Wake Up and Live Book Review: Dorothea Brande’s Answer to Failure

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“We all live so far below the possible level for our lives that when we are set free from the things which hamper us so that we merely approach the potentialities in ourselves, we seem to have been entirely transfigured.” – Dorothea BrandeWake-Up-and-Live-book-cover

First published in 1936, “Wake Up and Live” by Dorothea Brande was well worth reading. Brande answers why we fail and what we can do about it. She provides plenty of practical strategies to apply, certainly more than I’ll be able to tell you about here.

There’s a specific sentence in the book which I’ve heard from multiple other sources over the years, and I’ll give you some ways you can rephrase it so you can pick out which one would be most impactful for you.

When I read through “Wake Up and Live,” I noticed that I’ve already been applying some of the strategies and disciplines. At the same time, I also see how far I have yet to go. Life is an upward climb, and there are always greater heights to reach.

As I give you my book review of “Wake Up and Live,” Dorothea Brande’s answer to failure, consider where you’re at in your life and be encouraged. The best is yet to come.

Why Do We Fail?

“With the time and energy we spend in making failure a certainty, we might have certain success.” – Dorothea Brande

So, why do we fail?

You might not like the answer, but it does make sense. Each of us has the Will to Fail.

We fail because we want to.

“Usually, far from overrating our abilities, we do not understand how great they are.” – Dorothea Brande

Which is more powerful as a motivator: avoiding pain or gaining pleasure?

Avoiding pain.

The attempt to avoid pain doesn’t work though.

“We expose ourselves to far greater pain than that we manage to avoid.” – Dorothea Brande

Now here is the specific sentence in the book which I’ve heard from multiple other sources over the years. It turns out that they were quoting from “Wake Up and Live.”


And yes, the first time that the sentence is stated in the book, it is in all capital letters. Here are some ways you can rephrase it so you can pick out which one would be most impactful for you.

Act as if it is impossible to fail.

Act as if your only possibility is success.

Act as if it is only possible to succeed.

Act as the success you already are.

Act as the success you always are.

Act As If It Is Impossible to Fail

Brande writes about the necessity of forgetting about our past failures and starting new each time. Acting as if it is impossible to fail becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your whole demeanor and approach to life alters for the better. Instead of being defeated before you even begin, you’re empowered from the very outset.

“If you can imaginatively capture the state of mind which would be yours if you knew you were going towards a prearranged and inevitable success, the first result will be a tremendous surge of vitality, of freshness. Then … it will seem as though your mind gave a great sigh of relief, of gratitude for the liberation, and stretched itself to its fullest extent. … There will appear an extension of capacity which seems more than normal. … You will find that each hour of unhampered activity opens out into a promise of others in the future. There may actually be some embarrassment from seeing too many expanding possibilities until you have learned to organize your new life.” – Dorothea Brande

Forgetting about your failures and indeed letting go of the Will to Fail, you open up energy and abilities that you didn’t realize you have. And you’ve had them all along. You’ve stopped turning fears into realities. You get to recognize that you’re more powerful than fear itself. Life gets to be exciting as you awaken to the giant within that you are.

“Think back to … a success. … It needn’t be, even remotely, success in the adult work you hope to do. What you want to recapture is the state of mind in which you once succeeded. … Recapture the steady, confident feeling that was yours when you knew … you could do the thing that was necessary, that what you were about to do was well within your powers. Try to bring back as clearly as you can every surrounding circumstance of that moment.” – Dorothea Brande

I’ve done this before. The key though is to keep doing it. Do it consistently as a habit. My trouble has been that I’ve allowed my memory of the past to get in the way of creating a new future. I’ve kept my memory as an excuse to not even try or to make certain that I would fail even if I did attempt something. I find it very useful and practical that Brande states the necessity of forgetting about past failures in order to make success possible. It’s probably the only real way that works well enough.

“Now transfer in imagination that success-sequence to the work in hand. If you were absolutely certain that everything about the present work would go as smoothly as everything went when you succeeded in the past, if you knew that what you are beginning would certainly go well, from the moment you began till the moment of the work’s ultimate reception, how would you feel? How would you act? What is the state of mind you would be in as you launch out into it?” – Dorothea Brande

This is a beautiful method that Brande writes about. You can pick a memory of success from anywhere in your life. It can be from your childhood, your adolescence, or your adulthood. It doesn’t matter if it was a minor or a major success in your life. As long as the memory helps you be confident in yourself, that’s what matters. That’s what you’re after. Focus on your confident state of mind.

“Fix your attention on that, for that is to be your working frame of mind. Until you can reach it, refuse to begin, but insist to yourself on reaching it as soon as possible. When you have found the mood, hold it steadily for a while, as if waiting for a word of command. All at once you will feel a release of energy. You have received from yourself your working orders, and you can begin. You will see that you no longer have to push yourself to do the work. All your energy is free to push the work alone.” – Dorothea Brande

Then you get to work until you are truly tired and need to rest. You get to act as if it is impossible to fail. And oh, what an excellent life you’re creating for yourself.

“Do something every day towards your intention, however remote your goal may have to be.” – Dorothea Brande

Lifting Your Life Out of Slavery

Throughout “Wake Up and Live,” Brande provides plenty of wise advice for what to be doing as you take the action to improve your life.

“At first, say as little as possible to others of what you intend to do. … Those who are still slaves to … the Will to Fail are made uncomfortable by the sight of anyone who is breaking free. … Don’t put yourself into a position to be discouraged at the start, or bullied out of, or teased about, your new program. Within a short time, the results of your action will speak for themselves, providing you with all the justification you need.” – Dorothea Brande

Thought by thought. Breath by breath. Step by step. You get to move forward and show yourself that what you used to consider impossible is possible after all.

“Always your first question to yourself should be, “What would I be doing now if it were really impossible for me to fail at?” … Whatever it is, by thinking, you can discover easily what the first step would be.” – Dorothea Brande

As you take the first step, you’ll ask yourself what the next step is and so on. You may only need to know what each step is when it’s time to take it. As you keep taking each step, you’ll form proof that you really have what it takes to keep going. Your momentum will carry you along.

I’ve found that to be the case with this website. In the beginning, progress was slow. I didn’t write as many posts in a month as I do now. Over time, the results kept adding up. I saw that I am capable of writing on a consistent basis, so I increased my output. I have written goals for how far along I want the website to be by certain checkpoints, and I’m on track to meet one of those goals this week.

I remind you to be encouraged. It might not look like you’re making much progress, and that’s understandable. Each action adds up over time, and you eventually reach a point where you see that yes, you have accomplished plenty. And it’s plenty to be proud of.

Brande also writes about going over the day in your imagination before you begin it so you can prepare yourself to have the best results possible. You’re acting as if it’s impossible to fail.

“Confident, steady, freely flowing action is what we need. Then safe delight begins. The mind, cleared of its doubts, begins to expand and enjoy its own activity. The rewards of satsifactory action begin to show themselves.” – Dorothea Brande

12 Disciplines to Apply for a Richer Life

Brande covers how to ask for and follow advice, too. She reminds the reader to detail a problem that they’re facing and to get help in an efficient manner, making sure not to waste their time or the time of the ones that they’re getting advice from.

And in a later chapter, Brande goes into specifics for making sure that your work is the highest quality it can be, including customizing it for your audience, the “ultimate consumer.” That’s in the chapter before the 12 Disciplines.

The 12 Disciplines are exercises that aren’t all for daily use, but some of them are. I’ll tell you about most of the disciplines.

“The first exercise is to spend an hour every day without saying anything except in answer to direct questions. … Present as ordinary an appearance as possible. Simply do not speak. Answer questions just to their limit. Aid no further. Give a full and adequate answer, but do not continue with volunteered remarks which are suggested by the answer or question, and do not attempt in any way to draw another question.” – Dorothea Brande

Exercises like that are to increase self-control. You’ll get clearer on exactly what to say without saying too much or too little. And you’ll be less likely to make mistakes in your speaking.

The second discipline is to think for 30 minutes a day about a single subject only. This can be increased in increments until you’re able to be that focused in your thoughts for a full 30 minutes. Brande tells you a way of keeping track of how much more focused your thoughts get to be over time. You can make a checkmark on paper every time your mind wanders. Once you’ve strengthened your mind, you’ll find that there’s hardly any checkmarks on the paper any more.

The third and fourth disciplines are about taking focus off of yourself in writing and in speaking.

The fifth discipline is writing about the various successes in your life honestly and accurately. This will get you to see that you’re doing much better than you had realized.

The seventh discipline gets you to keep the other person in a conversation talking about themselves and having fun with that. The eighth discipline gets you to talk about yourself in an entertaining way.

The tenth discipline helps you with planning your day.

“Plan two hours of a day and live according to the plan. … Make the schedule partly according to your usual habit, partly unlike it. … The complexity or diversity of the items has very little to do with this practice. The point is to turn from one activity to the next, not at the approximate minute of your schedule, but on the exact moment.” – Dorothea Brande

At least one of your activities in those two hours ought to be enjoyable. Of course, you can go on to schedule more than two hours and live according to your schedule. You’ll likely accomplish more than you would have otherwise when you see that you have certain deadlines to reach and that you really don’t have all the time in the world.

The eleventh discipline is where you intentionally put yourself into situations where you take a break from your normal routine. Brande gives multiple examples that you can use, and you can also come up with your own.

The twelfth discipline reminded me of the “Yes Man” book and movie. Of course, “Wake Up and Live” came first.

“From time to time, give yourself a day on which you say “Yes” to every request of you which is at all reasonable. … It is only “reasonable” activities which you are to undertake without second thought. … It is astonishing how many small requests we can turn aside daily rather than interrupt our even course. The consequences may be wide-reaching, often educative, sometimes extremely advantageous.” – Dorothea Brande

After the 12 disciplines, Brande tells you about how you can create your own disciplines to increase your strengths and improve your performance in life. You have countless opportunities to enjoy your positive growth.


When you act from the mindset that failure is impossible, you prove that failure really is impossible for you. You get to learn from your mistakes, and that is a success in itself. And you get to keep on going.Wake-Up-and-Live-book-cover

Failure is certainly possible for those who haven’t let go of the Will to Fail, and you can be one of those who has let go of it. Treat success as a certainty, as an inevitability, and you’ll keep roaring on to greater heights in your life. You are success. You embody it, and you have chosen to “Wake Up and Live.”

Brande didn’t write a motivational book with nothing to it. She wrote a true classic which has been recommended by personal development leaders such as Earl Nightingale and Brian Tracy. Brande provides many strategies and disciplines for action that you can readily apply to your own life. I’m impressed with how much value “Wake Up and Live” contains. It’s definitely a book to revisit and apply more from as time goes on.

Buy “Wake Up and Live” and apply the practical strategies. Tell me about your results and your successes in the comments section below.

I enjoyed reading “Wake Up and Live,” and I keep reminding myself to act as if it is impossible to fail. Life is exciting when it’s approached from this viewpoint, and I invite you to join me here.

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Until next time,

James Barnett

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