Chop Wood Carry Water Summary: 9 Success Principles

Chop Wood Carry Water Summary: 9 Success Principles

I’m always in search of a good self-improvement book. Lord knows I need all the help I can get!

Most of the time, I get new book ideas from authors that I’ve already read before.

If I like them, then I usually pull the trigger and purchase their recommendations.

Even better is when someone walks up and hands me a book they think I’d enjoy based on their knowledge of my interests.

This was the case recently while sitting in church. One of our Life Group members handed me a copy of Joshua Medcalf’s book, Chop Wood Carry Water.

The title piqued my curiosity, but I have to admit, I didn’t think the book would resonate with me. Now, I didn’t tell the person who passed it along to me (Holly), so I decided to read it (and am glad that I did).

Do you want to become great at your profession? At real estate investing? Becoming a better parent got you confused?

No worries. This book’s got you covered with 9 success principles.


Chop wood carry water book cover

Chop Wood Carry Water Summary – 9 Success Principles

#1. It’s important what you become in the process

For all of the work you do (treating patients, working a job, family projects), in the end, you’re ultimately working ON yourself.

For that reason, you should love what you do no matter what you’re doing throughout the day.

This helps with dealing with the different outcomes that life throws us.

Outcomes are either:

  • Controllable
  • Uncontrollable

For instance, let’s say that you recently applied for a new job that happens to be in the best hospital in the country. You know that if you got the job, then your career path would be set for life.

Look at what’s controllable in this situation. You have your qualifications and letters of recommendation that could be written on your behalf, but you also have to consider those things you can’t control.

These uncontrollable things would be the competition (their unique qualifications) and possibly who they know that may work at the hospital.

So what can you do?

Surrender the outcome.

This means being at peace with what is OUTSIDE of your control without sacrificing the efforts for what is INSIDE of your control.

So, what do you control?

You control the:

  • Process
  • How to get there
  • The way to get there

What do you NOT control? 

The pure outcome.

Bottom line. Focus on the PROCESS and one thing at a time. You’ll be much happier if you do.

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#2. Success contains hard work

Principle #2 in the Chop Wood Carry Water summary is missed the most these days (especially by the younger generation).

This principle was brought to my attention when I watched the documentary The Last Dance. It was filmed during the Chicago Bulls 1997-98 season as they went for their 6th NBA title in eight seasons.

It highlighted the star of the team, Michael Jordan. While they were winning championships, I was attending high school and college.

Looking back, I never figured someone like MJ had to work hard to be as good as he was.

I thought he was just a great basketball player.

The documentary proved me wrong. He was a grinder that focused on the little things to make both him and his players better.

He demanded success.

His teammates actually feared him. I love that guy!

Most people don’t get what they want in life because they settle for average. It’s the small things done with persistence in life that make success.

Small choices you make can add up to a BIG effect over time. Speaking of adding up, let’s look at compound interest.

Compound interest

Compound interest is nothing more than interest on interest. We have taught our kids that focusing and being persistent with the small things is what brings about healthy habits.

We had this discussion at lunch the other day regarding the money they’re making this summer. I told them that I understand that they’re not making much, but it’s the saving, spending and giving habits I want them to get.

With regards to savings, they realize that getting into the habit of saving a portion of every dollar they earn will lead to a MUCH larger amount thanks to compound interest.


Here’s an example that I showed them in the past from the Ben and Arthur story that Dave Ramsey told during one of his conferences.

Ben started out investing $2,000 a year from age 19 and stopped at 26. Arthur started at age 27 but continued until age 65.

  • Ben’s total investment = $16,000
  • Arthur’s total investment = $78,000
ben and arthur chart

Once they reached age 65:

  • Ben accumulated $2,288,996
  • Arthur accumulated $1,532,166 (not bad for a janitor)
  • Ben came out $756,830 ahead!

The small, consistent hard work performed early in life allowed Ben to accomplish what he did.

#3. Our value is constant

When you’re on a winning team, feeling good about yourself is easy. But when you’re on the losing team, it’s just as easy to feel down and depressed.

Our value doesn’t change regarding the results produced in life. Don’t tie yourself too close to your performance.

Instead, find your identity in something that can’t be easily removed.

#4. The pain of regret is far worse than the pain of discipline

Principle #4 in the Chop Wood Carry Water summary has to do with pain and regret.

Jim Rohn once said, “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

Let’s face it. We all deal with and face pain both mentally and physically every month.

pain of discipline

I started feeling the effects of years of playing sports and treating patients once I turned 40.

I miss those pain-free mornings getting out of bed, but that’s just part of life. 🙁

Once we accept that pain is unavoidable, then we shouldn’t hide in fear from it. It’s a natural part of life.

Unfortunately, there are people who aren’t willing to accept this fact and attempt to avoid pain no matter the cost.

By doing this, they constantly focus on the negative and forget to enjoy and appreciate the joys of life.

Now that we know that pain is unavoidable, we then get to choose between the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

The pain of discipline is felt every day. That’s why it only weighs ounces.

  • It’s the discipline to sprint while everyone else is jogging.
  • It’s the discipline to track your workouts before hitting the gym.
  • It’s the discipline to avoid the cake while trying to lose weight.

But each individual moment weighs very little, but added up over time, they weigh tons. That ton of pain can begin to form into regret.

For example:

  • You regret not knowing what you’re capable of.
  • You regret not chasing your dreams.
  • You regret stopping short of your potential.

It’s this pain of regret that becomes a heavy weight that, unfortunately, you carry around your entire life.

On the other hand, the pain of discipline is a series of small pains that quickly disappear.

#5. Your memories are created through the stories you tell yourself

Whenever we experience something, our brains will either label it positive or negative.

We have little control over many things in life, but we do have control over what those things mean to us.

Our words and stories determine the stories that life creates for us.

Those pictures affect our feelings and what we do with them. By doing this, we set ourselves up for either failure or success.

#6. Comparison is the thief of all joy

Too many of us today live our lives trying to keep up with everyone else (the Joneses!).

Many times, social media paints an unrealistic picture of what’s really going on in society.

There’s always someone out there who’s going to be smarter, stronger, or richer than yourself.

The constant comparison does nothing but sucks all of the joy out of life.

Instead, focus on life’s journey and be thankful for all things in life, no matter how big or small.

#. Live by principles rather than feelings

Principle #7 in the Chop Wood Carry Water summary has to do with the way you live…whether that be by principles or feelings.


If you live your life by feelings, then you must know that feelings change. You can feel happy or sad within the blink of an eye.

Living by principles is different. Whereas feelings change, principles stay the same.

Examples include:

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#8. The map you’re given by society is outdated

It seems as if most people today follow the map given by society, but there’s one problem. That map is OUTDATED.

Maps don’t change with the times. Instead of using them, find successful people to mentor you in whatever field you’re interested in.

For instance, when I wanted to learn more about real estate investing, I searched for and located a local mentor with tons of experience.

He explained that how he invested twenty years ago is MUCH different than how he approaches it now.

You must learn to change and adapt to the times or get left behind.

#9. You still need permission even when you are equipped with life-changing wisdom

Even when you have knowledge that can benefit others, there’s no point in trying to “force” it on others.

Especially when they’re not ready to listen.

It reminds me of the quote, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

Would you tell someone how to lose weight if they didn’t think they needed to? Probably not.

But once they’re ready to commit to eating better and exercising, then you can share your knowledge with them.

Bottom Line

Chop Wood Carry Water is one of those types of books that can be easily read in a few hours, but the impact can be life-changing.

Let’s face it. We’ve all been through tough times and will continue to do so while we’re here on Earth. There’s no way around it.

But you have a choice. You can allow life to win and stay beaten down or get up, brush off your clothes, learn from your failures/mistakes, and keep moving forward.

This book gives you the tools to keep you working towards your goals despite setbacks.

The main takeaway I got out of the book was this:

Success lies in doing simple things over a long period of time. If you learn to chop wood, carry water then success will eventually come.”


What is the original book that discusses the concept of “chop wood carry water”?

The concept is deeply rooted in Zen teachings and was popularized by the book “Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great” by author Joshua Medcalf. In the book, the powerful story follows a young boy’s journey with his friendly old sensei, Sensei Akira, as he learns valuable lessons from ordinary daily life activities to achieve professional success and true mental toughness.

How does the samurai archer in “chop wood carry water” demonstrate the importance of daily tasks in achieving a big goal?

The samurai archer symbolizes the process of becoming great through consistent daily activities. Each day, the young boy observes the samurai warrior mastering his craft, understanding that each solid step, even as mundane as fetching water or practicing with golf balls, can lead to achieving the ultimate goal. His first task with the samurai, in the story, revolves around understanding the power of good habits in shaping one’s professional life.

I’ve newly arrived as an apprentice, what should I expect the next morning?

The next morning, much like the young man in the story, you should be prepared to immerse yourself in the seemingly unglamorous activities of daily life. These activities, while ordinary, hold the key takeaway that the journey, or the process, is as important, if not more so, than the end result. A long journey starts with small daily tasks. Remember the wise man’s lesson: “Comparison is the thief of joy,” so focus on your own house and growth mindset.

Is there a companion version or summary of Joshua Medcalf’s “chop wood carry water” for those who want sample book insights or key points?

Yes, there are several summaries and kindle books available that condense the powerful story of the young athlete and his lessons with Sensei Akira. Moreover, an audio book version is available for those who prefer listening over reading. For deeper insights and exclusive offers related to the book, you can check out the author’s latest post or the clutch curriculum he offers.

How does “chop wood carry water” relate to today’s world, especially regarding professional success and setting goals?

In today’s world, many are searching for instant success and tend to focus on amazing external activities or results. The life lesson in “chop wood carry water” emphasizes the significance of consistent good habits, daily tasks, and embracing the process. The book offers practical strategies, echoing the teachings of Eckhart Tolle in “New Earth” about the importance of the present moment, and Admiral William H. McRaven’s philosophy on the little things leading to great results.

Are there other figures, like Kobe Bryant, who exemplify the “chop wood carry water” work ethic?

Absolutely. Kobe Bryant is known for his extraordinary work ethic and commitment to the process of becoming great. His dedication to the daily grind, focus on the process over glamorous external actions, and true mental toughness in facing the greatest adversity reflect the essence of “chop wood carry water.” Many professionals and athletes, inspired by this ethos, have achieved professional success by emphasizing the hard part: the consistent daily grind.

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