Think and Grow Rich from 1937 by Napoleon Hill is arguably one of the most popular self-help books ever written. According to various publishers, it has sold more than 100 million copies.
Despite the book’s longlived success, critics and fans waver between its universal wisdom and controversial claims. Thus, the mythology of Think and Grow Rich lives on almost nine decades after its release. I will explain more later.
Read on if you want to discover how to take advantage of 5 selected principles that can make you “think and grow rich”. They are:
In addition to these 5 important takeaways, you will find the evidence behind (most of) the mythic claims in Think and Grow Rich. And a few examples of why people think Napoleon Hill is a little kooky.
But we’ll start with a short intro to this classic book and why Napoleon Hill wrote it.
(If you already read it and know the background and controversy, you can fast forward to the five most essential takeaways by clicking here)
What’s Think and Grow Rich about?
First off, don’t mistake the title on the cover. It is not about getting rich per se. It’s about personal growth and attracting abundance into your life.
In essence, Think and Grow Rich answers why some people are full of success and why others are just full of excuses.
Hill is excellent in his thorough description of how different fears limit your potential. He is equally clear about the mindset and thoughts you need to establish if you want to lead a better life. Most of the timeless points made throughout the book, like watching out for external influences (media, advertising, gossip, etc.), are arguably even more relevant today than when these words were written by Napoleon Hill in 1937.
Is it worth reading?
Should you read Think and Grow Rich? Absolutely, if you care about your personal growth. Can you apply the advice in a 21st-century life? Sure, the instructions given are timeless.
But there’s something else you should know about the book.
I would say the content of Think and Grow Rich is 40% thought-provoking and 50% predictable. The remaining 10% is straight-up crazy shit that will make your jaw drop at least a half-dozen times. For all its practical advice, some parts are really out of whack.
What’s the story behind Think and Grow Rich?
Andrew Carnegie, a steel tycoon and one of the wealthiest men to ever walk the earth, asked Napoleon Hill to write a book on what successful did differently than unsuccessful people.
Napoleon Hill spent 20 years researching and interviewing some of the most successful business people from the history books. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, John Rockefeller, and Charles Schwab to namedrop a few. These great men shared the same life story. They started with nothing and went to riches and abundance.
To describe what you should avoid doing, Hill also researched a lot of people who failed.
Is Napoleon Hill a fraud?
Even to this day, there is no shortage of controversy around Napoleon Hill. Did he even know Andrew Carnegie? Is there any evidence of the gospel in Think and Grow Rich? These and other unconfirmed questions add to the myth of the book.
Like any other thing you read, you have to think for yourself, evaluate, and sort through the advice and evidence instead of accepting it all at face value.
I agree with critics who say Think and Grow Rich does a lousy job of providing evidence. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not true.
Later, you’ll see the science and psychology that proves why TAGR is not BS.
My top 5 principles from Think and Grow Rich
Think and Grow Rich has a total of 14 rules for life in as many chapters. Below, I have picked my top 5 principles to give you, dear reader, the best extracts from the book.
For all the great stuff in TAGR, there is also the straight-up crazy talk. I have included a few of the controversies (and good laughs) that add to the lore of the book. You don’t want to miss these.
Think and Grow Rich describes desire something like this:
Desire is a persistent pursuit of your goal backed by a reliable, concrete plan.
Now, desire might sound like a first cousin to hopes or wishes. But, as Napoleon Hill points out, these are not related. Feeling desire does not make anything happen. Desire is concrete and exact planning.
For example, if you desire more money, you need to plan like this:
- What amount of money exactly do you desire?
- What will you give in return to get it? (Time, effort, things you will stop doing, or not spend money on any longer)
- On which specific date and year will you have the desired amount of money?
- Write out your simple, instructive plan: how much money, how you will get it, by when, and what you will give up in return
- Start your plan immediately
- Read the plan twice a day and focus
This simple framework works for all types of desires; for example, “I want to get fit.” In this case, your destination might be to run 10k. Then, decide the deadline for when you need to be able to run 10k and describe what you need to do and what you should stop doing to reach that goal.
For example, you need to start running at least three times every week, and you need to stop eating at night and drink much more water than soda or alcohol. Whatever you think is necessary. Write this down and track your progress. And make sure you follow your plan without excuses.
Straight up crazy talk #1 from Think and Grow Rich
Here’s the first of a few questionable claims made by the author, Napoleon Hill.
On page 182, he writes: “Baldheaded men are bald for no other reason than their fear of criticism. Heads become bald because of the tight-fitting bands of hats which cut off the circulation from the roots of the hair.”
Now, being a guy with thinning hair myself, this suggestion caught my interest. For long periods of my childhood, I wore a (not so tight) baseball cap. It sure wasn’t fear of criticism that made me wear my hat. My teachers hated it – I just thought it was a good look.
Now, back to the next principle.
I have good news and bad news for you.
The bad news is that negative beliefs become misfortune over time.
The good news is that you’re in complete control of your thoughts and desire, both of which create your beliefs.
Faith, in Think and Grow Rich, is not to be confused with spirituality. Faith is to believe that you’ll get what you ask for due to the law of attraction. When you combine faith with your thoughts and desire, your subconscious mind finds the answers that help you build your plan.
An olympic example of faith
Athletes are known for their use of visualization by mentally practicing that they will succeed.
A great example is the 18-time Olympic gold medal winner, Michael Phelps. As a part of his training regiment, Phelps spent a lot of time – in water – not swimming, but visualizing the perfect race:
He [Phelps] mentally rehearses for two hours a day in the pool. He sees himself winning. He smells the air, tastes the water, hears the sounds, sees the clock.Bob Bowman, U.S. Olympic men’s swimming coach
The exciting part is that visualization stimulates the same regions of the brain as when you physically do it. You too can practice mental rehearsal of your own chosen field.
The point made in Think and Grow Rich is that you will get the desired result if you firmly and positively believe a certain scenario will happen.
Some people underestimate the external influences of autosuggestion. Hopefully, not you.
Be careful who you spend time with and the media you consume. If you allow reality shows, social media, news media sensations, negative friends, and gossip to enter your mind, all of this guff will eventually fill your thoughts and contaminate your thinking.
Autosuggestion is what you say out loud and your internal dialogue. And I’m not talking of hearing strange voices here, just your self-talk.
Autosuggestion and the subconscious mind
Your subconscious mind is the guidance system that stores the entire backlog of what you’ve seen, felt, done, and thought. Everything depends on how you perceive yourself and the world.
It works like this. Your brain processes about 11 million bits of data per second (M. Zimmerman). This massive amount requires brain automation. So, the conscious mind quickly evaluates all messages and either reject them or pass them on to the subconscious mind.
Thoughts can be good, bad, or ugly. It doesn’t matter. No matter what your thoughts are, as long as they are compatible with your beliefs, they get a chair in your subconscious mind.
Words are highly influential to the subconscious mind
Autosuggestion, and the right words, can rewire your subconscious mind.
Merely changing your self-talk from “I’m terrible at this thing” to “I’m getting better every day” will have a positive effect. At least, if you do the necessary work that proves it.
The exact words you use might also be one-liners taken from your plan, which we covered earlier (see 1. Desire).
A few examples positive autosuggestion:
- I have lost 15 pounds before summer
- I can run 10k without stopping before November
- I have doubled my monthly income by the end of the year
Napoleon Hill describes autosuggestion as the mental process which starts infinite intelligence.
In other words, if you practice using autosuggestion consistently, your mind will eventually think of the solutions to make your goals become a reality. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you start to get hunches and ideas.
Straight up crazy talk #2 from Think and Grow Rich
Are you ready for the next one? This piece is not as wacky as #1 but still a pretty bold claim, even by 1937 standards.
From page 176 in Think and Grow Rich: “Doctors, as everyone knows, are less subject to attack by disease than ordinary laymen for the reason that doctors do not fear disease.”
This does make sense to some level. But it could also be that doctors are better educated than the average, are better at washing their hands, taking their own flu shot (no pun intended), and, perhaps, live healthier lives than the average person. But what do I know?
All right, let’s get into character again.
To paraphrase Napoleon Hill, your only limitations lie in your development and use of imagination.
Everyone holds the strength to do just that. In order to function, your imagination must be put to use and stimulated by significant inputs and a strong desire. Like any other habit or body muscle, inactivity will weaken your imagination.
Now, imagination is not gazing out over the water horizon with a cup of chai tea, thinking eccentric thoughts. Imagination is about thinking through all possible scenarios. If I do X, then Y could happen but also Z, or Q or W or … This is hard work that most people will not bother to do. So, they’re down to very few options with very predictable outcomes.
Hill also explains a concept called “synthetic imagination,” which is arranging old thoughts, plans, and ideas into new combinations. Most ‘new’ things are created this way anyway.
You can activate your creativity by frequently exercising your imagination. Napoleon Hill explains this as your “infinite intelligence” where “hunches” and “inspirations” start to occur, and new ideas get handed over.
Think and Grow Rich makes no mistake about how vital decision-making is if you want to be successful.
Procrastination is the opposite of decision. Make sure you stick with your decisions until they’ve proven not to work.
Therefore, successful people reach decisions promptly and change these decisions slowly, if, and when changed.
Conversely, unsuccessful people reach decisions slowly and change them quickly and often. One explanation for this is that they doubt their own decisions. And the history of doubt keeps compounding to create more uncertainty. The other reason is that they get easily influenced by others, such as news media, neighbors, and gossip.
Do your own thinking
You could even argue that some people don’t think for themselves and quietly accepts that all these, mostly, questionable sources make up their “thinking.”
If other people’s opinion is your primary influence, chances are you will have no desire of your own. You have a mind and brain – please think for yourself.
Successful people study and find answers. They won’t change direction just because others think so. Successful people follow through on their convictions. If this is you, be aware that firm decisions can make even close friends and family ridicule your choices.
You might also face fear and self-skepticism like:
- “What will they think of you?”
- “What makes you think you can do it?”
- “Why hasn’t someone already done it before you?”
Going through the pressure of close-ones doubt and rejection requires courage and will-power. And it requires a healthy mindset. Never let the doubters ruin your confidence. It’s just a part of the game.
Straight up crazy talk #3 from Think and Grow Rich
The last wacko piece is on the subject of over-caution. Hold on to your trilby.
From page 179 in Think and Grow Rich: “Over-caution. The habit of looking for the negative side of every circumstance … Pessimism, leading to indigestion, poor elimination, autointoxication, bad breath …“
Two observations on this. One, it’s pretty clear that Napoleon Hill is no fan of inertia. Two, it appears that over-caution does more damage than limiting your progress. This will be the least of your problems. You’ll need a pack of Double Mint and a colon-cleanse if you are too overcautious. The message is received, though:
“Get to work and stop complaining.”
Do the teachings of Think and Grow Rich work?
So far, you’ve read some of the most interesting takeaways from Think and Grow Rich. I have also poked some fun at the crazy shit going on in the book. Probably a good third of the book is heavy on mystique and light on scientific facts. But hey, no one’s perfect.
Critics of Think and Grow Rich point to the lack of evidence in Hill’s claims. And these critics are mostly right.
However, there’s a good reason why Think and Grow Rich still is in print for almost nine decades since it was first published. And there is scientific evidence that Napoleon Hill was right.
Here it is.
Enter the Reticular Activating System
When Napoleon Hill writes about why desire, faith, and autosuggestion are so important, he might as well point to the studies of the Reticular Activating System (RAS).
The RAS filters all the data and noise around you to guard your scarce consciousness and attention.
According to Daniel J. Levitin, author and neuroscientist, your brain has a conscious bandwidth limitation of around 120 bits. When one person speaks to you, that’s 60 bits. Thus, your conscious mind is maxed out when two people talk to you at the same time.
How does your RAS work?
Since the conscious brain only can handle very little data at once, your RAS is the “radar” that scans for things that it identifies as important.
But how does your RAS filter know what is important? It merely looks at what you focus on. This way, the RAS knows what to search for and what to discard. Again, this is how the law of attraction works.
For example, if you consume too much negative news, you will see more negativity. Eventually, you will start to believe the whole world is out of order. The more “proof” you notice, the more you believe in it. This situation is also known as confirmation bias – the tendency to look for, favor, and remember information that supports your beliefs.
It also works this way. If you say, “I’m always late,” you will most likely be late. If you say, “I always forget people’s names,” you will most likely be amnesiac about names.
Only apply your focus to a select, few things that matter. According to Think and Grow Rich, positive and negative emotions cannot occupy the mind at the same time. One of the two must dominate. Luckily, you can choose which one it is.
Conclusion and takeaways
The overall summary of Think and Grow Rich is this: You become what you say, and what you think and feel. It’s the law of attraction in effect. Self-talk becomes proof. Proof becomes beliefs. Beliefs become more self-talk. And so, it continues.
This cycle can be a productive circle or a ring of hell.
If you forget everything else you’ve just read, here are two takeaways to leave with:
- Your RAS will help you find the things you already focus on. Make sure you always focus on critical and positive thoughts, such as your clear goals, and avoid all things negative and self-deprecating
- Use confirmation bias to your advantage. Set your focus on positive things to make you RAS show you something that proves this. The results will come if you stay the course.