Napoleon Hill & The Law Of Success

Napoleon Hill’s book “Think and Grow Rich” has sold more than 100 million copies.

That’s an astounding testimony to the power of the  ideas Napoleon Hill set out all those years ago (in 1925, to be exact).

Indeed, in many ways Napoleon Hill was the original self-help, self-improvement author.  He was certainly the man who turned age-old ideas into a practical system which people could follow if they wanted to manifest their desires.

In fact, I think Napoleon Hill was the founder of the science of self-development, the founder of all successful systems of success and motivation, the first man to explicitly write about Law of Attraction.

So what was his story? He started a job at the age of 13 as a reporter for small-town newspapers in Virginia. Later, he went to law school – but he was too poor to pay the fees, and left to forge a career as a writer instead.

Then, in 1908, at the age 25, he met Andrew Carnegie.  And in response to Carnegie’s challenge, spent the rest of his life studying manifestation and the Law Of Attraction.

Carnegie was one of the world’s most successful industrialists at the time, having made some shrewd investments in oil and steel.

He believed that achieving success, getting what you want, manifesting your desires, or what we would today call manifesting with Laws Of Attraction, was a simple process of applying age-old principles and ideas, something so straightforward that it could be set out in a formula for everyone to get their heart’s desire.

Carnegie challenged Napoleon Hill to interview the 500 most successful men of his time, most of whom were millionaires, to see if he could distil down their formula for success, for manifesting one’s destiny.

And of course, they were measuring success by financial wealth social or industrial power.

It’s not entirely clear how many men Hill actually interviewed, but we know that he spoke to Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and many others  among the leading industrialists – who were, of course, the richest men in America in the early 20th century.

Contributors to his work included President Theodore Roosevelt, FW Woolworth, and John D. Rockefeller.  So he certainly did mix with the rich and famous!

How To Succeed

One Of The First Modern Accounts Of Manifestation: The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill

law of success 16 lessons
Napoleon Hill’s Law Of Success In 16 Lessons

The first fruit of these labours was his “home study” course on How To Succeed, published in 1928. He called it The Laws Of Success.

Hill re wrote this a number of times in various forms, and it became known eventually as “the philosophy of achievement”.

It isn’t a “pure” document about the laws of success, because there is so much personal commentary – political, social, and so on: for example, Hill claimed that (among other things) democracy, freedom, and capitalism were essential to build success and manifest personal achievement. That’s not true, now or then, though they do help.

But it is a great place to pick up the essential elements of manifestation and the Law Of Attraction.

(I’ve done that for you, so don’t go out and buy the book!)

Think And Grow Rich By Napoleon Hill
Think And Grow Rich By Napoleon Hill

Of course, the book that most people know about was called Think And Grow Rich – a book  in which he tantalisingly outlined the fact that the all-time secret of success could be found in that very book… if only you were clever enough to discover it for yourself!

But in fact, even if you read the book very carefully, it’s not at all clear what he regarded as the secret of success.

So what was the secret of success that Hill was hinting at in Think And Grow Rich?

When I first tried to work it out, I thought it was the internal work, that is to say the mental creativity he describes, which is an imaginary “boardroom”.

You fill your boardroom with a board of directors, which consists of a group of “counselors” or “advisors” – all developed in your imagination – with whom you can consult.

But that isn’t, in fact, the only key to achieving success.

In The Law of Success Hill seems to suggest that one secret of success is to work harmoniously in cooperation with other individuals, or groups of individuals, to create value and benefit for them. Only then can you create success and achievement for yourself.

Well, that’s an interesting point of view: I’m not sure I completely agree with it, although it’s certainly true that a lot of people who have made a great deal of money and manifested their desires in this world have indeed formed businesses that have offered real value to society and individuals.

But the power of manifestation, the ability of anyone to get what they want, and the working of laws of attraction, depend on more basic principles than co-operation with others and collaborative working.

As you’ll see elsewhere on this site, those principles are desire, belief, and expectancy. Those personal qualities are the real secrets of success….

Hill continuously refers to a burning desire for money, which is both clear and unhelpful at the same time.

Sure, obviously you have to keep your mind on your objective, whatever that may be.

Making money is only one thing you might want to manifest: other things people aim for are love, relationships and good health. But whatever it is you want, if you allow yourself to be distracted it’s much less likely to manifest.

And we all know that life is full of distractions. To maintain a burning desire, or a passionate interest in something, can be challenging.

Yet manifestation will never happen without focus. What you need, therefore, is some kind of system, some kind of personal routine, which ensures your mind is continually reminded of your objectives.

That’s what Napoleon Hill didn’t really provide; even though his book Think And Grow Rich sold tens of millions of copies (some say 100 million copies), it wasn’t a complete system for realizing your destiny, manifesting your desires, or understanding Law Of Attraction.

Some people think Hill’s “secret” was what he referred to as the “Master Mind” group: that’s Hill’s word for a “collective mind” developed by two or more people working together for the purpose of accomplishing any task. But it wasn’t that either.

Because Napoleon Hill was such an important figure in the philosophy of success teachings of his time, and because he clearly understood the Law Of Attraction (even if he didn’t really reveal its secrets in a way that’s useful to us nowadays), I’ve analyzed his fundamental work, The Laws of Success, in which he describes the  principles of success in sixteen chapters or, as he calls them, “lessons”.

And I’m going to explain them all. Right here, right now.

In Lesson One, The Master Mind, Hill lists the qualities you can expect to receive from understanding The Law Of Success. They are:

  •  a definite chief aim (which I describe as a clear objective, and perhaps even a life purpose)
  •  self-confidence
  •  the habit of saving money
  •  initiative and leadership
  •  imagination
  • enthusiasm
  •  self-control
  •  the habit of doing more than paid for
  •  a pleasing personality
  •  accurate thinking
  •  concentration
  •  cooperation
  •  learning and failure
  •  tolerance of others
  •  and practising the golden rule.

Hill makes a special point of emphasizing that every single individual who ever succeeded in achieving anything had a very clear “Definite Chief Aim” to which she or he was completely committed.

Translation: you have to know where you’re going or you’ll never get there. And you have to know what your destination, goal or objective is – with absolute clarity.

Hill was an organizer. And a bureaucrat, too, I think…. he wrote so much about about how success could be achieved, about how Law Of Attraction manifests success, that he produced a 353 page manual — with a small typeface!

Perhaps that was his way of making sense of everything he discovered. But it’s overcomplicated, and it’s full of the archaic language of his time. Here’s just one example of that: “The human mind is constantly unfolding, like the petals of a flower, until it reaches the maximum development. What this maximum is, where it ends, or whether it ends at all or not, are unanswerable questions that the degree of unfoldment seems to vary according to the nature of the individual and the degree to which he keeps his mind at work. A mind that is forced or coaxed into analytical thought every day seems to keep on unfolding and developing greater powers of interpretation.”

I’m sure you see this is simply a suggestion that you keep your mind active and challenge yourself: but the flowery language makes it difficult to read, and out of tune with our modern way of speaking and thinking.

So what I’m going to do is try and is distil down for you, in a brief summary,  the essence of each lesson, so that you can get the key points, the vital components of Napoleon Hill’s path to riches.

I think the work he did was extremely valuable: but it was of its time, and there are ways of expressing these ideas which are more appropriate for modern readers.

The Law Of Success in 16 Lessons, by Napoleon Hill

This book was originally published in the 1920s, so we have to be careful in reading it today.

Our values, our expectations, our hopes, and our very lives are so different to those in the 1920s. What remains the same, however, are the human and universal ideas and principles on which Napoleon Hill based his book.

Right at the very start of The Laws Of Success, Hill emphasizes how every great achievement begins with an idea. It’s an obvious point: and it’s incredibly important.

And yet Hill said that success was only a matter of individual effort to the extent that each person could decide what was wanted. This , to him, was a matter of someone using his imagination.

From this point on, Hill said, achieving success was a matter of skilfully and tactfully inducing others to cooperate. Well, let’s examine how true this is – or isn’t – in our own world, today.

The Law of Success Revisited

I’ve added my own opinions and comments about what Hill wrote back in the day….. Here we go!

Lesson One: The Mastermind

Lesson One – this ought to be important! And it is. You need to know what you are trying to achieve, and why.

Napoleon Hill describes success as the product of having a definite objective. In achieving that objective, you need a Clear Definite Aim and a definite plan to get there.

And what will help you is having a Master Mind group: basically the power of two or more minds working together is much greater than two minds working separately.

He does hit some fundamental truth here: two or more minds working together do indeed have a greater power and energy than when they work independently.

People who run personal development or emotional intelligence workshops will know that an energy develops in the room which seems to be almost a kind of energetic field created by the interweaving of the thoughts and energy of all the people present in the room.

So Hill’s definition of a Master Mind — a mind which grows out of the coordinated activity of two or more minds working in a spirit of complete harmony – is one of the requirements that he seems to be putting forward for the achievement of success.

In practice – for us, nowadays, I mean – what this probably means is meeting regularly with somebody who is completely “on your side”: a mentor, an adviser, a fellow worker, fellow seeker … which is why so many systems focused on working with Law Of Attraction and the achievement of success suggest having some kind of support group.

Napoleon Hill says that a mastermind group appears to work best when it is composed of six or seven people.  And he reiterates that harmony, in his opinion, is absolutely essential to the evolution of a Master Mind group, and its continued productivity.

Video – How To Create A Mastermind Group

Lesson Two: A Definite Chief Aim

What did Hill mean by this? In simple terms, he meant having a clear objective that you are aiming to achieve. Success will not come to you, you will not be able to manifest what you want, unless you know what you want.

And as part of this, Hill emphasizes how important it is to maintain an open mind, and be fully aware of everything you see and hear, so that the variation in your environment from day-to-day stimulates you to greater mental action, clarity and ability.

You are, in fact, no longer a passive recipient of what the world throws at you. You know what is happening, and you seek to change it.

Success, says Hill, is the development of the power “with which you can get whatever you want in life, within reason, but without interfering with the rights of others.”

And what he means here by “within reason” appears to be the factors that would prevent you from achieving something — physical health, education, wisdom, and physical endurance.

But I would put it slightly differently: I’d say that what limits you in manifesting success is the belief system you hold.

In other words, you have to believe you can achieve something before it is possible to do achieve it.

Hill makes another point: it’s important to find an objective in your pursuit of success which is in keeping with your basic values: in other words, to make money successfully, or to be successful in any other way, you have to do something which is in line with your moral values.

Something that excites you. Something that matches your natural talents and abilities. This is what will help you join the 5% of people who can be defined as successful — and allow you to move out of the 95% of people who are effectively failures, and will remain failures until the day they die.

Failure – my definition – is living a banal life, or one where you don’t have much joy or fun, or you never experience what it’s like to achieve the things that make your heart sing. And failure, especially, means living in poverty.

And if that’s you, and you’re now getting angry at being described as a failure (a financial failure, that is) – well, why don’t you just decide right now to use the Principles of Manifestation and the Law of Attraction to change things?

Before we move on, let me point out that Napoleon Hill said that every one of these 95% of people who could be regarded as “failures” were either doing work they did not like or had no definite chief aim in life.

By contrast, the 5% who were successful, who had manifested their desires, perhaps having mastered the universal law of attraction, were engaged in work they did like, and they had a definite plan for achieving clear objectives.

So it’s no surprise that Hill refers to the keynote of Lesson 2 as having a Definite Chief Aim.

So what if his language is archaic?

What he means by a definite chief aim is an objective. And more than that, he means an objective which will bring you happiness, success (on your terms), peace and prosperity, and disadvantage nobody as you go about achieving it.

Hill also talks at this point about how manifestation can be assisted by the use of an internal Mental Mind Group: which is basically an imaginary group of characters who contain all the qualities and strengths that you desire, and who can advise you (in your imagination) on what you need to do to achieve your goals and desires.

Achieving success requires you to have some clear path to an objective which represents that success. There is an old saying that “the world makes way for a man or woman who knows where they are going.”

95% of the population can be described as failures because they haven’t found what they want to do, or they haven’t found a clear objective they wish to achieve.

Nothing could be more true: until you choose a definite purpose, your energies will be dissipated, spread over so many areas, that they have no real force or power. You will just be flailing around….

But once you commit yourself to a course of action, and you commit yourself completely, then all the force of your energy will begin to work towards the achievement of your objectives.

And here we run into an interesting challenge: in Napoleon Hill’s survey of what people consider to be their “definite purpose in life” a large majority answered something like: “My definite purpose is to be of as much service to the world as possible, and to earn a good living.” 

Do you think that’s good or bad? Well, it’s not good. It just isn’t specific enough.

And I can tell you from having done the same sort of research in 2014 that nothing has changed in the decades between then and now.

Most people have no idea of what they really want.

The truth is that “to be of as much service to the world as possible” or “to earn a good living” is the same as not having an objective at all!

For, when you work with a definite objective, in other words, when you work with a Definite Chief Aim, when you know exactly what it is that you want to achieve, your mind can produce unlimited force and energy which will propel you in that direction more rapidly than you could possibly imagine.

To take one example from Hill’s work, Ingersoll, the inventor of the cheap watch, had an objective to produce a “dollar watch” that everyone could afford. As a result of the clarity he had about what he was trying to do, he sold 40 million of these watches, and made himself a fortune into the bargain.

From Wikipedia.

The Ingersoll Watch Company grew out of a mail order business  started in New York City in 1882 by 21-year-old Robert Hawley Ingersoll and his brother Charles Henry. The first watches were introduced into the catalogue in 1892, supplied by the Waterbury Clock Company.

In 1896 Ingersoll introduced the Yankee watch priced at $1.00. It was cheaply mass-produced so that it would be affordable to everyone. They were producing 8,000 per day by 1899, and started advertising that 10,000 dealers carried their “dollar watch.” By 1910, [they were selling] 3,500,000 “dollar watches” per year….Over twenty years nearly forty million of these watches were sold, and Ingersoll coined the phrase “The watch that made the dollar famous!” Theodore Roosevelt mentioned that during his hunting trip in Africa he was described as “the man from the country where Ingersoll was produced.” 

There are millions of other examples, throughout history, right into the present day, which demonstrate that success is achieved by focusing on a clear objective, and pursuing it with all the means your disposal.

But a lot of people get confused at this point because Hill speaks about how you should be able to “do this better than anyone else in the world could do it”. This is wrong. You don’t have to be better than anybody else to achieve success in a particular field.

Actually, you just have to be clear about what you are trying to achieve, passionate about achieving it, comfortable and happy that what you’re doing matches your values: and finally, and perhaps more important than anything else, you must believe that you can achieve it, and you must expect to do so.

Goal Setting

Many people are confused about goal setting . Some people say “aim high – higher than you can ever imagine going.” Other people say “take small steps, one at a time.” The truth is there’s no conflict here, because all you have to do is choose an objective which you totally believe you can achieve.

You see now how the confusion arises? For some people achieving massive objectives — huge financial success, let’s say, is completely believable. For others it’s inconceivable.

And unless you believe in what you’re trying to achieve, it will never come to pass.

You must match your objectives, your definite chief aim, so it’s in line with the extent of your belief.

You might believe you can accumulate $100,000 by the end of next year; you might believe you can accumulate $1 million by the end of next year. But whatever you set out to achieve must be something you can completely believe in. You must believe it is achievable FOR YOU.

And since you’ll be getting the members of your support group to support you as you achieve your goals, they should believe that you can get it too. Remember – there is a massive difference between wishing or hoping for something and actually believing you can achieve it.

After all, if you believe you can achieve it, you won’t recognize or accept the possibility of failure. And when obstacles do arise — and it’s by no means certain that they will — because you absolutely know you are going to succeed, when one plan fails you can quickly replace it with another.