T.D. Jakes: The Instinct to Succeed

UPDATED: May 24, 2023
PUBLISHED: April 12, 2017

Every night before he falls asleep, Bishop T.D. Jakes watches a comedy. “I don’t know that I’ve ever told anybody that,” he says, laughing a little self-consciously. No matter what happened during his day, a comedy keeps worry or negativity from affecting his sleep. “I learned to do that so I could detox my mind. And I like going to sleep laughing.”

Jakes has a lot to be joyful about. He’s the bishop of The Potter’s House, a Dallas-based church that’s home to 30,000 members, with services broadcast across the U.S. and Canada. He’s a husband, a father to five children and a grandfather to three. In 2013 he began hosting the BET show Mind, Body and Soul. He’s the founder of TDJ Enterprises, a media and entertainment company where Jakes turns his talents for writing and making music and films into a sizable profit. His gospel albums have scored multiple Grammy nominations (with one win), and he’s written or produced nine films. He’s the best-selling author of more than 30 books, including Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive.

In this 2014 book, Jakes calls instinct “the inner wisdom of who we really are and what we were made to do.” He says a fundamental instinct draws us to our divine purpose.

I sat down on a sunny patio with Jakes to talk about how to become the people we were meant to be.

Decision-Making Power

When we feel misaligned, without passion or rhythm, we’re not being guided by our instinct. “Most people are manipulated by the needs of others, the paycheck that supports them and the demands that dominate them,” he writes in Instinct. “On this path we eventually live like slaves to a man-made system. We chase the goals of others instead of pursuing our own dreams. We anesthetize our despair with the next purchase, pill or plunder. We do what we think we should instead of living beyond what logic alone can dictate.”

The feelings of disconnect, despair and foreboding that result from living outside our divine purpose make us what Jakes calls “a lightbulb without a lamp.” But when we listen to our instinct and ultimately follow it to realize our potential, “it is the feeling of fitting in, like a piece in a puzzle,” he writes. “It is the innate satisfaction that comes from giving the gifts that you and you alone can contribute to the world.”


“Whatever you do with your life, it should honestly be the outflowing of who you are.”


Instinct, he says, is fundamental in finding his direction—both small and large. “Whatever you do with your life, it should honestly be the outflowing of who you are. That way you don’t have to work hard to manufacture it. It’s best when it is organically and artistically an outpouring of your gift, your talent, your perspective.”

Jakes pauses to take a sip of water. “You know, I was thinking this morning just out of the blue,” he says, “how when the doctor was using an ultrasound and my wife was pregnant—that was years ago. We have grandchildren now. But when the sound got the loudest—ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom—you knew you were closest to the heartbeat. And I was thinking this morning about how you have to find the thing that makes your heart beat the loudest.”

As a teenager, Jakes was a pianist and loved music. But, he says, “It didn’t beat the loudest. Not until I started preaching and speaking. Then ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom.” He suggests asking yourself, Do I drag out of bed in the morning to do this, or do I run out of bed to do this?

Related: Go With Your Gut: The Science of Instinct

The Creative Power of Stimulation

What if, I ask Jakes, you don’t know what you’d run out of bed to do? What if you can’t seem to figure out what makes your heart beat the loudest?

To hear our instinct, he says, we usually have to break out of our routines. We’ve got to spend time around other people who are making things happen. “We were designed like plants to cross-pollinate,” he told Oprah. “We cannot be fruitful by ourselves.”

We tend to sink into our own little worlds, keeping to the people we know, places we like and ideas we’re comfortable with hearing.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you’ve always been,” he says, leaning forward. “People become creatures of habit so easily. We get up, we go to work, we come home, we shop at the same grocery store, we drive on the same street. Get out of the box and see what else is out there that would impassion you and inspire you. Stop hanging with the same people. Get in another circle. Risk feeling awkward. Get out of your comfort zone. Get in a room full of people where you don’t know what is appropriate to say. If you always walk with people who look like you and dress like you and think like you and vote like you, you’re going to die of boredom. All of creation exists through cross-pollination, and that’s when different things come together to be fruitful.”

We need each other—that’s Jakes’ message. We need each other to stimulate creativity, stay hopeful and keep moving toward our goals. Most important, we need to tap into the energy and creativity of others in order to tap into our own.


I  guarantee you—you cannot show me anybody who’s successful at doing anything in business who got there by themselves.


“My mother said, ‘If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you always know he didn’t get there by himself,’ ” Jakes says. “I  guarantee you—you cannot show me anybody who’s successful at doing anything in business who got there by themselves. If they grow coffee beans, they need somebody to grind them; they need somebody to sell them; they need somebody to serve the coffee.” All of those relationships are necessary for one person to succeed.

In Instinct, Jakes tells the story of how Nike started with two guys who loved to run and who each had $500. “They looked at a waffle iron and a pair of tennis shoes and said if I take the waffle iron and put it on the tennis shoe, I think it would make the tennis shoe faster,” he says. “That and $1,000 started Nike.”

He suggests we find somebody who is doing what we want to do—but on a higher level. Otherwise, he warns, we’ll always be surrounded by people who subtract from us rather than people who add to our vision. “Find somebody who’s crazy with you,” he says. “Find somebody else who did something ridiculous and hang around them. Find somebody who’s out of your element. Find some way to be around and serve them. Wash their car, make coffee—anything you can to be around somebody who’s doing what you do on the next level or 10 levels above you.

“If you can’t get next to them, read what they wrote. Because you know reading what people write not only gives you the beauty of language, it tells you how they think. And the greatest gift anybody can give you is how they think. It’s one thing for me to hand you a glass of Kool-Aid, and it’s another thing to let you see how I made it.”

The Power of Integrity

The dichotomy in Jakes’ message is that although we need other people, we mustn’t set out to imitate their actions or copy their journeys. The idea is to be inspired to take our own paths.

So we have to learn to block out the inevitable negative comments, fears or erroneous input even from the people we admire or love. “You can’t use other people’s opinion as accomplice for your purpose, I can tell you that for sure,” Jakes says.

When it comes to making the leap toward our passion, we can’t judge the validity of what we’re supposed to do by the responses of other people. “What people think is nuts is anything different from what they’d be,” he says. “You definitely, definitely cannot set your sail in somebody else’s wind. You have to have your own wind because as life goes on, even if they all agreed with you, there will be times they will all walk away and leave you. I mean, they walked away and left Jesus.”


“You have to find the faith within yourself to believe in your dream and invest in your dream.”


When we make choices based on our instinct—especially when that choice goes against the advice of others—there will always be a time of trial, Jakes says. “Initially there is always a test and a trial and a place of separation, and always a time that you don’t have enough money and always a time that people don’t agree with you…. You can’t use the heartbeat of others to tell you that you’re alive. People who feel like they need that level of support before they launch will never launch. You have to find the faith within yourself to believe in your dream and invest in your dream.”

Jakes says the time of trial will end if we remain faithful to the inner voice that guides us to our calling. The sun will emerge from the dark clouds.

Maybe that’s why Jakes watches something that makes him laugh every night before going to sleep. “Laughing for me is an expression of faith,” he says—with a laugh. “As if I’m letting the devil know that what he did is not going to kill me, you know? You have to laugh at life. It’s an expression of hope that things will change again.”

Related: 10 Tips to Achieve Anything You Want in Life


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Amy Anderson is the former senior editor of SUCCESS magazine, an Emmy Award-winning writer and founder of Anderson Content Consulting. She helps experts, coaches, consultants and entrepreneurs to discover their truth, write with confidence, and share their stories so they can transform their past into hope for others. Learn more at AmyKAnderson.com and on Facebook.