The following is an excerpt from my book, The 47 Laws of Success (which you can find here):
When you are prepared for a thing, the opportunity to use it presents itself.
The Law of Initial Value states that success is determined by what happens when internal preparation meets external opportunity. It dictates that internal preparation always precedes your ability to achieve success.
In other words, you must be internally prepared before opportunities arise in order to be able to take advantage of them.
This means that, ultimately, the level of success you achieve will be determined by the value you bring to the opportunities that arise.
Stimulus and Response
The Law of Initial Value is based on a book published by the Austrian scientist and psychiatrist, Joseph Wilder, entitled, Stimulus and Response: The Law of Initial Value.
In this book, Wilder recounts the findings of a series of experiments he conducted throughout the 1920s.
In these experiments, he injected human subjects with either pilocarpine, atropine, or adrenaline, all of which are known to affect a subject’s heart rate and blood pressure.
At the time when he was conducting these experiments, it was widely assumed by scientists and physicians alike that any drug or medicine would have the same effect on every subject, provided the dosage remained consistent. In other words, it was assumed that, if you and I were both given the same dosage of adrenaline or atropine, our heartrates would both increase at the same rate. And, likewise, if we were given the same amount of pilocarpine, it would have been expected that our heartrates would decrease at the same rate.
But Wilder’s experiments yielded some surprising results. He found that the effect of each substance varied quite dramatically among his subjects. By monitoring each subject’s pulse and blood pressure, Wilder found that the effect of each injection was, more or less, inversely proportionate to the value the subject had in their bodies prior to the injection.
In other words, he found that people who naturally had a higher level of adrenaline in their bodies before the experiment began were less affected by the shot of adrenaline he gave them.
On the other hand, he found that, for those who had a lower level of adrenaline in their bodies to begin with, the dosage of adrenaline he gave them increased their heartrate and blood pressure much more dramatically. He observed the same pattern at work in those who received injections of pilocarpine and atropine as well.
After conducting a number of other experiments to confirm his findings, Wilder concluded that he had discovered a natural, biological law, which he suspected was present in every living organism.
Thus, he formulated what has become known as Wilder’s Law of Initial Value.
He defined the law like this: “The direction of response of a body function to any agent depends to a large degree on the initial level of that function.”
Put more plainly, while each medicine will, more or less, have the same kind of effect on every person, it will not effect every person to the same degree.
The degree to which the medicine is effective will be determined by the condition, or “initial value,” of the person’s body before they receive it.
Thus, those who have a high level of initial value of adrenaline will not be as dramatically affected by an adrenaline injection as those who have a low level of initial value at the time of injection.
This law, Wilder concluded, is at work any time a living organism is introduced to any stimulating substance.
Absorb or Reject
This law works because a healthy living organism will always react in one of two ways when it is introduced to a new substance: it will either try to absorb the substance into the organism, or it will reject the substance and attempt to expel it from the body.
Every time you ingest healthy food that your body can use to survive and grow, your body naturally absorbs that food. This is how you literally become what you eat. However, whenever you ingest something your body cannot use, it works like mad to expel that thing. We’ve all had the unpleasant experience of eating something, only to bring it back up some time later. That’s an example of how the body rejects certain substances it determines to be harmful or unhelpful.
Now, a really fascinating thing about our bodies is that they can learn to absorb substances they might have previously rejected and vice versa.
Suppose you eat an unhealthy diet filled with junk food. Your body will be used to this diet, and so it will absorb the food you give it, which will have some unhealthy consequences.
But, now suppose that you drastically change your diet, and you eat nothing but fresh fruits, vegetables, lentils, and fish for an entire year. After that year, your body will not be as good at absorbing junk as it used to be.
You will find that, if you do try to return to your previous diet of junk food, you will feel your body trying to reject it. This is because your body learns what to accept and what to reject based on what you teach it.
Wilder’s Law in Social and Psychological Perspective
While Wilder was concerned with the application of this law exclusively within the scientific realm, we can find this same law at work on social and psychological levels as well.
Receiving an excellent grade, for example, will often have a more dramatic effect on a student who is used to getting Cs, while it will have a less dramatic effect on a student who is used to getting straight As.
In this case, the two students are given the same positive information, but its impact is much stronger on one than the other because each student brought a different level of initial value to the experience.
The student who is used to getting Cs brings a lower level of initial value, psychologically and emotionally speaking, than the student used to getting As in every class. Therefore, the effect of receiving an A in one class will be dramatically more substantial for the C student than it will be for the A student.
Similarly, coming into a windfall of cash, whether by receiving an inheritance or winning the lottery, will predictably have a more dramatic impact on a person if they were not well-off to begin with.
A person who was previously wealthy, on the other hand, will typically not be affected as dramatically.
The reason is not because the money is somehow less valuable to the wealthy person. It’s not even because it’s more useful to the person who isn’t wealthy. Rather, the difference is that the wealthy person has a higher level of initial value, and so the effect of more money does not impact them to the same degree.
In both cases, having a higher level of initial value provides an advantage.
The straight A student is much more likely to continue to be a straight A student and the wealthy person will almost certainly use their new money to increase their wealth.
But we know, statistically speaking, it is almost a guarantee that the C student will revert right back to getting Cs in their next class and that the unwealthy person will eventually spend their money and return to their previous standard of living.
The External Result is the Symptom of Internal Preparation
It can be very tempting to look at situations like these and assume that the A student receives As because they’re smarter, or that the wealthy person uses their new money to increase their wealth because they’re not as desperate for the cash.
But that would be wrong.
The real difference between the A student and the C student, or between the wealthy person and the unwealthy person, is psychological.
In other words, the A student is not an A student because she receives As in every class; she receives As in every class because she’s an A student. She acts, thinks, works, believes in a way that results in her being at the top of her class.
Similarly, the wealthy person isn’t wealthy because he has a lot of money; he has a lot of money because he’s a wealthy person. This law is, in many ways, the flipside of the Law of the Glass Ceiling (which you can find here).
The important point here is that the external result is only a symptom of internal preparation. And that internal preparation must precede the opportunity in order to be able to take advantage of it.
Because both the A student and the wealthy person have prepared themselves properly, they are able to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. The C student was given an amazing opportunity. They could have reverse engineered the process to figure out exactly what they did differently that earned them the higher mark and then applied that same process moving forward to raise their grades in all their future courses. If you get Cs in every class, it can be very difficult to figure out exactly what needs to be done to improve your grades. But, receiving an A is the perfect opportunity to figure that out.
Similarly, making a lot of money usually requires a smaller sum of money first, and so the unwealthy person was given an incredible opportunity to make more money, if they only took the time to invest it properly. But, people who find themselves in these situations almost never take advantage of these opportunities. Instead, they revert back to their previous ways and continue to think success is about luck or privilege.
Any time you treat success like a fluke, like something you don’t deserve, you reveal that you have a low level of initial value.
Any time you see small successes as ends instead of opportunities to achieve bigger successes, you violate the Law of Initial Value.
As a result, the successes you do experience (and we all experience successes sometimes) become ends in themselves, rather than opportunities for more success.
Because the unwealthy person is not prepared for money, when the get some they treat it like it’s an end in itself. A wealthy person, on the other hand, recognizes that extra money opens up more opportunities to make even more. And so they compound little successes into big successes.
When you act like a C student or an unwealthy person, you violate the Law of Initial Value. People who aren’t prepared to handle opportunities when they come their way tend to think of success as something beyond their reach.
And, if, by some miracle, they ever achieve a little of it, it ends up being a single blip on the screen of their lives.
Increase Your Initial Value
Working along with the Law of Initial Value means working to ensure that you are in the best psychological and emotional state to recognize opportunities and make the most of them when they come along.
This is why truly successful people know that you should always work harder on yourself than you do on your job.
Successful people know that, if you make sure that you are constantly growing and increasing your initial value, you will achieve success.
The practical lesson is that you should always be on the lookout for opportunities to improve your skillset and mindset.
The first and most important way to begin to raise your initial value is to be mindful of what you are inputting to yourself.
Who are you spending your time with?
Are they C students?
Are they bad with money?
Are they unsuccessful in the areas that matter most to you?
What are you spending your time watching, reading, and listening to?
Does it help you increase your initial value by challenging you, or does it keep you stuck in old patterns of thinking?
What skills are you actively developing in your life?
Are they the kinds of skills that will help you compound your successes in some way?
If you are constantly watching cat videos online, you shouldn’t expect to increase your initial value very much.
But, if you spend that time reading books about the stock market or personal development, not only will you become a smarter investor and more self-aware, you will probably be able to think just a bit more critically about many other things in your life as well.
You will have increased the initial value you bring to any opportunity because you’re increasing your ability to think strategically and reflectively.
If you listen to music when you’re commuting to work, you might enjoy your ride. But you won’t increase your skills in any significant way.
However, if you use that time to listen to a podcast on productivity, for example, you will expand your initial value by picking up tips and tricks that will help you get more of the most important things done.
These are just some obvious examples, but there are plenty of others.
The point is that, if you want to be able to harness the power of the Law of Initial Value, you will need to work on proactively increasing your initial value.
Once you do this, you will find that small opportunities start leading to big opportunities. And that’s where you will start to see success.