The Power of Thinking: Your Thoughts Change Your Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "As A Man Thinketh" by James Allen. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you know how the power of thinking works in your life? Is it a force for good or for bad?

In the 1902 self-help classic As a Man Thinketh, British philosophical writer James Allen explores the power of thinking. He argues that your thoughts ultimately shape your circumstances. They also dictate your physical health. For good or for bad, the way you think makes a difference.

Read more to learn about the power of thinking.

The Power of Thinking in Your Life

Great thinkers throughout history have echoed Allen’s philosophy, which says that your thoughts influence your actions and shape your destiny. Throughout the short book, Allen discusses the power of thinking and the various ways that thoughts manifest in reality, and how to direct your thoughts in order to create the life you want. 

(Shortform note: The title of the book was inspired by the Bible verse, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23: 7). The passage advises followers to be wary of the underlying thoughts, desires, and motivations of others, but Allen is using the verse to suggest readers examine their own inner thoughts.)

Allen became a published writer in the final decade of his life. In that time, he wrote 19 books and began publishing a spiritual magazine called The Light of Reason; after his death, his wife Lily continued to run the magazine, which was later renamed The Epoch. Allen was at the forefront of the self-help movement. His wife said that his writings reflected ideas that he had personally lived and strongly believed. 

Your Thoughts Shape Your Inner and Outer Worlds

Your thoughts shape your character, your character shapes your actions, and your actions shape your circumstances. Put simply, you are what you think: Negative thoughts beget misfortune, while a positive outlook in life begets prosperity and fulfillment. This means that your thoughts mold both your inner world—your character and emotions—as well as your outer world—your circumstances and experiences.

This is a key aspect to the power of thinking. If generous and kindhearted thoughts dominate your internal monologue, that will define your character. That mindset then crystallizes into habits, and those habits produce your circumstances. In other words, you are not the product of your circumstances so much as your circumstances are the product of your thinking.

However, a person’s circumstances do not necessarily reflect the entirety of her character—they could be the manifestation of one particular part of her character. As such, you can’t judge another person’s character based on her circumstances: The conditions of a person’s life and the intricacies of her character are so complex that no one besides that person can truly know them. A morally corrupt person can be rich, but you may not know her good qualities, or you may be ignorant of her private health problems. Similarly, a good-hearted person can face terrible circumstances, but you might not know her vices or the less obvious blessings she has. 

When your thoughts produce challenging circumstances, those obstacles are not merely punishment—they are teaching tools. Learn from your hardships. The power of thinking is real—and, since your own thoughts created the challenges you face, those challenges are tailored to teach you the exact lessons you need to move past the thinking that created them. These lessons help you to grow as a person, which alters your thinking, which again changes your circumstances. This is true no matter your circumstances, because you learn from both hardship and happiness. 

Your Thoughts Impact Your Physical Health

The power of thinking is at work in another significant area. Just as thought molds your circumstances, it also dictates your health. If you’re constantly anxious, the burden of carrying that anxiety wears down your body and makes you more susceptible to disease. Over time, your thought patterns determine how your body ages. If you maintain a pessimistic attitude, the wrinkles in your face will form into a permanent scowl, and your internal health will reflect a lifetime of hardship and poor mental and spiritual sustenance.

By contrast, a positive outlook in life and goodwill toward others will help you to maintain strong physical health and a smooth aging process. A happy outlook encourages you to maintain healthy habits, which reinforces your physical and mental strength, creating a positive feedback loop. For example, if your thoughts are healthy and positive, you will want to eat nutritious food, and you’ll naturally avoid unhealthy foods. (Shortform note: Research supports the link between a positive outlook in life and good health. The Mayo Clinic promotes positive thinking, citing benefits such as longer life span, better cardiovascular health, lower rates of depression, and stronger resistance to the common cold.)

It’s up to you to harness the power of thinking as a force for good in your life.

The Power of Thinking: Your Thoughts Change Your Life

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Here's what you'll find in our full As A Man Thinketh summary :

  • A 1902 self-help classic about the power of thought
  • How your thoughts create your circumstances and your health
  • How to achieve serenity—the ultimate treasure in life

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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