The Secret of Change Is to Focus All of Your Energy, Not on Fighting the Old, But on Building the New

Socrates? Dan Millman? All-Night Gas-Station Attendant? Nick Nolte? Apocryphal?

peaceful01Dear Quote Investigator: A friend recently offered me a piece of advice that he thought reflected ancient wisdom:

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

These words were attributed to Socrates, but they sound like a modern incantation to me. Could you examine this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1980 the first edition of “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by the world-class gymnast Dan Millman was released. The book was a fictionalized memoir that explored the physical and mental challenges Millman faced in his early life and the spiritual growth he experienced. The main catalyst of his spiritual journey was an attendant at an all-night gas station who became his mentor in 1966. Millman gave this enlightened counselor the nickname “Socrates”, and the quotation above was spoken by the modern fictionalized character and not the ancient Socrates. Here is an excerpt containing the quote in the 1984 edition: 1

Back in the office, Socrates drew some water from the spring water dispenser and put on the evening’s tea specialty, rose hips, as he continued. “You have many habits that weaken you. The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

The book was published in multiple editions, and was made into a movie in 2006 with Nick Nolte playing Socrates. Millman became a successful coach, self-help author, and lecturer.

The reassignment of the quotation to the Greek luminary was, no doubt, facilitated by confusion between the matching names. This is a known mechanism for misattribution. An illustrative example with a passage from a fictional Cicero was explored by QI here.

Here is one additional citation and the conclusion.

The 2006 edition was titled “Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives” and was released in conjunction with the movie. The text of the quotation in this edition was modified somewhat: 2

Back in the office, Socrates drew some water from the springwater dispenser and put on the evening’s tea specialty, rose hips, as he continued. “To rid yourself of old patterns, focus all your energy not on struggling with the old, but on building the new.”

The previous version of the saying appears to be more popular and is often incorrectly ascribed.

In conclusion, the quotation is from a character named Socrates who was a gas-station attendant in a book published in the 1980s by Dan Millman. The quote was not from the renowned Greek philosopher.

(Great thanks to Christian Higgins whose inquiry led to the construction of this question and gave impetus to this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1984, Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives by Dan Millman, Quote Page 113, H J Kramer, Inc., Tiburon, California, Distributed by Publisher’s Group West, Emeryville, California. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006 (Revised Edition Copyright 2000), Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives by Dan Millman, Quote Page 105, H J Kramer, Inc., Tiburon, California, New World Library, Novato, California. (Google Books Preview)