The Undefeated Mind Book Summary



“Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.” — Jack Ma

One of my favorite books is The Undefeated Mind, by Dr. Alex Lickerman.  It’s a powerful book that helps you cultivate your inner strength to face hard times with a fearless heart.    It’s more than a book.  It’s a set of tools for life.

The Undefeated Mind was submitted to me for review, but I agreed to write about it only if I found it useful for readers of Sources of Insight.   I started reading it this morning, and I ended up reading it all the way through.  It’s a book that’s worth reading again, and again.

Turn Adversity Into Wisdom

The Undefeated Mind is a book about how to surmount the suffering that life throws our way.  Our world is filled with challenges.  Whether you are facing a job loss, or a devastating illness, or the death of a loved one (or know somebody who is), the tools in this book help you stand strong when tested.

The key, according to Dr. Lickerman, is turning adversity into wisdom.

It’s that wisdom that helps you develop your resilience and achieve indestructible happiness.

Learn How To Deal with Life’s Toughest Challenges

The depth of the book really surprised me in that it connected some old dots in new and profound ways.  It’s a beautiful blend of ancient wisdom and modern science.  Through science and stories, Dr. Lickerman teaches us what makes us or breaks us, and what really makes us happy.

From Dr. Lickerman, we learn in a very deep way, why some people fail when they face adversity, while others in a similar situation, survive, and eventually may thrive.

What I like most about the book is that as soon as you read it, you have a new way for dealing with life’s toughest challenges.

Chapters at a Glance

  • Chapter 1 – The Meaning of Victory
  • Chapter 2 – Find Your Mission
  • Chapter 3 – Make a Vow
  • Chapter 4 – Expect Obstacles
  • Chapter 5 – Stand Alone
  • Chapter 6 – Accept Pain
  • Chapter 7 – Let Go
  • Chapter 8 – Appreciate the Good
  • Chapter 9 – Encourage Others
  • Chapter 10 – Muster Your Courage

What’s In It For You

Here is a sampling of some of the challenges that The Undefeated Mind helps you with:

  • How to develop the resilience you need to achieve indestructible happiness
  • How to develop a mind that faces all circumstances with a sense of calm and remains joyful
  • How to leverage your relationships with others to bring out your strongest self
  • How to set expectations in a way that enhances your ability to endure disappointment
  • How to minimizes the likelihood of quitting
  • How to approach managing pain — both physical and emotional — in a way that enables you to push through obstacles that might otherwise prevent you from attaining your goals

Key Features

Here are some of the key features of The Undefeated Mind:

  • Conversational.  Dr. Lickerman writes in plain English and in a conversational way.   This helps a ton because the book is full of insight.
  • Principle-Based.   Dr. Lickerman boils his advice down into a set of actionable principles.   This helps him share timeless truths in a more universal way, as well as help you turn insight into action, without getting mired.  If you can remember the principles, then you can use them to guide your approach and your path.
  • Science.   The Undefeated Mind integrates a lot science.  You can either go and read more about the science, by checking out the citations, or you can simply benefit from it, as you read the book.
  • Story-Driven.  Dr. Lickerman shares stories of his patients who have used the principles in the book to overcome suffering caused by unemployment, unwanted weight gain, addition, rejection, chronic pain, retirement, illness, loss, and even death.
  • Wisdom.  The real beauty of the book is the synthesis.   The blend of stories, science, and experience into pragmatic principles demonstrates wisdom in action.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite nuggets from the book …

An Undefeated Mind

An undefeated mind is one that never gives up.

Lickerman writes:

“This, then, is what it means to possess an undefeated mind: not just to rebound quickly from adversity or to face it calmly, even confidently, without being pulled down by depression or anxiety, but also to get up day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade — even over the course of an entire lifetime — and attack the obstacles in front of us again and again and again until they fall, or we do. 

An undefeated mind isn’t one that never feels discouraged or despairing; it’s one that continues on in spite of it.  Even when we can’t find a smile to save us, even when we’re tired beyond all endurance, possessing an undefeated mind means never forgetting that defeat comes not from failing but from giving up.”

Creating Value is the Key to Happiness

Creating value for others is the key to creating happiness for ourselves.

Lickerman writes:

“We also work to create value. 

In fact, according to Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, an early-twentieth-century Japanese educator and founding president of the Soka Gakkai, creating value for others is the key to attaining happiness for ourselves.  We may be more interested in worldly pleasures like romantic love, sex, fine dining, or reading, but studies are beginning to support the idea that the quantity and quality of value we create for others is what contributes to our happiness the most.”

Strategies Fail, but Missions Endure

One way to stand strong is to have a personal mission you believe in.  A personal mission gives you strength.  A strategy might fail, but you can find another way to continue your mission.

Lickerman writes:

“First, I told him, because strategies often fail.  Companies go bankrupt. Sculptures sit unsold.  Teachers lose their jobs.  A mission, on the other hand, endures.  No matter how devastated we may feel when a strategy fails, no matter how much we may have loved doing it, if underneath that love  also lies a commitment to the mission our strategy served, we’ll eventually be able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and find another strategy we loved just as much.”

You’re Not Looking for Something That Excites You

The mission makes it meaningful.  The strategies make it exciting.  Figure out a meaningful mission and then find the strategies that light your fire.

Lickerman writes:

‘You’re not looking for something that excites you,’ I reminded him.  ‘You’re looking for something that gives your life meaning, which you can best discover by means of something that excites you.  I don’t know if even a sculptor gets excited about filling the world with beauty.  He gets excited about sculpting — but only because that’s how he fills the world with beauty, the activity that makes his life feel most significant.’

Use Adversity as a Springboard for Value

Don’t deny, dismiss, or ignore your problems.  Instead, find the benefits for yourself and others.

Lickerman writes:

“From a Buddhist perspective, however, this means neither denying our problems exist nor denying they make us suffer. 

Rather it means learning how to use suffering as a springboard for creating benefit. 

For when confronted  by harsh circumstances over which we have no control, we become capable of enduring them only by finding a way to create value with them.”

Regaining Self-Confidence

If you want to get your self-confidence back, take more action.   Trial and error teaches us what thinking and theories can’t.

Lickerman writes:

“Ironically, the best way to regain self-confidence when we find ourselves facing a problem we have no good idea how to solve may be by flinging ourselves, however blindly; into action, doing whatever we think we can. … what we get from trial and error that rumination can’t provide is the chance to view  things from vantage points we can’t acquire through theorizing alone.”

Action Creates Feelings

The toughest thing to do when you’re down is to take action.  But that’s exactly what you need to do.

Lickerman writes:

“Unfortunately, as a result of becoming discouraged, we often lose the desire to take action. 

Perhaps a failed romance ruins our interest in dating, or a failed business ruins our interest in entrepreneurship. 

When this happens, people often naturally assume they need to first focus on rekindling their feelings before attempting further action. 

But research suggests that action creates feeling almost as often as feeling creates action. “

Our Resolve Solves Problems

Our resolve determines our ability to solve problems.

Lickerman writes:

“If we think of a mission as a car that can take us to a more resilient place, then resolve, or commitment, must be considered the engine that makes it go. 

Indeed, the ability to soldier on when obstacles block our way to any goal, whether our life’s mission or our most trivial wish, has to be considered as much a part of resilience as the ability to survive and thrive in the face of adversity. 

Yet many of us fail to grasp the full extent to which our resolve determines our ability to solve problems, and as a result we often fail to focus on the mustering of resolve when setting out to accomplish a goal.”

Smash Negative Beliefs to Pieces

Self-confidence is the key to your resolve.  Defend your self-confidence by defeating negative beliefs.

Lickerman writes:

“Nothing dismantles our resolve more quickly than the loss of self-confidence. 

For this reason, we have much to gain from conceiving of self-doubt not as a character flaw but as a mortal enemy. 

In fact, preserving our self-confidence represents the single most important and challenging part of any attempt to accomplish a goal, a fierce moment-by-moment struggle that requires us to smash to pieces even the most fleeting of our negative beliefs.”

Get the Book

The Undefeated Mind is available on Amazon:

The Undefeated Mind, by Dr. Alex Lickerman

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  1. Hi JD, all good advice.

    Does the book go in to the how-to’s so that people have a way of processing the setbacks so they can find their motivation/determination?

    This is the worry I have about this kind of agenda – that it amounts to worthy aspirations but not a lot of instruction.

  2. @ Evan — The most significant thing that the book does is paint out a mental model.

    Usually when people get into trouble, they are lacking an effective mental model, grounded in proven practices. The other issue is that advice is too lofty to be actionable. In this case, it’s pragmatic prose, simple examples, and actionable advice.

    I was impressed by the blend of research and pragmatism, then again, the author does this for a living, with real patients, so it makes sense.

    @ Clay — It’s definitely a book filled with wisdom, insight, and action.

  3. Excellent I like stuff that lays out a model – that way I have more to take away and I’m not just reliant on the author’s experience.

  4. @ Evan — This is by far one of the most insightful books I’ve read in a long time, especially on happiness and fulfillment, and how to find your personal path.

    You will truly enjoy it.

    As I was reading it, and connecting dots, I was excited by the possibility of writing future posts that drill deeper into some of the deep concepts that the author shared.

    Just the author’s write up of why we need personal missions was amazing, and his examples and story were incredible. It inspired me to double-check my mission for this site, and refine it with confidence.

  5. Wow, some powerful stuff in there. The mission language seems different from the whole “mission statement” stuff we hear a lot about but often falls flat. JD, how would you explain the author’s concept of mission?

  6. @ Aaron — He is amazing.

    I’ll elaborate more on his mission insight in the future, but the key is this:

    The mission is the reason (the why), but you have to be precise enough that the difference or your distinction or specialty matters.

    For example, you could help people unleash their best, or help people unleash their best in business (and the “in business” is the distinction.)

    For me, I empower people with skill (and the “with skill” is an important distinction.)

    The mission is meaningful by being broad, but specific enough that your unique contribution and skills can shine. My strength is sharing and scaling skills so connecting that more directly with my mission reminds me of my spin that matters.

  7. […] the author not only describes an undefeated mind but also teaches the thinking that yields one.” Sources of Insight adds, “The depth of the book really surprised me in that it connected some old dots in new and […]

  8. Magnificent goods from you, man. I’ve take note your stuff previous to and you are just extremely great.

  9. I read the book and I think the idea about mission and resiliency makes sense. Doing what excites you and for the greater good. I am curious to know what other people may think about how do you jump start a new mission when one is complete that went well?

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