The habit of doing more than paid for: A principle for personal achievement and success, Part 1

Preface: Does it make sense to do more than we are paid for? Napoleon Hill says yes, that the habit of doing more than we are paid for is key to our personal achievement and success.

This post continues the series on Napoleon Hill’s application of the Law of Attraction as explained in his 1928 book, Law of Success. The book provides fundamentals for achieving success for those who enact them. Hill developed his compendium of traits (with the help of Andrew Carnegie) based on interviews with over 500 successful men and women of the time.  In these posts, I discuss how Hill’s theory – and the Law of Attraction – is supported by behavioral science theories. For prior posts in this series, click here and here.

Why bother doing more than is paid for?

As Hill explains it, the habit of doing more than is paid for leads to success because of the Law of Increasing Returns. Here’s how he describes it:

“The farmer carefully prepares the ground, then sows his wheat and waits while the Law of Increasing Returns brings back the seed he has sown, plus a many-fold increase” (p 677).

To understand what he is saying, let’s first imagine this farmer who plants with faith and willingness to put forth his best effort even though the future reward may be uncertain considering market forces, natural disasters, and the like. He has the thought of success and he takes action to bring this thought to fruition despite the uncertainty and possible hazards.

Now contrast that farmer with someone whom Hill refers to as “the very lowly bred type of humanity.” As Hill explains it, such a person may have this mental attitude: “I am not paid to do this and I’ll be blanket-blankety-blank if I’ll do it!” (p. 688). This farmer has the thought of success, but refuses to take any action unless the reward is visible and certain.

According to Hill, the first farmer may expect to reap the benefits of the Law of Increasing Returns-–either in the fruitful harvest or in another unexpected way —while the second will suffer the penalty of its absence.

How does the Law of Increasing Returns Work?

In explaining his own experiences with the Law of Increasing Returns, Hill relays a charming tale. He was invited to give a lecture before the Palmer School in Iowa for a fee of $100 (remember, this is prior to 1928). When he arrived, he was given a warm reception and met “many delightful people” from whom he “gathered many valuable facts that were of benefit” to him. When he was asked to submit his bill, he declined saying that he had received his pay “many times over” because of what he had learned while at the school. He returned to his office in Chicago feeling well paid.

The next morning, the head of the school went before the 2000 students and told them that this was the first time he had ever known a speaker to decline a fee because he had been paid in other ways. He then added, “This man is the editor of a national magazine and I advise every one of you to subscribe to that magazine, because such a man as this must have much that each of you will need when you go into the field and offer your services” (p 694).

By the middle of the week, Hill had received more than $6000 in subscriptions to the magazine and within two years the students and their friends had sent in more than $50,000. Instead of a $100 fee, he received $50,000 in subscriptions. Quite an unexpected bonanza and a clear manifestation of the law of increasing returns!

How do the Behavioral Sciences explain this?

In a nutshell, Hill’s results may be anticipated by what most of us know intuitively -– people want to give back to those who give to them. Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State, refers to this as the principle of reciprocity. According to his numerous studies, the principle of reciprocity holds true across all cultures in the world. From earliest age, children around the world are taught to not take without giving back in return.

Cialdini is an expert on persuasion and author of the acclaimed book, Influence: Science and Practice. His studies have suggested that a gift especially memorable if it is meaningful, tailored to the person, and unexpected.

Hill’s gift to the school (in the form of refusing the fee) met all three requirements. It was meaningful– he school expected to pay a fee for Hill’s services and suddenly didn’t have to. It was tailored to the person – or in this case the institution– waiver of the fee was offered to that school specifically. It was unexpected–the headmaster had no idea that the fee would be waived.

Small wonder, then, that the headmaster sought to pay Hill back by encouraging every student to subscribe to Hill’s magazine. And, he could do so with full confidence that the magazine would be worthwhile because Hill’s extraordinary gift signaled that he was an extraordinary man, dedicated to service and learning.

In the next post, I will describe an incident in which I inadvertently applied the same principle.

Meanwhile, what do you think of the Law of Increasing Returns? Have you ever given more than someone expected and reaped rewards as a result?


  1. For an excellent summary of the principle of reciprocity, click here
  2. Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: science and practice (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.
  3. Hill, N. (1928). The law of success, in sixteen lessons, teaching, for the first time in the history of the world, the true philosophy upon which all personal success is built. Meriden, Conn.: The Ralston university press.


  1. Reply

    I am LOVING this series, as well as your thinking on the topic. JUST what I need to be noodling right now! Before I move on to comment, let me take a moment to say a rousing THANK YOU for the time you spend on your articles and in supporting articles you find helpful. You make a positive difference in my life.

    NOW, my comments:
    I see failure to “participate in the ENTIRE process” (for whatever reason), as a way in which we (inadvertently) set up roadblocks to success. I believe it is grand (and important) to do more than one is paid for. There is more to consider in this vein, however, which falls on the shoulders of those who benefit from the “more.”

    Probably because of my niche (ADDers – with “meant to but didn’t” syndrome for a lot of legitimate, brain-based reasons), I feel called to add a corollary to all you have written:
    “Remember to say thank you, or to document a need to say thank you, the MINUTE you think of it — and check your acknowledgment list every time something else wonderful comes your way.” Keep that list small – because you keep moving items off the “mean to” list and onto the “DONE!” list.

    We’re talking ACTION-based thanks, by the way. “Feeling” grateful is for the individual with the warm-fuzzy feelings alone – the gratitude ACTION keeps the ball rolling in a positive direction all ’round and primes the pump that keeps the dynamic watered.

    Had the head of the school not made it a point to thank Hill in a specific, action-focused way, we wouldn’t be reading this story, certainly. The resulting domino problems are where the real harm happens, however. Hill was in a position to help a great many people, and I’m sure he did *little* with the idea of garnering “pats on the back” for his generosity of spirit. Still, EVERYONE needs feedback to know what’s working and to encourage more of same. More to the point, FEW enjoy spending their own precious life-energy on those who seem to take it for granted or expect it as their due – which is how it tends to land when we don’t make it a POINT to “send” those “thank you notes” (including taking thank you ACTIONS, when possible)

    Who knows what might have happened without that “thank you” gesture from the head of the school? At the very least, the resulting revenue created reserves of time with which Hill could easily afford to do more of the same.

    A more concrete example from my own life: I recently went through a period where I was seriously considering abandoning the coaching field entirely and finding something else to do with my time here on earth. I expended a great deal of time and energy at significant opportunity cost, and the feedback I was receiving was more on the order of, “Yea, but why haven’t you done THIS for me/us?” than “Thanks, I really appreciate it,” along with the seeming expectation that I would always be available to “donate” time, so payment and position were “reserved” for those who would not.

    I was wondering if perhaps I was naive about how things really worked (or how they worked in the ADD coaching field) – and I KNEW I wasn’t interested in participating in a process where “as long as I get mine, I’m good” was ground of being. I was praying for direction.

    TWO things happened in a single day that I was able to see as a clear answer to my prayers for direction — for now, at least:
    1- A client I agreed to work with at a significantly discounted fee dedicated part of [that client’s] coaching session to tell me specifically how much my time was appreciated
    2- A long-ago ex-student took the time to send me a short missive that was SO acknowledging about the positive difference made by what had been learned from me it brought tears to my eyes that made it tough to finish reading it!

    Neither action put cash in my pocket or food on my table. Neither took much time from the people who took the action. But BOTH changed MY willingness to continue to do “more than I was paid for” – which will have positive impact on the lives of many others. Would I have left the field without their actions? Maybe, maybe not. But the spring in my step that both provided surely had positive effects in the lives of everyone I encountered for weeks afterwards. Those thank yous certainly lightened MY load, even though nothing changed directly in the “underpaid and overworked” department.

    I firmly believe that their “participation in the process” added velocity to their own efforts toward success. Both certainly rose to the top of my list when it comes time to “do more than I am paid to do,” which will come back to them directly. And their “express your gratitude” habit is one that will serve them well in all venues.

    SO, if we expect the process to work – I believe we must also remember to spend some of our “do more” energies in acknowledgment of those who have “done more” for us.
    mgh (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, SCAC, MCC – blogging at ADDandSoMuchMore and ADDerWorld – dot com!)

  2. Jean L.


    Thanks for these wonderful comments, Madelyne. You do indeed the varied implications of this whole topic.

    As an aside, I laughed aloud when I heard your succinct summary of ADD (“meant to but didn’t for a lot of legitimate, brain-based reasons”). Yes, that’s true for ADD-ers. The flip side, though, is that gorgeous complexity of thought, that when channeled can produce creative posts such as yours.

    Now to the heart of your comments — I so totally agree about the importance of appreciating others. This is the foundation on which connections to others and belief in oneself is built. In Reframing Change, we refer to it as giving supportive feedback. Yesterday in class, I talked about the principle (again) and how when we give supportive feedback to others, they are then motivated to pay it forward.

    So now I want to acknowledge you. I have been all through your website. It is one of the best, if not the best, resources for people with ADD that I know about. I have recommended it to any number of people. Thank you for the contributions to make to the world–and to me.

  3. Pingback: principle of personal achievement and success | Leading Consciously Blog

  4. Reply

    You are a doll — I SO appreciate your feedback. We are “preaching to each other’s choir,” however. “Reframing Change” (*great* name, btw!) is something I know we both do — probably as natural as breathing for both of us. Other than seeding the concept, how do we move others into action congruent with the reframes?

    I know that sometimes all we CAN do is seed the concept and pray that it gets watered, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about here. I analogize with PTA Moms: there are those who bake and chaperone and room monitor like mad things, those with complicated lives that do what they can (like single Moms, Moms who are caregivers for a loved one with HIV, Alzheimer’s, or cancer, etc.), those who do very little (but something) — and then the majority who do absolutely nothing. Many of those don’t even attend a single meeting or make a call to see what there IS to be done.

    What kind of school could they have if *every* Mom had the do more/give back mindset and did at least one little thing? What if every DAD joined the party? What kind of kids would grow up to be what kind of citizens with the absolute knowledge that they MATTER, demonstrated by THAT kind of support?

    What kind of WORLD could we have if *everyone* adopted the do more/give back/pay it forward/random act of kindness mindset — and resolved to put it into action by DOING at least one tiny thing a month, every single month?

    How can those of us in leadership roles ignite THAT flame?

    With my ADDers, I know now that it takes more than motivation and willingness in the moment — and in my 7 years as a trainer for CoachU (“vanilla” coaching), it wasn’t a whole lot better on the action front. A larger percentage than you would believe left one class ready to change the world and returned to the next without having done so much as read the (very brief) material in the module to be able to truly participate when they dialed in (much less the action they committed to, or the exercises assigned for homework). These were people who CHOSE a helping field, were already enrolled in the “making a difference” concept, wanted to coach professionally, and parted with some significant dollars for their training – AGAIN, *not* ADD.

    My point? We ALL have “too much to do” that WILL get in the way without some “structure to fulfill” in place. Without it, anything that might have been done becomes one more “gunna” – another item of evidence for the failure pile. Lousy for everyone, but lousy-est for the inner life of the “Gunnee.” BUT- I feel strongly that support for the structure needs to come from some kind of cooperative effort within the group – I simply do not have time to do more than I’m doing for everyone who needs someone to keep fanning their flame. I doubt you do either.

    How do those of us who have dedicated our careers and lives to changing the paradigm build society’s DO MORE muscle — from a positive, enrolling position and from the ground up — without having to live under some bridge in a cardboard box for lack of time to make a living?

    We can’t be the wind beneath wings that don’t flap!! How do we build the “raise your wings and flap” habit? What’s been tried? What works? How well, and with how many? In what arenas or venues? What backfires? Any idea why?

    I would love to participate in a leadership conversation of THAT kind. Anybody else?

    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, SCAC, MCC – (blogging at ADDandSoMuchMore and ADDerWorld – dot com!)

    • Jean L.


      Madelyn, you are talking about the conundrum that has me engaged and baffled for a very long time: how do we move pass the “gunna’s” and how do we help others do the same. I woke up early this morning with a laundry list of things to do — very important to me — and that people are counting on me to do. I totally agree that most of us are time poor and that structure is a major key.

      I also fully agree that it takes collective effort. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten my start in social work (community organization specifically) where we focused on the very questions you are raising.

      As you imply, most of the people whom I work with and talk with really do want to improve their own lives and help others improve theirs — all while making a decent living.

      I started this blog because I am interested in the leadership conversation you are talking about. Would you be willing to give one really concrete example of what has happened that leads you to pose these questions? I’m sure there have been a multitude of incidents. I’m interested in any single one that you think really illustrates the conundrum that you are talking about.

      • Reply

        One of my very best friends got his MSW at Columbia – sadly, no longer with us, which was a significant loss to the planet almost 20 years ago. We met in college, developed a friendship through time spent in various theatre productions, and became unshakably bonded after we reconnected in Manhattan.

        For years he “skated” through life, both in Nashville and in the Big Apple. By that, I mean that his enormous creativity was unfocused – or, rather, multi-focused. He was an actor/singer/dancer, a stage manager, a sometimes AIDS activist (as well as other causes he believed in), threw the cleverest parties in the universe, whether he had a dime to his name or not (and he usually did not). Without the slightest background or resume, he once talked himself into a job in charge of wardrobe for a network television show — and did quite well at it, by the way. A one-time (deceptively delightful) alcoholic who suddenly decided to stop drinking one day, following what he realized was not his first blackout. He did his 30 in 30, worked the steps and, clean and sober, admitted he was a *recovering* alcoholic to a world that, for the most part, never realized there had ever been a significant problem.

        In and out of love a million times, and always up for intellectual discourse on any topic that captured his imagination (and most did). In addition to his idea of a grand ole time, relationship and discourse were his passions. I joked that if I made it to sho-biz big-time, I would give him half and he could drive my limo, take charge of my life, and (while I was rehearsing or performing), ride around New York gathering a stretch-full of fascinating new friends to grace our supper table. And I’m sure he would have been happy to give even that a go for a while.

        Everyone adored him in his very wide, eclectic circle of friends, but he was always a “gunna.” Unlike many of that ilk, you could almost always depend on him to do what he said he would do. It wasn’t a follow-through problem, and it wasn’t due to lack of intellectual brilliance or organizational skills. I called him my “clipboard and whistle” guy — I knew better than to attempt to take charge of anything when he was around – he always had another idea. His plans were always wonderful, so I had the good sense not to waste a nano-second arm wrestling for control, handed over the conceptual clipboard and whistle, let it all go, and followed wherever he was convinced the next adventure would be found, laughing all the way. We had a ball!

        Like the brilliant inventor who never moves into production, there was no big dream, so every new idea was more fun to figure out than to actuate. He managed to conjure, without money, what most people working at the top of their fields paid for, so money was no motivator for him.

        Until the day it was.

        I no longer recall the presenting incident, but he wanted to workshop it with a top-notch therapist. After a round of interviews, he found the one he wanted to work with, but she was expensive. VERY expensive. For the first time since I’d known him, his considerable charm failed to work. She not only refused to budge on her fee, she looked him straight in the eye and said, matter-of-factly but very directly, “I have something you want, and I cost money. If you want what I have, you are going to have to get serious and get some.”

        I still get chills recalling the look on his face when he replayed that moment for me.

        My friend was on fire from that moment on. Obviously, he did not choose to pursue a high salaried profession, but that comment did connect him to his pathway to a “grown up” revenue stream. He decided he wanted to BE “what she had.” He talked his way into Columbia Grad School with some funding, acquitted himself brilliantly, and set himself up in private practice. Every skill in his arsenal was put into play. NOBODY could out “resource” that guy!

        It was a MOMENT of authentic, intuitive, gut-level connection – the spark of Leadership – that turned his life inside out and upside down in two sentences. Just a MOMENT. And the shift lasted for the rest of his life – as did his relationship with an amazingly well-mated partner. From the moment they met, our party was enhanced by one more.

        I could give you examples of frustration at not being able to motivate one or the other of my students to “flap” back there in the wing, or some examples of working with clients that tried my patience with chronic lack of . . . tracking, more than follow-through . . . but this is the example that came out in response to your comment about your fortunate start in social work.

        Somehow, although not an incident that consciously guides my quest, this example might best illustrate that illusive quality that could change the world if we could figure out what in the dickens it WAS so that we could model it.

        What IS it that inspires another’s aha moment? Or what is it that we do or don’t do that gets in the way of that moment of clarity that could forever alter the trajectory of a life with a force that could light up a country?

        Whatever it was, I have no doubt that someone else is telling stories about my friend’s skill in coming up with inspirational tipping points for his clients. I have received a few acknowledgments that I have done something similar for a few. But what did I DO? And what do I need to tweak to inspire an entire class in a similar manner? Why, HOW?! did some slip through the cracks? Could I have been able to predict the ones that would catch fire in advance – or could I now? CAN alchemy be quantified?

        I went into coaching because I sensed, in the first ten minutes in a very small seminar room with Thomas Leonard, before there were even materials to go with the training he was offering for $2495.00, that the potential of this new field of professional coaching was enormous. T., as we called him, synthesized so many of the world’s big ideas and gave language to so many of the thoughts that sparked my neurons like hallucinogens from time to time, allowing me to anchor shifts with words – and so to hold on to them long enough to expand them exponentially.

        Therapy as a focus for my own life path never played a siren song for me, although I loved reading and discussing ideas from that frame — but COACHING did.

        Thomas had a shadow side equal to the occasionally blinding light of his brilliance, but when he was ON – or IN – or whatever it was – I would swear the man could walk on water. And *many* of us who jumped in early caught the fire of his vision. So what happened in the replication?

        What happened to that enormous potential? What bushels are hiding the light of the young visionaries? The coaching meme’s DNA was damaged by the pressure of warp-speed growth, no doubt, but nothing is THAT simply sourced. Where is the passion in these newer coaches? Surely it can’t have fallen victim to competitive paradigms and capitalistic intent. How did we who were LEADERS fail those who are now, for the most part, trainers, legislators and enforcers?

        More to the point – how do we fan what’s left of the embers to flame once more? Our field is far too young to ossify into the stultifying discipline it seems hell-bent on becoming.

        And what is to be my part in its revival? Because I KNOW I’m too young to spend my life on the trajectory laid before me if we don’t change the course of this runaway train.

        THAT is what leads me to pose these questions.

        Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, SCAC, MCC – (blogging at ADDandSoMuchMore and ADDerWorld – dot com!)

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