Long before I heard the phrase self growth or self improvement, I was trying, as a teenager, to better myself, to improve my prospects in life. One day, thanks to a churlish English teacher of mine, the answer was given to me out of the blue. I'd like to share it with you the answer that changed my life.

“It is told of Balzac, the great French author,” Sidney Greenberg writes in his book Treasury of the Art of Living, “that he once spent a long and unrewarding evening in the company of people who had nothing particularly vital to say. When he returned to his home, he proceeded at once to his study, removed his coat, rubbed his hands and, as he permitted his eyes to rove over the masters whose works lined his shelves, he said aloud: ‘Now for some real people.’”

Bored and staring glassy-eyed out the window — it was May, only a few days of school left — my 7th grade English teacher Mrs. McCarley, who liked to walk past our desks with a ruler in her hand — said something that spring day that created for me what Oprah refers to as a “light bulb moment.”

“Most of what I taught you in this class you will forget,” she said. “Most of what you learn the rest of your life you’ll forget. I only hope I’ve said something this semester you’ll remember and carry with you and use the rest of your life.”

“What???” I thought to myself. “I’m going to spend five more years in school, at least four or more in college, and this is going to subtract a lot of years for real living from my life AND I’m going to forget just about everything I learn?” That didn’t seem fair to me and, at that moment, I decided to take up what I call “the notebook habit.” I would from that day forward keep a personal journal to summarize books I read, add to it colorful phrases from my reading or that I heard other people use, and it would be a book — which turned out to be many books — I could refer to over and over again and recall all those things I learned that I didn’t want, over the years, to forget.

Not the ordinary stuff, the boring and forgettable college lectures, books, TV shows, movies, or magazine articles, but the good stuff, and the feelings I had when more light bulb moments occurred over the years that made me feel the way writer William Allen White felt when he, for the first time, read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Self Reliance when he was 17. In his autobiography he says:

“As I read the essay my spirit expanded as though I had heard the trumpet call of life. I was thrilled and stirred….I doubt if I have ever been moved so deeply by anything else I have read.”

So, culling through years of notebooks what follows are a few of the best quotes and phrases that were, when I first encountered them, gave me pretty much the same sensation White felt when he first encountered Emerson. I hope you enjoy this peek into my notebooks and that you’ll find an idea worth preserving.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” — French poet Guillaume Apollinaire

“A piece of good news…the possible realization of hope, the removal of an ill or danger, is but a thought after all — is but the picture in the mind of the thing desired — is not the thing itself, yet how it brings strength to the whole body.” — Prentice Mulford

“If there were a law written, ‘Don’t dream. Don’t imagine,” many of you would follow it and you would condemn others who didn’t.” — Abraham

“Moreover, it has always been a pious belief that God sends his good gifts and blessings in sleep. And in the same way his great imperishable institutions visit a man in his moments of leisure.” — Josef Pieper

“Children play at being great and wonderful people, at the ambition they will put away for one reason or another before they grow into ordinary men and women. Mankind as a whole had a like dream once; everybody and nobody built up the dream bit by bit, and the ancient storytellers are there to make us remember what mankind would have been like had not fear and the failing will and the laws of nature tripped up its heels….” — William Butler Years in his preface to Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men

I am a passion, I am a flame…I am that desire which transcends shame, (Gustavo Bequer). Your pain is the breaking of a shell that encloses understanding, (Kahlil Gibran). How do you beat perfection? (Megan Bishop). Thoughts are but dreams until their effects be tried (Shakespeare). When schemes are laid in advance, it is surprising how often the circumstances fit with them (Sir William Osler).

Strong reasons make strong actions (Shakespeare). All tedious research is worth one inspired moment (Uta Hagen). What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the Master calls a butterfly (Richard Bach). A man can succeed at almost anything for which he has unlimited enthusiasm (Charles Schwab). What is success? It is a toy balloon among children armed with pins (Gene Fowler). Show me what you wouldn’t do (Bandler & Grinder in The Structure of Magic). If you can count your money, you don’t have a billion dollars (J. Paul Getty). Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal (Hannah More). I have no quarrel with the man who has lower prices, he knows better than anyone else what his product is worth (Elmer Wheeler). I’d

rather try something big and fail than attempt nothing and succeed (Dr. Robert Schuller). You must not follow your feelings. Your feelings must follow you (Dr. Roberto Assagioli). Action springs out of what we fundamentally want…first arouse in the other person an eager want (Professor Harry Overstreet in Influencing Human Behavior). Captain Shotover in G.B. Shaw’s Heartbreak Heart tells Ellie Dunn that as a young man he “sought danger, hardship, horror and death” — as captain of a whaler — “that I might feel the life in me more intensely” (Colin Wilson). Forget writing, have a whopping good time, and then come back and write about it (Stewart Edward). It was a fine day for flying kites; I had no kite to fly, so I flew my mind instead (Christopher Morley). When you have something to do it commands you (Richard Rogers). Sometimes I simply amaze myself! (Mr. T. cartoon show, 11/12/1983). There is an inherent law of mind that we increase whatever we praise (Charles Fillmore). The wealth of a man is the number of things he loves and blesses, which he is loved and blessed by (Thomas Carlyle). There is a certain Buddhistic calm that comes from having money in the bank (Ayn Rand). The universe begins to look more like a great Thought than a great machine (Sir James Jeans). The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed (Carl Jung). Listen to your thoughts as if they were birds chattering outside —mere noises in the skull —and they will subside of themselves…(Alan Watts). “There is no use trying,” said Alice. “One can’t believe impossible things. “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” (Alice in Wonderland). Like many of the finest things of life, like happiness and tranquility and fame, the gain that is most precious is not the thing sought, but the one that comes of itself in search for something else (Benjamin N. Cardozo). Hence the first principle of changing one’s character is to seek another environment, to let new forces play upon our unused chords, and to draw from us a better music (Will Durant).

A half hour lived intensely is often sufficient to give value, meaning, and justification to one’s day (Roberto Assagioli). To be content with what we possess is the greatest and most secure of riches (Cicero). Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rocks of inertia (William James). Instead of asking, “What should I do?” ask “Where does my energy want to go in this new moment?” (Barbara Sher). Failure doesn’t mean you don’t have it. It does mean you’ll have to do some things differently (Dr. Robert Schuller). A mind of cosmic proportions can be shriveled to peanut size when restricted by negative emotions. (?) What is real security? Knowing you can count on yourself (JN). Sign in a shop: We do the impossible — any place, any time. A little girl looking into a mirror said, “I don’t know what I’d do without myself.” Begin by knowing you have arrived (Neville Goddard). Our task is shaping our lives to the pattern of our deepest beliefs. We can do things out of love or enthusiasm that would be impossible out of fear. There is time within every person’s life for a career within a career. Anything, however good it is, can be improved. You can discover what your unconscious goals have been by studying what you have accomplished so far. Imagine that you’re suddenly faced with the necessity of doing things on ten times the scale you’re now operating. Ask yourself, “What opportunity is hidden within this complaint?” Make the present moment an emotional success. The wise person adjusts their sales properly so that even adverse winds help them reach their goals. Getting a vigorous start will help you overcome the initial inertia. Put LOTS of your energy into your start. Perseverence is energy made habitual which may, continually applied, become genius. Set your mind grappling with a problem it can’t possibly solve and invariably it will rise to the occasion. People of accomplishment seldom reach their goals; their goals keep moving ahead of them. Ideals are like receding horizons; you no sooner conquer one than a more distant vista beckons. Almost all things are difficult before they are easy. Never look into the future with eyes of fear. A good conscience, a soft pillow. Our dreams are worthless, our plans dust, our goals impossible unless followed by action. To be successful means to be success-FULL; this means you are completely fulfilled in every aspect of your existence. What are you unhappy about? Why so? And what are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about it? A man in the Navy once said the hardest masters of men were not the ones you were afraid of, but the ones the men were ashamed not to follow. So mastery is not domination, but attraction. Which was more destructive, the provoking person’s behavior or your response to it? Your mental attitude is your real boss. Aiming for a really good job doesn’t require more effort than setting your sights on a poor one. So many read about romance and adventure. Be the person who uses his feet to find them. (Uncertain of authors). Knowledge is the movement of man’s spirit toward transcendence (Colin Wilson). The poor quality of human life is due to the feebleness of the beam of attention that we direct at the world (Colin Wilson). Free will — the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts (Renouvier). A satisfied need is not a motivator of behavior (Abraham Maslow). There is someone, somewhere, who can help you (Dr. Robert Schuller). The true business of people should be to…think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living (Buckminster Fuller). Great living starts with a picture held in your imagination, of what you would like to do or be (Harry Emerson Fosdic). There is not much to do but bury a man when the last of his dreams are dead (Henry Kaiser). When you stop getting better you stop being good (Dizzy Dean). We think in secret and it comes to pass; environment is but our looking glass (William Thackery). Do what you love. Know your own bone. Gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still (Thoreau). When we believe that something will not work, it really works by appearing not to work (Colin Wilson). The road is better than the inn (Cervantes). What would you be doing now if it were impossible for you to fail? (Dr. Robert Schuller). The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves that we are underlings (Shakespeare). Are you following the followers? (Earl Nightingale). The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper (Ralph Waldo Emerson). If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would astound ourselves (Thomas Edison). Doing what’s closest to your heart is like striking oil: you tap into a surge of energy. Shape a real-world goal out of what you love. Fantasy before strategy (Barbara Sher). Definition of self-confidence: know-how verging on boredom (Susan Langer). The best job of all — translating your top pleasures into your vocation (Barbara Sher).

Oh for one hour of youthful joy!
Give back my twentieth spring!
I’d rather laugh, a bright-haired boy
Than reign a gray-beard king. (The Old Man Dreams, Oliver Wendell Holmes). .

Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, and the world before me,
The long brown path before me
Treading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good fortune
I myself am good fortune
Strong and content I travel the open road.
(Walt Whitman, The Open Road).

As I started this article with Sidney Greenberg,, it seems fitting to give him the last word. Greenberg says the thoughts included A Treasury in the Art of Living, were picked from thousands of note cards and “chosen for the compelling manner in which they were phrased as well as for their intrinsic merit.” I hope you enjoyed the company of my invited guests and, unlike Balzac — who left his dinner party early because he was bored — you stayed because the emotional payoff was worth your time.

Author's Bio: 

James has been a television news broadcaster in Texas and also taught news reporting and reporting at three universities. He has continued his journals since his high school days. Learn about James at jamesclaytonnapier.com