  3. Resolve to accept the worst possible outcome.
  4. Begin immediately to improve on the worst.

Later, he says the real antidote to fear or worry is “disciplined, purposeful action in the direction of your goals” (Tracy 115).

Chapter 7 - Self-Discipline and Persistence

Seek the valuable lesson in every problem or difficult. (Tracy 121)

Everything can be thought of as a lesson.

Chapter 8 - Self-Discipline and Work

Develop and excellent reputation. (Tracy 129)

This reminds me of Warren Buffet. His reputation brings him work. If you have a solid reputation, it could do the same for you.

The Law of Three says that there are three primary things you do that contribute 90 percent or more of your value to your company or organization. (Tracy 131)

Since I started at a new company in January, I think this is something I should keep in mind as I’m planning my projects.

Know your hourly rate. (Tracy 132)

By doing this, you know how much you are currently paid per hour. And if you want to double your income, you can see what you want to work towards. Reminds me of an idea from Naval who said something like create an imaginary hourly rate. Something absurd like $5,000/hour. Then, if you need to do something and it costs less than your hourly rate to outsource it, then outsource it. I don’t do this but I thought the two were somewhat related.

Back to work! (Tracy 134)

This is similar to the “I am responsible” idea. Thinking of it like a mantra, when you choose to do something that takes you away from your goals or focus (like scrolling through Twitter for me), then you use this mantra to snap your brain out of the moment.

Ask for more responsibility. (Tracy 136)

A formula for building your reputation and moving up in your career is asking for more responsibility. Here the idea is you work with your boss and constantly ask for more responsibility. Come time for a raise or promotion, your boss will remember you get the job done and you are ready to move up.

Dress for the job two levels above your current job. Remember that fully 95 percent of the first impression you make on other people will be determined by your dress and grooming. (Tracy 141)

For most of my life, I’ve focused on words, gestures, interactions, and body language when it comes to first impression. This means eye contact, smile, handshake/hug, open arms, and welcoming. However, I’ve made excuses for dress. Primarily for being cheap/lazy and not caring. Especially in tech where it’s okay to wear a t-shirt and pants to work. That may need to change.

Chapter 9 - Self-Discipline and Leadership

In addition to a clear vision for the organization, the leader must have a set of values and organizing principles that guide behavior and decision making. (Tracy 148)

This is another reminder to study values.

Seven principles of leadership. (Tracy 149)

This book is full of formulas. Here are the seven:

  1. Clarity - who are you and what do you stand for?
  2. Competence - set a standard of excellent performance.
  3. Commitment - be committed to success of organization.
  4. Constraints - identify limiting factors and remove blockers.
  5. Creativity - be open to new ideas.
  6. Continuous learning - be committed to always learning.
  7. Consistency - be consistent, dependable, reliable, calm and predictable.

Chapter 10 - Self-Discipline and Business

The reason why so many entrepreneurs underachieve and fail is that they lack discipline. They lack the discipline to carefully study every aspect of the business before committing to it. (Tracy 159)

Reminder for myself that if decided to start my own business, it would be a good idea to study all the aspects.

To succeed in business, you need the self-discipline to be proactive rather than reactive. You need to focus on solutions rather than problems. (Tracy 163)

Above all, you need the self-discipline to settle in for the long term, to develop a long-term perspective in your business life. (Tracy 163)

I liked both of these quotes. For the first, it reminds me of a poster I saw at my office. It said, “The best way to complain is to build something.” It encompasses the same idea. And for long-term, it’s like a marathon, not a sprint.

Chapter 11 - Self-Discipline and Sales

I didn’t highlight anything here (mainly because I’m not selling things).

Chapter 12 - Self-Discipline and Money

When you begin saving in this way, something miraculous happens with you. You start to feel happy about the idea of having money in the bank. (Tracy 181)

I think I’m here already. I do feel happier when saving money rather than spending. Although not practiced in moderation, this can lead to never replacing things that should be replaced (like old shoes!).

Begin today to save 1 percent of your income and learn to live on the other 99 percent. (Tracy 183)

Again, I’m already practicing this. It would be amazing to live off 1 percent of your income but you would have to make a lot of money. We were living off roughly 50% for a bit but now that we’re in a bigger city, that will probably change.

Albert Einstein said, “Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” (Tracy 187)

A friendly reminder that this year, 2020, will be the year I finally start investing (at age 26). Better late than never.

Chapter 13 - Self Discipline and Time Management

Assess the true value of everything you do. (Tracy 190)

This reminds of something I hear a lot at work—impact. We’re always thinking about the impact we have. This quote reminds me to alway be thinking about the impact of my work. Is it worth it? If it is, do it. If not, don’t.

The Law of Forced Efficiency says, “There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important things. (Tracy 197)

A sad truth, it is. There will never be enough time in the world but this reminds me to always prioritize my tasks and figure out what is the most important.

Chapter 14 - Self-Discipline and Problem Solving

A nine-step method for solving problems effectively. (Tracy 204)

Here we go with another formula:

  1. Take the time to define the problem clearly
  2. Is it really a problem?
  3. What else is the problem?
  4. How did the problem occur?
  5. What are all the possible solutions?
  6. What is the best solution at this time?
  7. Make a decision.
  8. Assign responsibility.
  9. Set a measure for the decision.

Chapter 15 - Self-Discipline and Happiness

The key to replacing an external locus of control with an internal locus of control is for you to decide today to take complete charge of your life. Realize and accept that you make your own decisions and that you are where you are because of yourself. (Tracy 215)

Although this isn’t 100% true (you can’t control everything, and somethings systems work against people), I do agree with the idea of accepting responsibility to take charge now.

There is an old saying, “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” (Tracy 216)

I absolutely love this quote. They’re not the same thing and this is a reminder to help me remember that.

Five ingredients to happiness. (Tracy 217)

  1. Healthy energy
  2. Happy relationships
  3. Meaningful work
  4. Financial independence
  5. Self-actualization

The happiest of all people are those who feel that they are doing something worthwhile and important with their lives. They feel they are stretching and moving beyond anything they’ve ever done before. (Tracy 222)

I hope to continue working towards this in my career. I am so thankful that I am finally in a job where I have the opportunity to do something worthwhile and important.

Chapter 16 - Self-Discipline and Personal Health

Seven key healthy habits. (Tracy 225)

  1. Eat regularly
  2. Eat lightly
  3. Don’t snack between meals
  4. Exercise regularly
  5. Wear a seatbelt
  6. Don’t smoke
  7. Drink alcohol in moderation

The five Ps of excellent health. (Tracy 227)

  1. proper weight
  2. proper diet
  3. proper exercise
  4. proper rest
  5. proper attitude

Chapter 17 - Self-Discipline and Physical Fitness

People who engage in aerobic exercise first thing in the morning have been shown to be brighter, more creative and more intelligent throughout the day. They actually score higher on intelligence tests, and they seem to come up with more ideas to help them do their work better during the course of the day. (Tracy 238)

I.e. cardio. I used to run a lot in high school/college. That has now turned into weight-lifting. Here, I hope to either cycle a bit or walk or do something. If you count rock climbing, then that might be where I get my aerobic exercise.

Chapter 18 - Self-Discipline and Marriage

When you are truly in love with another person, that person’s happiness and well-being become more important than your own. (Tracy 247)

As something who is recently married, I believe this wholeheartedly. A friendly reminder for myself.

Perhaps the most important area of mutual compatibility has to do with the discipline of listening. (Tracy 250)

Listening is such a key skill. Not only for marriage, but relationships in general.

Most problems in relationships arise because of poor communication.

Each person has an emotional need to talk a certain amount with his or her spouse. (Tracy 252)

These are super important. I highly value communication and believe it’s one of the more important aspects of relationships.

The four questions you should ask. (Tracy 254)

Things you should discuss with your spouse and later your children (if you have them) on a regular basis.

  1. Is there anything that I am doing that you would like me to do more of?
  2. Is there anything that I am doing that you would like me to do less of?
  3. Is there anything that you would like me to start doing that I am not doing today?
  4. Is there anything that I am doing that you would like me to stop doing altogether?

Chapter 20 - Self-Discipline and Friendship

The core of personality. (Tracy 274)

Here he says, “Your self-image is made up of three parts.”

  1. The way you see yourself.
  2. The way you think others see you.
  3. The way people actually do see you and treat you.

The Law of Indirect Effort. (Tracy 276)

This oen is a bit long. He says, “if you want to have a friend, you must first be a friend. If you want people to like you, you should first like them.” And gives a few more examples.

Seven ways to make people feel important. (Tracy 277)

I love this because I feel so happy lifting others help. Here’s the formula:

  1. Accept people the way they are.
  2. Show your appreciation for others.
  3. Be agreeable.
  4. Show your admiration.
  5. Pay attention to others.
  6. Never criticize, condemn, or complain
  7. Be courteous, concerned and considerate of everyone you meet

A few other key things from this section:

Listen as though what the person is saying is the smartest and most interesting thing you have ever hear. (Tracy 281)

Something I’d like to practice.

Chapter 21 - Self-Discipline and Peace of Mind

Zen Buddhism teaches that the main cause of human suffering and unhappiness is “attachment.”

Most people have a deep down need to be right. However, when you stop caring if you are right or wrong, all the emotions surrounding this needs for rightness disappear. (Tracy 286)

Sometimes I get attached to being right, or having the correct answer so this is a reminder to let that go.

Refuse to blame anyone for anything. (Tracy 287)

I think this one goes back to that idea of taking responsibility, instead of trying to push it onto others.

Give up your suffering. The second root cause of blaming is justification. This occurs when you tell yourself (and others) why it is that you are entitled to be angry or upset in this situation. (Tracy 288)

I think this I’ll try to practice in moderation. Sometimes justifying things helps with coping. But again, this may help in certain situations.

Each person has a “Forgetting Curve,” or what is often called a “Forgiveness Curve.” This curve measures how quickly you forgive and forget a negative experience, and it determines how mentally and emotionally healthy you really are.” (Tracy 290)

The wording might not be perfect here but the takeaway is to learn to forgive others, forgive yourself and detach.

The discipline of forgiveness is the key to the spiritual kingdom. (Tracy 291)

I’m actively working on this. I’ve had a few situations lately where I wanted to get angry at others for not following-through with their word. Instead, I let it go, forgave them and moved on. And it turns out, I felt better after.

The instant you accept responsibility and forgive everyone for anything that they ever did to hurt you in any way, you liberate yourself completely. (Tracy 292)

As you can see, responsibility is a reoccurring theme in this book. And it so suits itself as the ending for the book.

If you can’t tell by the length of my notes, I really enjoyed this book. If you read it, tweet me and let me know what you think!

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