In the Victorian era success was believed to be about hard work, serious effort, application and persistence, and maybe a slice of privilege or good luck.
Later Deepak Chopra and other ‘New Age writers taught that by raising our consciousness we achieve everything while doing nothing, and it doesn’t matter what our background.
Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, writing in the 1930s, laid one of America’s most influential and barely recognised authors, Dr Napolean Hill.
I first came across his seminal work, Think and Grow Rich, in the late 80s. At that time I taught in the business department of a university. One day, the secretary of the students’ association invited me to attend a talk given by a former professional footballer who had gone on to make a fortune in the insurance industry. The subject was Think and Grow Rich. At first, I wasn’t attracted to what I thought (wrongly) was just another book preaching ‘greed is good’. Remember, in this was the Thatcher era. Government ministers showed little empathy for the poorest in society, and every week on TV Harry Enfield’s comic character ‘Loadsamoney’ could be heard mocking the lowly paid as traditional industries collapsed around them.
But I attended. An hour and a half later I was convinced that this was exactly what we should be teaching our students. This was the missing link between academic and vocational success and in many ways the key to happiness at all levels.
Napolean Hill was just starting out on his career in journalism when he met the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, at that time reputedly the world’s richest man. Carnegie, a Scot, had arrived in the USA penniless. He was convinced that the formula for success could be identified and expressed in simple terms that anyone could apply. They made a deal. Carnegie would introduce the young journalist to five hundred of America’s most financially successful men. Hill would interview them and publish his findings. No money would change hands since Carnegie reasoned that once Dr Hill had completed his task, he would need no payment from him.
TAGR was first published in 1937. It was an immediate success. The first five thousand copies quickly sold out despite there being no advertising. Another ten thousand copies were printed, then another twenty thousand, and all sold out within a few weeks. To date, more than fifteen million copies have been sold.
What is the formula that Dr Hill so eloquently articulated? It is based on two sets of ideas – The Six Steps to Riches and the Thirteen Step Programme to Wealth and Success.
Here are the Six Steps:
- Fix in your mind precisely what you want. ‘Know what you want’, wrote Dr Hill, ‘and you’ll generally get it.’
- Determine what you intend to give in exchange. You have to give before you can get, and nothing comes for free.
- Establish a definite date by which you intend to have it.
- Make a plan and start right away. If the plan isn’t working, amend it, but never give up.
- Write a statement of intention on a small card and place it where you can see it. This keeps your goal permanently etched in your mind.
- Read the statement several times a day. Let your subconscious mind absorb it.
These Six Steps are complemented by thirteen action points and principles:
- Desire is ‘the starting point of all achievement, and the first step to riches.’ Dr Hill wrote, ‘All success starts with selecting a definite purpose, the desire to achieve it, and commitment to it.’
- Faith: ‘a state of mind which may be induced or created by affirmation or repeated instructions to the subconscious mind through the principle of autosuggestion.’ ‘There are no limitations other than those we impose on ourselves,’ wrote Dr Hill, ‘because both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought.’
- Auto-suggestion: self-administered suggestion in the form of affirmations to be used morning and night and frequently in between.
- Specialised knowledge: Contrary to the well-known maxim, knowledge is not power, but potential power. It only becomes power when it is organised into plans of action and directed to a definite end
- Imagination: Everything starts out as an idea waiting to be brought into expression. Imagination may be cultivated through relaxed visualisation, which also strengthens belief in attainment.
- Organised planning is the crystallisation of desire into action. To be sure of success, argued Dr Hill, you must have plans that are faultless. You also need a Plan B (and a Plan C and maybe D).
- Decision: Lack of decision is a major cause of failure. It causes procrastination, ‘a common enemy which practically all must conquer.’
- Persistence: Dr Hill had much to say on this subject. ‘Persistence is to the character of man what carbon is to steel,’ he wrote. ‘No man is ever whipped until he quits in his own mind.’ And ‘every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.’
- The Master Mind: No individual has sufficient knowledge and experience to succeed massively without the cooperation of other people. The Mastermind is the harmonious coordination of knowledge and effort between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.
- Sex Transmutation: Sex energy is the creative energy of all geniuses, but it must be channelled into constructive activity. This means the switching of the mind from thoughts of physical expression to thoughts of some other nature.
- The Subconscious Mind: Dr Hill wrote that the subconscious is ‘a field of consciousness in which every impulse of thought is classified and recorded and from which thoughts may be withdrawn as letters may be taken from a filing cabinet’. It receives and files impressions or thoughts, and draws upon the forces of Infinite Intelligence for its power.
- The Brain: Every brain is capable of picking up vibrations of thought being released by other brains. ‘Our brains become magnetised with the dominating thoughts which we hold in our minds,’ and ‘the circumstances of life harmonise with the nature of our dominant thoughts.’ Dr Hill was teaching the ‘Law of Attraction’ long before it entered the popular imagination.
- The Sixth Sense (or intuition) can be understood and assimilated only by mastering the other twelve principles. This is the receiving mechanism by which ideas, plans and thoughts flash into the mind, and the medium of contact between the finite mind of the human being and the Infinite Intelligence.
So what made Think and Grow Rich the runaway success that it became? Well obviously it offered hope at a time of great economic hardship and was based on thorough research and experience. ‘Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve,’ became his most famous phrase. Since we all have the ability to desire, to think, to imagine, our destiny is in our own hands. Moreover, since the Infinite Intelligence does not play favourites, riches are within everyone’s reach.
But there’s more. Far from being a mere formula, it is a profound work of practical and spiritual philosophy. Hill believed there were universal forces beyond our intellectual understanding and identified the blockages that prevent most of us rising above the daily grind, most of which exist only in our limiting thoughts and imagination. He drew on ancient wisdom, that we accomplish nothing without the Power (or ‘Infinite Intelligence’) that works within us. And he gave us tools that anyone able to think and act for themselves could use.
There’s little doubt that virtually every Western success coach and motivational speaker owes Dr Napolean Hill a huge debt without necessarily acknowledging his influence. Most of the self-help books that I have read merely regurgitate his ideas using modern, NLP-influenced terminology and up to date examples. Many of today’s motivational gurus are slick, polished performers well versed in the persuasive arts (take a look at the YouTube clips of Napolean Hill and you’ll see he was none of these things), but scratch beneath the surface and you soon discover that they add little to Dr Hill’s original work.
But here’s the rub. On the surface, TAGR appears to be about financial success, but look a little deeper and you realise it’s much more. ‘Riches’ do not just consist of money – they are anything just and worthwhile that your heart desires. Dr Hill said so himself. Health, happiness, friendship, peace of mind, love… all are ‘riches’, subject to the same principles of acquisition.
Can we think and grow rich? Certainly. And as Dr Hill concluded, ‘when riches begin to come, they come so quickly and in such great abundance, that you will wonder where they have been hiding during all those lean years!’
© David Lawrence Preston, 22.2.2018
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