Think and Grow Rich is Napoleon Hill’s best-selling guide to becoming wealthy and successful. Published in 1937, it introduced the concept of positive thinking to the masses and was a forerunner to much of today’s self-help literature.
The main premise of Think and Grow Rich is that our thoughts create our reality. If we know what we want, desire and pursue it single-mindedly, have faith and create a plan, we can think it into being.
Hill offers a specific action plan and principles for achieving riches, which he gathered from interviews with 500 wealthy people, including Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Charles M. Schwab. He began with a conversation with Carnegie, who he says challenged him to spend 20 years interviewing successful men to capture in writing a philosophy of success that anyone, regardless of their station in life, can successfully emulate.
Although the book focuses on financial success, its principles also are applicable to other goals.
The ‘master key’ to success is first understanding that we have the power to control our thoughts — then taking responsibility for doing so. If we choose not to control our thoughts, they end up controlling us.
Our thoughts determine whether we succeed or fail in work and life. If we fill our minds with thoughts of success (become success-conscious or money-conscious), we can achieve riches. If we allow ourselves to become failure-conscious instead, failure is what we will get.
The prescription for turning positive thoughts into riches, which is repeated in many ways throughout the book, is this:
Other principles or qualities that come into play are:
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Think and Grow Rich, first published in 1937, is an action plan for getting rich, but its principles of positive thinking are applicable to any other important goals you have.
Hill’s premise that our thoughts turn into physical reality — you can think yourself rich — was popularized by the New Thought movement of the 19th century.
The book was a bestseller for decades and remains popular today. Nonetheless, Think and Grow Rich is a product of its time — reflecting the prejudices of its era, apocryphal stories, and assertions based on a limited understanding of science. For completeness, we’ve included this information in hopes they’ll be useful in understanding the book’s principles.
There are multiple versions of the book available, some with added material or edited sections. The Napoleon Hill Foundation endorses only the original version. However, because some Shortform readers may benefit from added material, this summary blends Hill’s original examples of successful industry leaders from the late thirties with modern examples from recent editions.
The original book meanders, with each idea being repeated multiple times and the concepts blending into each other. The examples given don’t always relate to the principle at hand. We’ve reorganized some material by theme to make it easier to follow, and we renamed his “13 Steps” as “14 Principles.” Some recommendations and lists that are...
Thoughts are powerful: What you think becomes your reality. We all have the power to control our thoughts, although many people don’t use it. If you harness this power, you can become wealthy, or achieve what you seek.
The way to achieve riches is to become success-conscious, rather than failure-conscious:
Here’s how this process worked in the lives of two men.
Example 1: Partnering with Edison
Example 2: Striking Gold
People who achieve success do so because they have a success-consciousness — they spend their time thinking about success rather than doubting themselves or thinking about things that can go wrong.
What do you spend the most time thinking about? Where are these thoughts leading you?
The first step to riches is having an all-consuming desire to achieve your specific goal or definite purpose.
Hopes or wishes for something aren’t enough — in fact, if your desire is no more than a wish, you’re likely to quit striving for it when you hit roadblocks. You have to want something badly in order to achieve it.
Your hunger to reach your goal must be so strong that you stake everything on achieving it, and you burn your bridges, leaving yourself with no way to retreat.
Your goal has to be overriding — you can only devote your full energy to a single goal at the same time.
Examples of strong desires laying the foundation for success:
Example 1: Edwin C. Barnes’ burning desire
Barnes’ story is told in Chapter 1, but here is a closer look at how his intense desire to partner with Edison played out. To start with, his goal was specific: He wanted to partner with Edison, not work for him. It became the consuming obsession of his life, and when he was ready to act on it, he left behind his past life and devoted everything to reaching his goal.
While Barnes worked for Edison as a mere salesman for five years, he didn’t give up on his desire for a partnership or decide to do something else instead — his desire only grew stronger, and he focused on becoming Edison’s partner until it became a reality.
Example 2: Department store founder Marshall Field
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, many merchants who lost their businesses chose to leave the city in defeat rather than to rebuild. However, one merchant, Marshall Field, refused to give up. He had an overwhelming desire to build the world’s greatest store on the ruins of his original store, no matter how many times it burned down. He built the Marshall Field’s department store in downtown Chicago, which eventually grew into a national chain.
Example 3: Director Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg had an all-consuming desire to make movies. He had made films as an amateur, but hadn’t broken into the industry. He came up with a unique idea for literally getting in the...
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The first step to riches is having an all-consuming desire to achieve your specific goal. You should also specifically picture the goal that your desire will lead you to.
What one thing do you want more than anything else? What are you willing to do to get it? Be specific for both questions.
In addition to having an intense desire for riches or other success, you also must have an unwavering faith or belief in your goal and your ability to achieve it.
Faith or belief is one of the most important keys to converting our thoughts into reality. Faith works on a subconscious level and helps move you toward your goal.
If you have faith in yourself and your plans to achieve wealth, it will prompt ideas and associations that lead you to success.
But if you lack faith and believe the opposite, you’ll defeat yourself. For instance, if you believe that you’re doomed to poverty due to forces beyond your control, this negative belief will take over your mind. It will block out positive thoughts and desires that could help you overcome your circumstances, and you will fail to improve your current state.
So to achieve your goal, it’s important to develop faith to propel you toward it, and inspire others to work with you. You can develop faith through affirmation and visualization (which the author calls autosuggestion) — that is, by constantly telling yourself you can succeed and by envisioning yourself succeeding (more on autosuggestion later).
You eventually come to believe the things you repeat to yourself. If you write down your goal and repeat it frequently by reading it out loud, you’ll reinforce it in your mind and convince your subconscious to act on it.
You can go a step beyond envisioning yourself succeeding by acting as though you already have the thing you want. Your mind takes on the nature of the thoughts that dominate it.
If you lack self-confidence, or faith in yourself, you can change that, and increase your chances of success, by doing and repeating the following:
Visualizing the thing or condition you want to achieve makes it seem real and will subconsciously encourage you to act in ways that help you achieve it.
Close your eyes and visualize something you want intensely. Describe it in as much detail as you can. Write down these details.
Knowledge is critical to making better decisions and achieving your goals.
There are two types of knowledge: general and specialized. Colleges provide general knowledge, but often this knowledge lacks practical application. If you want to get rich, the type of knowledge you need is specialized and specific to the particular industry or endeavor you’ve chosen as your path. This is why college degrees aren’t guarantees of career success — formal education should be viewed only as the beginning for acquiring knowledge.
To make progress toward your goal, figure out what sort of specialized knowledge you need, and why you need it. Then figure out how to get it. There are various ways to gain this specialized knowledge, including training programs, books, research and experimentation, and personal experience.
Never stop gaining specialized knowledge related to your goal. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your learning ends when you graduate from school. In fact, much of the practical knowledge that gets you toward your life’s goals comes after school. Combining a hunger for knowledge with imagination will help you adapt to changing times.
Despite the importance of specialized knowledge, don’t feel like you need to know every necessary piece of knowledge yourself in order to achieve your goal. Instead, you need a Master Mind group — a group of associates who have the knowledge, advice and expertise to help you achieve your goal.
No one has enough experience, education, and ability to accumulate a fortune single-handedly. You need a Master Mind group to help you shape a plan for reaching your goal.
Henry Ford demonstrated this to great effect:
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If you want to get rich, you need specialized knowledge in the area you’re choosing to focus on.
What specialized knowledge does your goal demand that you don’t currently have? Be specific.
You don’t need to have all the answers yourself — you can build a Master Mind group of associates to help you achieve your goal.
What are the types of people you need in your Master Mind group? What specialized knowledge does each person have that complements you?
Your imagination is a crucial tool for converting your thoughts into riches. You can create anything you can imagine.
Your imagination can spark both ideas and plans for achieving them. Your powers of imagination decline if you don’t regularly use them, but they also improve with use. Keep thinking about big, ambitious ideas.
There are two types of imagination — synthetic and creative — and both can play a role in the transformation process. The synthetic imagination rearranges existing ideas and concepts in new ways. The creative imagination, which works in the subsconscious, generates new ideas, and through hunches and inspiration, it produces the plan you need to follow to achieve your goal.
The world’s greatest business leaders, thinkers and artists used their creative imagination to come up with works of art, inventions, and products. Great fortunes start with ideas generated by imagination. Here are two examples of the role imagination played in creating ideas that produced riches:
Your creative imagination, which works in the subsconscious, generates new ideas, sometimes through hunches and inspiration.
What’s a hunch or inspiration you have now that could be interesting?
It’s often said that knowledge is power, but actually, knowledge is only potential power. Knowledge only becomes actual power if it can be put to use as part of an organized plan.
If your first plan doesn’t work, replace it with a new one. In fact, keep replacing failed plans until you come up with one that works.
Many people who fail do so because they lack the persistence to keep working to come up with a better plan when an earlier one fails. They don’t understand that defeat is temporary, and only means there was something wrong with your plan, which can be fixed if you keep trying until you get it right. Thomas Edison met with temporary defeat 10,000 times before inventing a successful lightbulb.
Don’t be a quitter who gives up before you achieve your goal. Also, be sure to select as members for your Master Mind group people who will not be stymied by defeat.
Important note: Ideas must be nursed from birth, if they are to survive and succeed. When you have an idea, you must activate it with a definite plan and immediate action.
The book takes a tangent to talk about the importance of capitalism as a practical system for achieving goals.
We have the ability to make plans for accumulating riches and put them into action because we live in a capitalist society. By contrast, individual freedoms in many other societies are sharply limited.
Our freedoms are a privilege, without which the accumulation of riches wouldn’t be possible. They include:
Capitalism consists of more than money. It also encompasses groups of organized, intelligent people who come up with new ways to use money that...
A common reason for failing to become wealthy is the inability to make and stick with a decision.
Successful people reach decisions quickly, and change them slowly if at all — so they don’t get sidetracked from their plan.
Unsuccessful people do the opposite: They put off making decisions and, once they’ve finally decided something, they change their minds quickly. This makes it impossible to move consistently toward a goal.
Henry Ford had a reputation for acting decisively and standing firm on decisions. For example, he held firm on his decision to continue making the Model T, long after advisors and customers had urged him to change it. As a result, he continued to make money for a while, and was able to put off expending resources to develop another model. While some considered him obstinate, that quality is preferable to being indecisive.
Procrastination, the opposite of decisiveness, is a common obstacle that you must overcome.
People who can’t reach decisions promptly and stick with them will fail to achieve riches. They lack desire of their own and are thus easily influenced by the opinions of others, in effect allowing others to do their thinking for them. You have a mind of your own, which you must use to make decisions if you want to succeed.
Decisive people are undeterred by others’ criticism — what they want to do is what they’re going to do, regardless of what others think. Indecisive people take others’ negative opinions to heart, and sometimes develop inferiority complexes as a result.
The most important and influential decisions are those that require the most courage to make — those with the highest stakes.
One of the most notable examples is the American colonists’ decision to oppose British rule. Although they could have been hanged for treason, leaders of the 13 colonies convened the First Continental Congress (a Master Mind group) in 1774 to coordinate their opposition to British demands. Without their decision to band together for one purpose, no Declaration of Independence would have been...
Successful people make decisions quickly without procrastination, and they don’t get sidetracked from their plans.
What is an important decision that you’re struggling to make now? Describe the different options you have to decide on.
You can’t transform thoughts and desire into money without persistence. You’ll inevitably run into obstacles in the pursuit of your goal, and you need the willpower to keep pushing through those obstacles..
While most people give up at the first sign of difficulty, successful people persist with unstoppable willpower and desire. Those who carry on with single-minded determination despite opposition may be seen as cold-blooded or ruthless, but what they are doing is simply exerting the will to achieve their desire. If you don’t have persistence, you won’t succeed at anything significant.
Example: When Howard Schultz first opened Starbucks, it lost money for three straight years, including more than $1 million in 1989 alone. But Schultz never gave up. He believed strongly that his plans for building a chain of coffee shops were solid, and the company would soon be profitable. Eventually his Seattle stores did become profitable and he expanded the business to other cities and then other countries, making Schultz one of the world’s richest people.
The challenge of following the principles outlined in this book for achieving riches is itself a test of your persistence. The process for applying persistence can be slow at first, like that of surfacing from a deep dream in which you can’t move — you start to awaken slowly, willing yourself to regain control of one set of muscles at a time, until you finally “snap’ awake. If you don’t have ideal persistence today, you can build persistence gradually, until one day you suddenly awaken and get it.
Four requirements for developing persistence are:
Your payoff for following these four steps is the ability to write your own ticket in life.
You should also examine yourself methodically for signs that you lack persistence:
If you don’t persist when you run into obstacles, you can’t achieve your goals. So it’s important to identify any signs you lack persistence, and to tackle them.
Review the list of signs that you lack persistence. Which one most applies to you right now? Describe in detail the problem and how it appears in your life.
Lack of persistence is only one of the common causes of failure. Here are others that stand between you and success. They can stem from your environment, your habits or problems with motivation. All of them can be addressed (except unfavorable hereditary background and ill health).
Once again, go through the list, noting which ones most strongly apply to you. Then create your own plan for removing the problem.
Alibis are the excuses we use to justify our failures and mistakes. They usually start with the words, “If only…”
What is a “go to” excuse you give for not being where you want to be, for not doing what you know you should do, or for failing at something? (If often starts with “if only.”)
According to Think and Grow Rich, the desire for sex is the most powerful of human desires. Some people risk their life and reputation to get it. This energy can be harnessed to help you achieve your goals.
Hill refers to sex as being both energy and as an emotion (a state of mind). The emotion of sex has three benefits: perpetuation of the human race, maintenance of health (it has therapeutic value), and transforming average ability into genius via “transmutation.”
Transmutation means harnessing the power of sex energy to make you wealthy by redirecting your thoughts from the physical expression of sex to creative efforts. When redirected, the powerful motivating force of sex energy can be a creative force for art, literature, music, invention, or achieving riches. Redirected sex energy is the creative energy of all geniuses.
As suggestive evidence, take the sex organs out of an animal, and you remove all the fight and energy from the animal. A castrated bull becomes as calm as a cow.
The emotion of sex needs an outlet; it shouldn’t be repressed but instead given an outlet that enriches the body, mind, and spirit. Transforming sex energy into creativity requires willpower.
Creative imagination is unleashed when a stimulant — sex energy being the most powerful one — acts on the mind to increase brain activity or vibrations. The other stimuli are love, burning desire for money or power, music, friendship, a Master Mind alliance, mutual suffering through persecution, autosuggestion, fear, and drugs or alcohol. But these are far less powerful than the stimulation from the desire for sexual expression.
Of the stimuli, only sex and love, which are particularly powerful together, can inspire genius. Napoleon Hill found that every great male leader he analyzed was inspired by a woman.
For example, when Napoleon Boneparte was inspired by his first wife Josephine, he was invincible. When he ended his relationship with her, he was defeated. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln discovered his creative imagination when his mind was stimulated by the love of Anne...
The subconscious mind collects and files impressions and thoughts received through the five senses. The information collected may be positive or negative. It is also the source of creative imagination, which shapes your plans to achieve riches.
You have the ability to plant thoughts, plans, or goals in your subconscious that you aim to transform into riches. If these thoughts are dominant and supported by faith that you’ll reach your goal, your subconscious mind will lead you to riches.
As previously discussed, the way to plant thoughts of riches in your subconscious mind is to use affirmation or autosuggestion. Positive thoughts must become a habit before they can translate into reality.
The subconscious mind is our link with Infinite Intelligence, or First Cause, which is the energy that powers atoms and drives the laws of nature. It is the medium through which prayers are transmitted. When we transmit our thoughts and desires with faith, we get back answers to our prayers in the form of plans or ideas to get what we’re asking for.
However, your subconscious can be equally influenced by negative thoughts that you passively allow to enter. The most common negative thoughts or emotions to watch out for are fear, jealousy, hatred, revenge, greed, superstition, and anger. They are particularly dangerous because the subconscious mind is more susceptible to thoughts that have an emotional component.
**If you allow...
(Shortform note: This is Napoleon Hill’s attempt to justify his principles with some scientific rigor. These ideas aren’t accurate by today’s science and they’re not important to applying the rest of the book, but something in here may resonate with you.)
We don’t know exactly how thoughts become reality. But we know that there are intangible forces at work in the universe, even if we can’t perceive them with our five senses.
Intangible forces move oceans, create thunderstorms, and fuel the soil that provides our food; electricity is an intangible force. For all of our education, we don’t understand the intangible force of thought, and how the brain and its network of nerves translate thought into reality. But we are learning more about the brain all the time. It’s likely that the brain, through its intangible processes, can communicate with other intangible forces outside us.
Our brain performs as both a broadcasting and receiving station for thought vibrations. From the ether or energy of the universe, our brain uses the “receiving set” of creative imagination to pick up thought vibrations from other brains — especially when amped up to a high rate of vibration by emotions such as sex. When at their highest level, our thoughts can be broadcast by the subconscious mind to be picked up by other brains.
Experiments in telepathy show that minds can communicate with other minds, without words being spoken. (In experiments, some people have been able to name cards in an unseen pack, or read a thought in another person’s mind.) Master Mind groups can work this way, exchanging, blending, and building on each others’ thoughts until solutions are reached.
Science can’t explain it, but humans can receive knowledge through other means beyond the five senses. The Infinite Intelligence can communicate with the subconscious mind through creative imagination, also known as the sixth sense, which is the thirteenth principle for acquiring riches.
The sixth sense is a signal often referred to as a hunch, inspiration, or intuition...
You can’t achieve your goal of translating your thoughts, desire, purpose, and plan into riches, without clearing your mind of three enemies or negative influences: indecision, doubt, and fear. (We discussed Indecision in Principle 9, Decisiveness.)
The three are interrelated. Indecision is an outgrowth of fear; it evolves into doubt and the two combine to create more fear. Further, when we are afraid of things, we also worry about the them.
We fear these six things the most. All other fears fall under one of these headings.
1. Poverty: Rich people are idolized, and so poverty brings embarrassment and suffering. Fear of poverty can distract you from demanding riches from life. Symptoms of a fear of poverty include lack of ambition, indecisiveness, doubt expressed by excuses, worry, overcaution due to looking at the negative in every circumstance, and procrastination.
2. Criticism: No one likes receiving criticism, yet we all freely criticize others. Parents and close relatives can be the worst offenders. However, employers who understand human nature realize that constructive suggestions rather than criticism is the best way to motivate employees.
People often make bad decisions and then are reluctant to change them for fear of criticism. They include marrying the wrong person, taking the bad advice of relatives, or choosing and remaining in a job or career that is not a good fit and makes them miserable.
3. Poor health: We fear illness because of the suffering it causes and the economic toll it takes. Disease, however, can begin in our minds with negative thoughts or suggestions unless we overcome them with positive ones. Doctors send patients to new climates as a way of changing their attitudes and thus their health.
4. Loss of someone’s love: This is the most emotionally painful of the fears. It can manifest itself in jealousy, prompting suspicions and accusations.
5. Old age: This fear is driven by ill health, diminishing...
We all fear one or more of the following: poverty (not having enough money), criticism, poor health, loss of love, old age or death. They can generate worry and paralyze us.
What is one of your great fears? What specifically are you worried about?
In addition to the six basic fears, there’s another destructive force in our lives: susceptibility to negative influences. These are negative opinions, thoughts, or attitudes that work their way into our minds, often without our realizing it. They can come from outside or from within. They come in many different forms, including the well-meant words of close relatives. They cause us to fail at reaching our goal if we allow them to take root.
Leaving your mind open to the negative influence of other people is a common human weakness. Many people don’t recognize it when this influence is operating. Others who acknowledge it fail to correct it, and it becomes part of their daily thought patterns.
Successful people have learned to guard against negative influences. They keep their mind pure and focused on their goal. If you desire riches, you need to search out and eliminate the negative influences in your life and block new ones that can derail you from reaching your goal.
To identify negative influences in your life, closely examine the outside influences affecting you, as well as your own negative behaviors and traits. Questions like these can get you started. If you have strong reactions to any of these, you have likely found a negative influence that is stifling you and is therefore worth removing.
You now have the “master key” for achieving riches or success as you define it: the ability to control your thoughts.
You either control your thoughts or they control you — there’s no middle ground. You control your mind by occupying it with a specific goal (definite purpose), which is your all-consuming desire, and with a plan for...
You must decide whether you will be a leader or a follower in your chosen field. Most successful leaders began as followers, then became leaders because they were intelligent followers, obtaining specialized knowledge from their leaders.
There are two forms of leadership — leadership by consent and leadership by force. The first is by far the more effective; leadership by force doesn’t last — dictators eventually fall, as Hitler and Stalin did. The relationship between leaders and followers today is a partnership based on cooperation.
To exercise leadership by consent you need the following personal qualities and behaviors:
Personal qualities of a leader
Behaviors of a leader
The flipside — negative personal qualities and ineffective behaviors — constitutes the most common reasons that would-be leaders fail.
Negative personal qualities of failed leaders
People who become rich do so because they have a success-consciousness — they spend their time thinking about success rather than about things that can go wrong.
Are you success-conscious or failure-conscious? How do you know?