Fun Fact: Because the book is so old, the rights have expired and you can get the kindle e-book edition for free!
🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences
- The transformation into a successful person starts with the desire to be one, because only your thoughts and the resulting mindset can be the starting point of change.
- A clear vision of your future complete with specific goals are then the foundation on which you need to build up using organized planning, persistence, and determination.
- Knowledge is important, but it’s only powerful when it gets applied – use courage to make moves and identify the individual fears holding you back in order to combat them.
I came to this book via another Derek Sivers recommendation, because it’s a classic of the self-help and business help genre. On my way back to the past via the 1989 “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, I landed here in 1937, Depression Era United States. It’s an interesting point in time, because amidst all the chaos people were desperate for hope. Some historians say that history repeats itself, and there are certain parallels between that era and our current one, which is why I went for it.
There’s a quote I’ve often heard people say, for example, Michael Jordan, which I now realized originates from this book:
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.
The historical surroundings of the book’s publication are worth mentioning, too. Napoleon Hill talks about how Gandhi used only his desire and no force to achieve his goals. A quick web search confirmed that Gandhi had already been active in 1937, but not because of his most memorable achievement, which is the successful Indian independence protests, but because of his involvement in the civil rights movements in South Africa. India gained full independence ten years after this book’s publication.
Hill also casually mentions that national leaders who took power by force such as Mussolini and Adolf Hitler don’t last. But that’s not entirely true, at least not in history as a whole. And the examples aren’t great, because both Mussolini and Hitler had been elected democratically and had the support of the people at the time – also, in 1937 both leaders and their nations were still thriving, although obviously already guided by a hugely problematic set of values.
Then, the situation between men and women at the time. Hill talks exclusively to men here, because women didn’t play a role in business and weren’t allowed by society to have desires of their own and follow them. The racism is also present – there are at least two occasions on which he mentions the significance of when a black person talks to a white person without being asked, and a joke about the stereotypical facial shapes of Chinese people.
Also, there was some very misguided parenting advice, taken from an example with his son who was born without ears and had problems hearing. Hill and his wife decided to implant in him the desire to be normal and become a hearing person some day, because they were of the opinion that this desire alone will give him power to reach that goal. They prohibited the son from learning sign language and wouldn’t let him go to a special school which could have hugely helped his development. Until when the son was an adult, after many years of unnecessarily suffering through this self-imposed way of living, the technological advancements finally made it possible for him to get electronic hearing aid and become the normal person they had all desired for him to become. This is child-abuse, in my opinion. And the desire alone moved nothing here, it was the engineers and technicians who solved the problem in the end. It wasn’t a victory for the promoted mindset at all.
What I like about the presentation of these three topics (sexism, racism, child-abuse) of the era, is that it makes it clearly visible how much we have progressed as a society. There’s still a long way to go, of course, but we shouldn’t confuse slow change with no change.
In one particular motivational chapter, Hill talks about how hardship makes it easier to form a strong desire for improvement. This is plain logical. Adversity channels your desires. But it’s not possible to use that suggestion, because hardship is a passive thing. You’re born into it or thrown into it, but it’s not that smart to voluntarily choose it, I think. Sure, you can find something positive when you’re the subject of hardship, and that might be the valuable point here. But finding other sources to strengthen your desires is still also a possibility.
There are several successful people mentioned often throughout the book. One of them is Henry Ford, who had no knowledge, no education, basically no schooling at all, but still found a way to become one of the most successful people of all time. This is a situation that also doesn’t apply to today’s time anymore. Now, all the information is available to anyone at all times and Henry Ford’s strong desire to acquire it despite all the roadblocks of his time wouldn’t have been of any advantage now. Today, you need to be aware of the possibilities first, which requires training, schooling, and education, otherwise your desire without knowledge will lead you nowhere.
However, there are a few pages of recommendations on how to conduct yourself during a job interview. This is fun in that it’s basically completely applicable to today’s situation. I wonder if that’s a bad sign – if we haven’t made enough progress in that area. But I guess the main situation will just remain the same forever: it’s two human beings getting to know each other and finding out if they can trust the other one. That’s timeless.
The latter half of the book is mainly a waste of pages in my opinion. There is a lot of content which feels like filler content, and the highly questionable chapter about Sex Transmutation. The author’s observation there is that successful people have a high sex drive. Well, okay. Good for them.
From time to time, the author mentions how important it is to re-read some chapters and even the whole book until you finally understand it completely, because it’s just so helpful to you and difficult to internalize! This is slightly ridiculous. Everything is as plain as can be.
The book ends on a high note, though. The chapter about fear is hugely helpful and probably even more today than at the time. It also hits quite close to home for me. Making a conscious effort to identify the personal underlying fears I have which prevent me from moving into the direction of my desired outcomes is the biggest takeaway here for me.
🍀 How the Book Changed Me
- Forming a strong vision of what sort of life I would like to lead and how to make that happen is the first step I will work on. There should be more longterm goals in focus and I should also think about the gravestone question some more, which is: What would I like people to say about me after I have died?
- Creativity and using creativity to problem solve is mentioned as being the sixth sense. This is helpful in addition to the unsurprising helpful other qualities like perseverance, determination, and organized planning.
- Being courageous and identifying as well as rationalizing the sources of the fears which are standing in the way of progress might be helpful to everyone, and certainly to me – fear has often prevented me from making those moves which later turned to have been smart ones.
📔 Highlights & Notes
Chapter 1: Thoughts Are Things
What a different story men would have to tell if only they would adopt a definite purpose, and stand by that purpose until it had time to become an all-consuming obsession!
An intangible impulse of thought can be transmuted into material rewards.
He [talking about Thomas A. Edison] had nothing to start with, except the capacity to know what he wanted, and the determination to stand by that desire until he realized it.
Success comes to those who become success conscious. Failure comes to those who indifferently allow themselves to become failure conscious.
We are the masters of our fate, the captains of our souls, because we have the power to control our thoughts.
Chapter 2: Desire
Desiring riches with a state of mind that becomes an obsession, then planning definite ways and means to acquire riches, and backing those plans with persistence which does not recognize failure, will bring riches.
Remember that all who succeed in life get off to a bad start, and pass through many heartbreaking struggles before they “arrive.”
No one ever is defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.
Remember, no more effort is required to aim high in life, to demand abundance and prosperity, than is required to accept misery and poverty.
Chapter 3: Faith
All thoughts which have been emotionalized (given feeling) and mixed with faith, begin immediately to translate themselves into their physical equivalent or counterpart.
Faith is the “eternal elixir” which gives life, power, and action to the impulse of thought!
If a man repeats a lie over and over, he will eventually accept the lie as truth. Moreover, he will believe it to be the truth.
I fully realize that no wealth or position can long endure, unless built upon truth and justice; therefore, I will engage in no transaction which does not benefit all whom it affects.
The subconscious mind will translate into reality a thought driven by fear just as readily as it will translate into reality a thought driven by courage, or faith.
Gandhi accomplished the astounding feat of influencing two hundred million minds to coalesce and move in unison, as a single mind. What other force on earth, except faith could do as much?
Chapter 5: Specialized Knowledge
Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action and directed to a definite end.
Through the assistance of his “Master Mind” group Henry Ford had at his command all the specialized knowledge he needed to enable him to become one of the wealthiest men in America. It was not essential that he have this knowledge in his own mind.
Thomas A. Edison had only three months of “schooling” during his entire life. He did not lack education, neither did he die poor.
Anything acquired without effort, and without cost is generally unappreciated, often discredited; perhaps this is why we get so little from our marvelous opportunity in public schools.
There is one weakness in people for which there is no remedy. It is the universal weakness of lack of ambition!
One of the major points I am trying to emphasize through this entire philosophy is that we rise to high positions or remain at the bottom because of conditions we can control if we desire to control them.
Both success and failure are largely the results of habit!
Chapter 6: Imagination
Man’s only limitation, within reason, lies in his development and use of his imagination.
Your imaginative faculty may have become weak through inaction. It can be revived and made alert through use.
Ideas are intangible forces, but they have more power than the physical brains that give birth to them. They have the power to live on, after the brain that creates them has returned to dust.
Chapter 7: Organized Planning
The Major Attributes of Leadership
Self-control. The man who cannot control himself can never control others. Self-control sets a mighty example for one’s followers, which the more intelligent will emulate.
A keen sense of justice.
Definiteness of decision.
Definiteness of plans.
The habit of doing more than paid for. One of the penalties of leadership is the necessity of willingness, upon the part of the leader, to do more than he requires of his followers.
A pleasing personality.
Sympathy and understanding.
Mastery of detail.
Willingness to assume full responsibility. If one of his followers makes a mistake, and shows himself incompetent, the leader must consider that it is he who failed.
The Major Causes of Failure in Leadership
Inability to organize details.
Unwillingness to render humble service. Truly great leaders are willing, when occasion demands, to perform any sort of labor which they would ask another to perform.
Expectation of pay for what they “know”.
Fear of competition from followers.
Lack of imagination.
Emphasis of the “authority” of leadership.
Emphasis of title.
The conduct, or the spirit in which you deliver service, is a strong determining factor in connection with both the price you receive and the duration of employment.
The Thirty-One Major Causes of Failure:
Unfavorable hereditary background, lack of a well-defined purpose in life, lack of ambition to aim above mediocrity, insufficient education, lack of self-discipline, ill health, unfavorable environmental influences during childhood, procrastination, lack of persistence, negative personality, lack of controlled sexual urge, uncontrolled desire for “something for nothing”, lack of a well-defined power of decision, one or more of the six basic fears, wrong selection of a mate in marriage, over-caution, wrong selection of associates in business, superstition and prejudice, wrong selection of a vocation, lack of concentration of effort, the habit of indiscriminate spending, lack of enthusiasm, intolerance, intemperance, inability to cooperate with others, possession of power that was not acquired through self effort (like inheritances), intentional dishonesty, egotism and vanity, guessing instead of thinking, lack of capital.
There is no hope of success for the person who does not have a central purpose, or definite goal at which to aim.
Any person who is educated is one who has learned to get whatever he wants in life without violating the rights of others. Education consists, not so much of knowledge, but of knowledge effectively and persistently applied.
Self-mastery is the hardest job you will ever tackle. If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.
Superstition is a form of fear. It is also a sign of ignorance.
Have I attained the goal which I established as my objective for this year? (You should work with a definite yearly objective to be attained as a part of your major life objective.)
How may I re-budget my time, and change my habits so I will be more efficient during the coming year?
Stated briefly, the capitalists are the brains of civilization, because they supply the entire fabric of which all education, enlightenment and human progress consists. Money without brains is always dangerous. Properly used, it is the most important essential of civilization.
Chapter 8: Decision
Thousands of men and women carry inferiority complexes with them all through life, because some well-meaning but ignorant person destroyed their confidence through “opinions” or ridicule. You have a brain and mind of your own. Use it, and reach your own decisions.
“Tell the world what you intend to do, but first show it.”
Those who reach decisions promptly and definitely, know what they want, and generally get it. The leaders in every walk of life decide quickly, and firmly.
Chapter 9: Persistence
The basis of persistence is the power of will. Will-power and desire, when properly combined, make an irresistible pair.
Wherever men and women accumulate great riches, you may be sure they first acquired persistence.
Knowing what one wants is the first and, perhaps, the most important step toward the development of persistence.
Fear, the worst of all enemies, can be effectively cured by forced repetition of acts of courage.
The majority of people permit relatives, friends, and the public at large to so influence them that they cannot live their own lives, because they fear criticism.
Riches do not respond to wishes. They respond only to definite plans, backed by definite desires, through constant persistence.
Chapter 11: The Mystery of Sex Transmutation
Wherever there was evidence available in connection with the lives of men and women of great achievement, it indicated most convincingly that they possessed highly developed sex natures.
The reality of a sixth sense has been fairly well established. This sixth sense is creative imagination.
Seldom does an individual enter upon highly creative effort in any field of endeavor before the age of forty. The average man reaches the period of his greatest capacity to create between forty and sixty.
The man who cannot be stimulated to great heights of achievement by love, is hopeless—he is dead, though he may seem to live.
Chapter 12: The Subconscious Mind
A definite plan, plus a burning desire for wealth, are the only dependable means of accumulating wealth.
Chapter 14: The Sixth Sense
My experience has taught me that the next best thing to being truly great is to emulate the great, by feeling and action, as nearly as possible.
Chapter 15: The Six Ghosts of Fear
Fear of poverty is a state of mind, nothing else! But it is sufficient to destroy one’s chances of achievement in any undertaking. This fear paralyzes the faculty of reason, destroys the faculty of imagination, kills off self-reliance, undermines enthusiasm, discourages initiative, leads to uncertainty of purpose, encourages procrastination, wipes out enthusiasm and makes self-control an impossibility.
Symptoms of the Fear of Poverty include indifference. Commonly expressed through lack of ambition. Indecision, doubt, worry, over-caution, and procrastination.
Over-caution. The habit of looking for the negative side of every circumstance, thinking and talking of possible failure instead of concentrating upon the means of succeeding.
Expecting poverty instead of demanding riches. Association with those who accept poverty instead of seeking the company of those who demand and receive riches.
The fear of criticism robs man of his initiative, destroys his power of imagination, limits his individuality, takes away his self-reliance, and does him damage in a hundred other ways. Parents often do their children irreparable injury by criticizing them.
It should be recognized as a crime (in reality it is a crime of the worst nature) for any parent to build inferiority complexes in the mind of a child, through unnecessary criticism. Employers who understand human nature get the best there is in men, not by criticism, but by constructive suggestion.
Criticism will plant fear in the human heart, or resentment, but it will not build love or affection.
Life is energy, if it is anything. If neither energy nor matter can be destroyed, of course life cannot be destroyed. Life, like other forms of energy, may be passed through various processes of transition, or change, but it cannot be destroyed. Death is mere transition. If death is not mere change, or transition, then nothing comes after death except a long, eternal, peaceful sleep, and sleep is nothing to be feared. Thus you may wipe out, forever, the fear of death.
A man whose mind is filled with fear not only destroys his own chances of intelligent action, but he transmits these destructive vibrations to the minds of all who come into contact with him, and also destroys their chances.
Recognize the fact that you, and every other human being, are, by nature, lazy, indifferent, and susceptible to all suggestions which harmonize with your weaknesses.
Do you resort to liquor, narcotics, or cigarettes to “quiet your nerves?” If so, why do you not try will-power instead?