By Napoleon Hill
This book was originally written in 1937 and is a classic work on how to lead a successful life. It was written at the commission of Andrew Carnegie and is based on interviews with men such as Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, the business titans of the early 20th century. Some of the ideas are out-of-date for modern readers, particularly the author’s view on the role of women and the mystical language used in certain concepts. Nevertheless, this is an all-time best-seller that lays out the steps needed to unleash one’s potential, focusing on building individual self-confidence and a clear set of goals. Each chapter addresses one of the author’s principles to leading a meaningful and productive life: desire, faith, autosuggestion, specialized knowledge, imagination, organized planning, decision, persistence, the master mind, sex transmutation, the subconscious, the brain, and the six sense. The author states that by focusing on a passionate desire, having faith in oneself, training the subconscious to believe in success, and developing a detailed plan, anyone can grow rich.
"When you begin to think and grow rich, you will observe that riches begin with a state of mind, with definiteness of purpose.”
The book starts with Hill’s most important principle, desire. This does not mean wishing for something that is missing. Desire here means an intense passion, wanting something so fiercely that it motivates a person to action. The specific desire must be very precisely defined or it may fall back into wishful thinking. A desire must also have a timeline, as well as a specified good or service that will result from achieving the goal.
For example, if one desires to grow rich, start by deciding the exact amount of money desired and what can be given in exchange for this money. Set a firm date to achieve the money and create a plan. Write this out in a clear statement and read it aloud twice daily, in the morning and at night. This action plan should be revised often to imprint it in the mind.
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
It is essential to have faith that this desire will come true. Believing anything negative will cause the subconscious to translate the negativity into reality, sabotaging the final goal. Rather, a person should act as if the desire has already been achieved and constantly visualize success. Repeat the stated goal often and it will start to sound true. Thoughts must be monitored to screen out anything self-limiting and to replace negative images with affirmative ones.
Autosuggestion is Hill’s technique for training the subconscious mind to believe that one deserves to be successful. State the action plan out loud twice a day and visualize it. If the desire is for a certain amount of money, picture the amount and state how this will be achieved. Read the plan often to memorize all the points. This is a form of meditation through constant repetition.
These first three steps are the core of Hill’s approach: desire, faith (in oneself), and training the subconscious mind. The principles listed in the remainder of the book are essentially tools to apply these three steps.
“If you do not see great riches in your imagination, you will never see them in your bank balance.”
4. Specialized Knowledge
Hill asserts that no-one grows rich on general knowledge. To become wealthy, one must focus on the specific knowledge that will lead to success. In modern parlance: develop a niche. Decide what kind of specialized knowledge is needed to attain the stated desire, and then set about finding that knowledge. This could be in the form of further education or experience. Or, it could mean surrounding oneself with knowledgeable individuals who can advise as needed. However, just gaining the knowledge is not enough. It is also important to apply the specialized knowledge in order to succeed.
Hill emphasizes the importance of adding imagination to knowledge in order to grow rich. He distinguishes two types:
Synthetic imagination takes existing ideas, plans, or concepts and rearranges them into new combinations.
Creative imagination, however, creates something new from nothing.
“It has been said that man can create anything which he can imagine.”
6. Organized Planning
Success requires a concrete plan and an alliance with others to carry out the plan. This planning must be continuous and persistent, and it should include an annual assessment of progress.
“You are engaged in an undertaking of major importance to you. To be sure of success, you must have plans which are faultless.”
The author also distinguishes between the leader and the follower. To be successful, the plan must include becoming a leader, a person who has courage, self-control, and a strong sense of justice, and who makes firm decisions. A leader also has a habit of doing more than he has been paid for, and is willing to cooperate and to assume responsibility.
Without exception, all successful people make decisions quickly. This does not mean impulsive decision-making for the sake of leadership. Rather, the ability to decide quickly comes from knowing what it is you want, and it is that ability that defines leaders. The author also warns against involving too many people in the decision-making process, as they can exert too much influence and may not share the final vision.
Once made, a decision should be changed only slowly. A successful person believes strongly in his decisions, makes them concrete, and follows them through to the end.
“The world has the habit of making room for the man whose words and actions show that he knows where he is going.”
Hill says that in many of the cases he studied, persistence was a major factor differentiating between success and failure. Many people give up after encountering obstacles, but success requires being willing to persist for as long as it takes. The author describes persistence as a state of mind. It must be cultivated and applied to all of the principles in the book in order to grow rich.
9. Power of the Master Mind
This concept can seem archaic to modern readers, as the author describes the ‘psychic’ aspects of allying with others. He asserts that when two minds come together, a third intangible force is created which he calls the Master Mind. In sum, Hill is saying that when a group of like-minded individuals work together they create something more than the sum of their parts. Being surrounded by such people will motivate the individual to achieve more.
10. The Mystery of Sex Transmutation
Hill declares that sexual desire is the most powerful human desire. In order to be successful, it is essential to redirect this desire away from physical expression and toward a more productive purpose.
“When driven by this desire, men develop keenness of imagination, courage, will-power, persistence, and creative ability unknown to them at other times.”
This is one of the author’s most controversial principles not least for its focus on successful men, who Hill describes as often ‘highly sexed.’ They rarely become truly successful until later in life when they are less focused on women and instead direct their sexual energy toward creative pursuits.
11 and 12. The Subconscious Mind and The Brain
The subconscious mind is very powerful and always active. It is therefore important to fill it with positive images, thoughts, and emotions, and not negative ones. Fear is incompatible with the principle of faith and will undermine self-confidence.
Hill has a rather strange theory of the collective world mind, something that each individual can tap into and receive images from others. He also has a practical suggestion for a daily routine of envisaging success, particularly at waking up and before falling asleep, to train the subconscious mind to focus on the positives. Doing this allows the subconscious mind to deliver sparks of inspiration, essentially messages to the conscious mind.
13. The Sixth Sense
The author portrays the Sixth Sense as “that portion of the subconscious mind which has been referred to as the Creative Imagination.” While couched in somewhat mystical language about the ‘Universal Mind’ and ‘Infinite Intelligence’ Hill is talking about intuition or gut feeling. The way to unleash the power of the Sixth Sense is to develop a passionate desire, have faith in the outcome, fill the subconscious with positive thoughts, and maintain detailed plans for the path to success.
While some of the author’s concepts can seem outlandish to modern readers, his emphasis on the power of the subconscious mind was ahead of his time. There are many aphorisms in this book that are valuable pieces of advice on how to be successful:
Success begins with a fellow’s will; it’s all in the state of mind
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before you can ever win a prize
The man who wins is the man who thinks he can!