How to Resist the Devil: The 6 Things You Must Do

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Outwitting the Devil" by Napoleon Hill. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you know how to escape the devil’s influence? What practical steps can you take each day to keep him from taking control of your life?

In his 1937 bestseller Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill interviewed hundreds of American businessmen to gather their wisdom on how to achieve professional success. In his follow-up, Outwitting the Devil, Hill examines how failure and bad habits keep people from reaching their fullest potential, this time through a single interview—with the devil himself. Outwitting the Devil describes how you can escape the devil’s influence and avoid being turned toward inaction and evil by dedicating yourself to concrete goals, embracing positive habits, and refusing to be defeated by failure. He argues that, in doing so, you can find your way to professional and financial success.

Read more for Hill’s advice on how to resist the devil.

How to Escape the Devil’s Influence

Having explained how your success or failure is determined by the patterns of behavior that you’ve fallen into, as well as the significance of the law of attraction, Hill names the six things a person needs to do in order to escape the devil’s influence and live a successful life. We’ll explore each piece of advice on how to resist the devil: 

  1. Have clear purpose and conviction.
  2. Practice self-control.
  3. Don’t let failure defeat you.
  4. Choose your relationships and environments carefully.
  5. Pursue wisdom.
  6. Practice caution and forethought.

#1: Have Clear Purpose and Conviction

Hill argues that you can’t break yourself out of unhealthy habits or an indifferent pattern of behavior unless you have a clear goal that you’re working towards. Without knowing what you want and having a plan to achieve it, you’re likely to drift through life, allowing your circumstances to shape you rather than you shaping your circumstances.

Hill sets no limits on what your goal may be, and in his own case, his goal was not a business but his desire to write self-help books and to teach others to find success, to the point that he abandoned several other business ventures to pursue his goal. Without a clear purpose, he struggled to find happiness.

(Shortform note: Experts note that conviction and hard work are difficult to maintain over time, and on some level, the work needs to be its own reward if you’re going to sustain enough motivation to reach your goals. Don’t choose a particular goal because it’ll be profitable or seems likely to impress others; pick something you’re truly passionate about. It may not be the first thing you try, or the thing that gets the most public recognition, but it will be the thing that makes you happiest and that justifies whatever struggles and setbacks you endure.)

#2: Practice Self-Control

Earlier in this guide, we listed ten desires through which the devil can manipulate human beings. Hill argues that three of these desires—the desire for self-expression, the desire for food, and the desire for sex—are the most dangerous and require the most regulation. While, as we mentioned earlier, sex, food, and self-expression are all normal appetites that can be fed in moderation, when you over-indulge in them, they can distract you from your goals and are ultimately unhealthy for your body. 

When it comes to self-expression, Hill suggests that rather than being overly talkative or trying to impress others, you should spend more time listening, and only speak when you are confident in what you have to say. When it comes to food, rather than eating constantly or eating unhealthy foods, you should try to eat foods that are healthy and will give you more energy. Finally, when it comes to sexual desires, Hill argues that sex should be pursued through positive long-term relationships, and that you should channel any leftover sexual energy into working towards your goals, rather than allowing sex to be a motivator in and of itself. 

The Extremes of Hill’s Thoughts on Sex 

Though he mentions it only briefly here, in Think and Grow Rich Hill makes an extended argument about the power of sexual energy to motivate your work. He argues that, by abstaining from sex or focusing your sexual desires into a single, stable relationship, you will then have an excess of energy and motivation, which you can channel into your work instead.

There’s little scientific basis for this belief, but it remains popular among some anti-pornography advocates and in the online community known as #NoFap, which began on Reddit in 2011. Those who practice #NoFap, or abstaining from masturbation for months or years at a time, believe that doing so will improve their physical health and allow them to think more clearly and be better romantic partners. 

While it’s had connections to the far right and various anti-women communities in the past, in recent years the #NoFap movement has rebranded as a porn addiction recovery community. Many members emphasize how the movement’s advice helped them cope with compulsive sexual behavior, shame surrounding sex, and even erectile dysfunction. Therefore, even if Hill’s theories of self-control don’t lead to financial success, they may at least have some psychological benefits.

#3: Don’t Let Failure Defeat You

We’ve already mentioned that fear of failure is one of the tools the devil uses to keep you from taking action. Hill cautions that while you can’t avoid some degree of failure in your life, you can control how you respond to that failure when it comes. Rather than allowing failure to discourage you from your goals, take it as an opportunity to question your purpose, think about what is and isn’t working, and try new tactics where old ones failed. 

According to Hill, what sets a successful person apart from an unsuccessful person is how well they react to failure. Do they accept it as part of the process or allow it to persuade them to give up? Even a particularly brutal failure, such as the business failures Hill experienced before and during the Great Depression, should be taken as a sign that change is required, rather than a reason to abandon everything you’ve worked for. Above all, failure should be an opportunity to test yourself and your limits.

The Benefits of Failure

Hill’s belief that failure is a necessary part of success is a staple of professional advice today, repeated by everyone from business owners to athletes to psychologists. In Black Box Thinking, journalist and former Olympic tennis player Matthew Syed argues that progress is impossible without failure, and that a streak of unsuccessful ventures shows an inability or unwillingness to learn from past mistakes. 

While Hill’s argument that even the Great Depression was a failure to be learned from may initially seem harsh, many social scientists and politicians have argued that large-scale disasters expose problems built into a system and are an opportunity to learn, not so much on an individual level but as a society dedicated to equal opportunity and independence

#4: Choose Your Relationships and Environments Carefully

The devil is able to exert his influence more strongly over people who feel isolated or discouraged. In both the professional world and your personal life, it’s important to choose partnerships that will help you improve yourself and achieve your dreams. Be careful who you decide to work with, and avoid relationships with people who are a distraction or who don’t seem interested in your goals. 

The strongest partnership, according to Hill, is the one that you can form with a spouse who fully understands and supports you. He credits his relationship with his wife as giving him the strength to stand up to the devil and to continue in the face of repeated failure. Working together, two people or a group of people can achieve things that it would be impossible to do alone. 

Hill acknowledges that being so pragmatic in your relationships might seem cold, but argues that your first duty is to yourself, to choose relationships that help both parties to find happiness and success in their lives. Toxic relationships, even familial ones, will only drag you down and must be broken off if you ever hope to find success. In this vein, he also argues in favor of divorce, since unhappy marriages only make you weaker and thus more vulnerable to the devil’s influence. 

Defending Divorce

Divorce was uncommon when Hill was writing, but he had personal reasons to support it. By 1937 he had already been divorced twice, and he would divorce a third time in 1940. At the time of writing Outwitting the Devil, he was married to Rosa Lee Beeland, a self-help author in her own right. While their marriage wouldn’t last, she was unquestionably a valuable partner to him, both personally and professionally—Hill’s biographers credit her as being the unsung coauthor of Hill’s most successful book, Think and Grow Rich

After his relationship with Beeland ended, Hill married again in 1943, and his marriage to Annie Lou Norman lasted until his death in 1970. Today, it’s widely accepted that divorce is a social good, improving the mental and physical health of both partners and their children. There’s even evidence to suggest that rising divorce rates are better for the economy.

#5: Pursue Wisdom 

Throughout the book, Hill argues that resisting the devil’s influence is primarily a matter of self-assessment—understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, recognizing patterns in your behavior, and making the best decisions to help you achieve your goal. He defines these skills as being a form of wisdom, distinct from knowledge or intelligence, and which can only be acquired through experience. Wisdom is about judging what the right decision is and how and when to make it, be it a decision about work, relating to others, or just how you respond to the unexpected. 

What Is Wisdom? 

Wisdom has been defined differently throughout history—as what distinguishes moral men from intelligent men, as the ability to recognize the limitations of knowledge, or as a skill for rational decision-making—but modern definitions tend to argue that wisdom is the ability to make direct connections between your abstract knowledge, i.e. the things you learned in school, and your experiences. In his book From Knowledge to Wisdom, British philosopher and professor Nicholas Maxwell argues that the education system should emphasize the practical applications of what they teach, showing students the connections between things like statistics and studying climate change solutions. In Hill’s view, this kind of practical thinking is necessary to take the steps required to escape the devil. 

#6: Practice Caution and Forethought

Hill points out that many celebrities or wealthy business owners have fallen from grace at what seemed like the height of their power, suggesting that they became complacent in their success and fell back under the devil’s control. Even if you’ve already achieved some level of personal or financial success, there are many things that can go wrong. Economic depressions disrupt businesses, relationships break down, and there will always be someone hoping to take advantage of you or to use your success as a stepping stone towards their own. 

The truly successful person always plans ahead, takes nothing for granted, and chooses relationships carefully, never relying on someone else unless they deserve that trust. If you manage to achieve a goal, that shouldn’t be the end of the positive patterns of behavior you’ve established. You should set new goals, come up with plans to achieve them, and use good judgment in everything you do. Escaping the devil is a continual process, and so you will need to practice these six steps throughout your life.

(Shortform note: Dozens of successful people, be they business owners, actors, or politicians, have lost everything at exactly the point where it seemed that they could do no wrong. Hill chalks this up to the devil’s influence where others might suggest bad luck or a changing culture, but there’s no denying that overconfidence plays a role. If it takes wisdom to achieve success, wisdom is needed to maintain success as well.)

How to Resist the Devil: The 6 Things You Must Do

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Here's what you'll find in our full Outwitting the Devil summary :

  • How failure and bad habits keep people from reaching their potential
  • How to escape the Devil’s influence and avoid being turned toward inaction
  • How to find your way to professional and financial success

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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