Napoleon Hill

©2015 Peter Fritz Walter. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The Master Wealth-Builder’s Complete and Original Lesson Plan for Achieving Your Dreams, New York: Penguin, 2008, First published in 1928.

5 Stars

Years ago I have read Napoleon Hills’ famous bestseller ‘Think and Grow Rich’ — subsequently I lost the book which is the simple reason why it’s not reviewed here. But just recently I found this perhaps less famous, but very important book by the same author.

Napoleon Hill’s approach to the teaching of the law of success is systematic. This can be demonstrated quite evidently by having a look at the table of contents of the book. There are 15 Lessons, each explained in a dedicated chapter.

Be not mistaken, this is a huge volume with more than 600 pages and in 7.5×9.25 in format. It is too heavy to be held up when you like to read on a sofa or in bed; you will have to put it on your knees or on a pillow as it’s so heavy. But it comes at a very affordable price for the quantity of material offered: USA $16.95, Canada $18.10 (list price). Here are the contents, by chapter. I will then proceed by lesson and give a few quotes and comments for each of them:

  • Lesson 1. A Definite Chief Aim
  • Lesson 2. Self-Confidence
  • Lesson 3. The Habit of Saving
  • Lesson 4. Initiative and Leadership
  • Lesson 5. Imagination
  • Lesson 6. Enthusiasm
  • Lesson 7. Self-Control
  • Lesson 8. Habit of Doing More Than Paid For
  • Lesson 9. Pleasing Personality
  • Lesson 10. Accurate Thought
  • Lesson 11. Concentration
  • Lesson 12. Co-Operation
  • Lesson 13. Failure
  • Lesson 14. Tolerance
  • Lesson 15. The Golden Rule

Let me make a few comments upfront that are not to be meant as critique nor do they infringe with the value of this book. As the author wrote this book back in 1928, you need to tolerate some outmoded ways of putting things, spelling also, and many words spelled as capital letters.

To some people such a diction comes over as ‘boastful’ or imposing; in addition, there are repetitions so frequent that it makes the lecture of the book sometimes a bit tough. But the reader is rewarded by the many highly original insights that the author presents; and his honesty and straightforwardness is perhaps his highest virtue.

In my personal view, the most rewarding, I think for any and every reader, are the many stories from the lives of highly successful people — which was after all the initial research subject of the author, and one of the reasons why he became rich and famous later in life. But it was a quite though pathway, with many repercussions, as any biographical study of the author will show. In the face of such hard-to-overcome obstacles, one can only admire the incredible self-discipline Napoleon Hill has employed in order to steer his path to final success.

It seems to me that success cannot be taught by just words and phrases; it must be lived so that it can impress others. We are all not modeling ourselves by the way people we admire talk about life or about themselves, but by the way they live their lives. And it all starts with what Hill calls a Definite Chief Aim, today by most success coaches called ‘Purpose’ or ‘Life’s Purpose’ or, as you may remember, ‘Your Life’s Work’ in the words of career coach Laurence G. Boldt.

Lesson 1. A Definite Chief Aim

In fact, I admit that I was slightly shocked to find out when reading the first chapter that I myself never have found in my entire professional life something like a purpose — let alone that I had sat down and wrote it out. This may surprise you as I am in my fifties already, but I think I am here just a typical case, as polls have shown that for example in the United States only 12% of college students apply this principle and write down their purpose in life, their wishes and goals, and update this list all through their lives.

Not surprisingly, it was then equally found that all highly successful people are within this tiny sub-group of just 12% of the working population. Some career coaches, such as Laurence G. Boldt from San Francisco, even quote statistics that are much more pessimistic still. From this findings we learn that fewer than 3 percent of people have written goals, and less than 1 percent regularly review them. We spend a dozen years being schooled, but the most important contributor to success in life — how to make our wishes and ambitions concrete — is rarely learned.

In other words, this proves statistically that becoming highly successful and wealthy is almost impossible if we are not consciously aware of our life’s unique purpose, and take it as the baseline of our strategy to build wealth. For doing this it doesn’t suffice to just ‘think about’ it; we need to fix the idea firmly in our mind and write it down, and then read this statement at least once a day until it has become a firm goal we want to realize and for which we have built a strategy.

Napoleon Hill explains that most people waste their efforts in trying to find their life-work, largely believing they needed ‘luck’ or ‘good connections’ for succeeding. He shows with very sobering and clear language that such thinking is fundamentally flawed and that reality works in a different way. He writes:

Your definite chief aim in life should be selected with deliberate care, and after it has been selected it should be written out and placed where you will see it at least once a day, the psychological effect of which is to impress this purpose upon your subconscious mind so strongly that it accepts that purpose as a pattern or blueprint that will eventually dominate your activities in life and lead you, step by step, toward the attainment of the object back of that purpose. /76–77

That working with our subconscious mind is absolutely essential for bringing about success in life is further shown by the books of Joseph Murphy, three of which I shall review further down in this volume.

Lesson 2. Self-Confidence

As I always found that I am lacking self-confidence, I read this chapter with special attention. Right at the onset of the chapter, Hill emphasizes that skepticism is counter-productive to building self-confidence:

Skepticism is the deadly enemy of progress and self development. You might as well lay this book aside and stop right here as to approach this lesson with the feeling that it was written by some long-haired theorist who had never tested the principles upon which this lesson is based. /95

He then goes on to emphasize how important it is to clear our thought process of fear, any kind of fear. He lists as the ‘Six Basic Fears of Mankind’:

The fear of poverty;

The fear of old age;

The fear of criticism;

The fear of loss of love;

The fear of ill health, and

The fear of death. /96

He reminds the reader of the power of thought as ‘the most highly organized form of energy known to man’ (id.) and then walks you through all those fears, and how to get rid of them. At the end he points out that adversity is a good experience in life for, if properly understood, it helps building self-confidence. But the most useful is a statement written out at the chapter that he asks the reader to copy and sign. It is really a powerfully suggestive statement that consists of 5 points. For copyright reasons I will not fully phrase it out, but just mention the essentials in each point:

  1. Promise to yourself to act upon your definite purpose;
  2. Concentrate your mind for 30 min./day for creating a mental picture of the person you wish to be;
  3. Devote 10 min./day to study all the 15 Lessons of the course;
  4. Set a price for your services for the next 5 years;
  5. Seek positive cooperation with people and relate to them honestly.

Having reviewed The 8th Habit by Dr. Stephen Covey above, it is interesting to find the expression and definition of ‘habit’ also in this present course. The author recommends the reader to build good habits strategically and to get rid of bad habits as a matter of self-cleansing. He writes:

Others will believe in you only when you believe in yourself. They will ‘tune in’ on your thoughts and feel toward you just as you feel toward yourself. The law of mental telepathy takes care of this. You are continuously broadcasting what you think of yourself, and if you have no faith in yourself others will pick up the vibrations of your thoughts and mistake them for their own. /127

He then points out the important difference between self confidence and egotism. In fact, the self-confident person will never boast with their trusting in themselves, they will not proclaim anything verbally, but prove their self-confidence ‘through intelligent performance of constructive deeds’ (id.).

Lesson 3. The Habit of Saving

This is an important lesson and was for me when reading the book. I have taken it really to heart. I have never been saving all my life through, and this has not been to my advantage. While I was educated toward saving and caution in spending, I have had a mindset of being more than sluggish with keep my wealth together and have lost a dear lot of money. After another big loss that occurred to me two years ago, I have started to save money. And I was astonished how good that actually feels, and how good it feels to be mindful about our financial resources. After this learning experience, I can only say that every word in this chapter is worth to be printed on a wall and looked at every day. And the old wistful saying comes to mind that it doesn’t help you to get rich how much money you earn but how much money youkeep!

The matter is actually a hot topic that hits home especially for Americans. It has been found through recent surveys that most Americans live way beyond the living standard they can reasonably afford. Unfortunately their government seems to educate them exactly for this careless spending of money and for heavily relying on consumer credit, as the public debt crisis becomes more virulent with every coming year, and the debt having already reached alarming levels. On the other hand, polls found that the Chinese are great savers and that the strength of their economy has been found to be exactly their savvy habits together with their thrifty and balanced lifestyle.

Finally the author narrates a striking example of a man who has made one million dollars but squandered it all over a number of years. It was only when he was without a penny and virtually restarted his life, that he began to save money and began to be prosperous. One of the reasons why saving money makes sense is that often in life when opportunities arise, we need cash to grasp them and use them profitably.

I shall now briefly go over the remaining lessons for it would be beyond a book review to peruse all the wealth of this material.

Lesson Four. Initiative and Leadership

In this lesson, the author emphasizes the importance of rendering service and contends that the space we occupy and the authority we exercise may be measured with mathematical exactitude by the service we render. This has been a tenor in the literature on leadership since quite a time now, and I can only refer to the two books I reviewed above by Dr. Stephen Covey in which the exact same principle was pointed out at great length.

Lesson 5. Imagination

I found this chapter especially well-written and helpful. The author gives many examples to demonstrate how imagination can help us reach new solutions in business and find needs that are not yet recognized and fulfilled so that we can step in and offer exactly the service that is needed, focusing our business strategy upon it.

Lesson 6. Enthusiasm

Napoleon Hill considers enthusiasm as a vital force; so vital, in fact ‘that no man who has it highly developed can begin even to approximate his power of achievement.’

He writes that it is something difficult to put in verbal language that somehow is related to the power of suggestion, the fact of planting in the mind of others, for example, one’s customer’s, a firm belief and conviction that one will fulfill one’s promise of effective delivery. Hence, the ‘tone and manner’ in which we convey our business attitude are essentially important, even to the point to learn what he calls ‘the psychology of good clothes.’ At the end of the chapter, he warns the reader of the ‘seven deadly horsemen’ — negative emotions that interfere with enthusiasm. This is easy to realize; enthusiasm requires an innocent and free mind in order to unfold. It may also simply be termed ‘positive energy.’

Lesson 7. Self-Control

This is equally a principle that is quite self-understanding. In every busy life, in the course of everyday life, there are situations that require holding back with one’s emotional reactions. A customer gets upset, a delivery failed, an associate or staff member had a ‘bad day’ and so forth: showing confusion, upset or negative reactions comes over to the customer as weakness, or an unprofessional attitude, and it needs self-control to keep one’s tenure upright and poised.

Lesson 8. Habit of Doing More Than Paid For

This part of successful behavior was termed by other writers as ‘going the extra mile’. This lesson conveys the simple, straightforward idea that overperforming on one’s promise is always a good idea and comes over as being in control, and professional. It also has an importance feedback function in that it reinforces one’s self-confidence.

Lesson 9. Pleasing Personality

The author asks the question upfront — what is an attractive personality? He answers it with: A personality that attracts. What the author discusses here is the whole table set of manners, presentation, clothing, and all the other accessories that convey one’s character. Again, this characteristics would today be put in different terms, as the word ‘pleasing’ today has a slightly negative note and could be replaced by ‘professional.’

Lesson 10. Accurate Thought

Napoleon Hill opens this chapter with the remark that it’s the most difficult one in the entire course. This comes from the fact, as he explains, that we are not accustomed to consider ‘thoughts’ in any way as having material effects. Yet one may realize here that all authors of some renown who write about the laws of success and prosperity emphasize in one way or the other that thoughts are fertile, that they are a form of energy, that they have an impact in the world, and that they ‘matter’ in all our interactions with others, and the environment. In this chapter, the author repeats what he says over and over in this course: our character is always broadcasted through our thoughts and prevailing emotions. This is why it’s quite useless to pretend a certain attitude when it’s not grounded in one’s character.

Stephen Covey called this ‘the character ethics’, and it is a principle valid independently of certain trends or fashions in the way of doing business. Sergio Zyman, former CEO of The Coca Cola Company, wrote an entire book on marketing based upon one single basic idea: accurate thoughts bring accurate results, which can be measured. Confused thought may lead to nicely setup promotions but does not produce measurable profit. I think the gain of accurate thinking in business produces both immaterial and material results. The immaterial results, such as gaining trust and cooperation, may in some cases even be more important than material profit, despite the fact that they may be difficult to measure.

To sum up, accurate thought is everything from correctly assessing how you perform as a business, which is perhaps the main expertise of Sergio Zyman, to refusing to numb your mind with the common assumptions of scarcity, lack and doom that seem to get hold of our media more with every coming day. Even if you do not have a spiritual view of the world, suffices to look at life, the process of procreation, or generally the universe, to see that we are living virtually in a sea of abundance, wherever you look. If the human condition doesn’t follow the abundance of nature, that’s the fault of humans who have learnt to think in wrong ways!

Lesson 11. Concentration

Hill writes at the onset of this chapter that concentration has a key-stone position in this course and is to be defined as ‘the act of focusing the mind upon a given desire until ways and means for its realization have been worked out and successfully put into operation.’ The author advances here, as he does repeatedly in this course, that there are two important facts to consider in the process of learning to concentrate: it’s to help oneself through the frequent use and repetition of suggestions, and through building good habits. What other authors, such as Joseph Murphy, call ‘positive affirmations’ or ‘prayers’, Hill terms it more profanely as ‘suggestions’. For example, one may suggest to oneself in a tranquil relaxed state:

— I concentrate easily and joyfully upon my desire so that it grows into bearing positive fruits.

One may equally build a habit, then, to do self-suggestions regularly at certain times through the day, every day, on a consistent basis. I use this technique profitable since more than 20 years and know that it produces results.

Lesson 12. Co-Operation

The author writes that cooperation is the beginning of all organized effort. He points out that there are basically two forms or modes of cooperation:

— The one between conscious mind and subconscious mind;

— The one between self and others.

One may term them inner and outer cooperation. Regarding the first form of cooperation, I speak in my own writings of building our inner team, which is essential indeed for building positive relationships with others. Napoleon Hill repeats often times in this book that in order to be successful we need to form a ‘master mind group’, a grouping formed with certain other people with whom we can build a high level of synergy and where there is a constant exchange and proactive cooperation for achieving the common objectives. He then condenses his teaching of those principles by aligning them around the term ‘organized effort’. Here he lists the three most important factors as:

— Concentration

— Cooperation and

— Coordination

When these are combined, the result if power. And power leads one to the breakthrough experiences that ultimately build the basis of our success.

Lesson 13. Failure

In this lesson, the author clothes the term ‘failure’ into another meaning as the word leads to confusion in the sense that it is not definite, that it is almost always temporary. When we consider a failure as definitive, we are not going to rebuild our lives and businesses so as to persist in being ultimately successful, but we will stagnate. This is an important truth, which is why we need to be correct on using positive terms, not negative, disempowering ones. This chapter is largely autobiographic in that the author reports here seven ‘turning-points’ in his own career that all seemed fatal and definite, but were turning out as success factors after all.

Lesson 14. Tolerance

It may not seem obvious why tolerance is a factor that contributes to success. Many people believe they can be successful in business and life in general by being intolerant and judgmental. Napoleon Hill firmly believes, however, that intolerance is a form of ignorance that needs to be mastered until we can build success. The main reason why this is so is that a judgmental attitude will hardly win you friends and cooperation with others. Second, he considers intolerance as the ‘chief disintegrating force in the organized religions of the world’ and this is certain true.

In my own personal consulting I emphasize tolerance toward oneself, as crucial for building tolerance toward others. All those who are caught in a harsh judgmental mindset are intolerant first of all toward themselves. They treat themselves not as a friend but as an enemy who must be constantly conquered and subdued. However, such an attitude really contributes to defeat as we reflect our inner self and project it upon others. In one word, we treat others as we treat ourselves.

Lesson 15. The Golden Rule

This is a basic rule that humanity shares since times immemorial: it may be called the principle of genuine morality. It is also called the law of cause-and-effect (karma). It means that we use the laws of the mind, and all what is presented in this course, in a constructive manner, and with a virtuous goal. The author writes:

During ages of less enlightenment and tolerance than that of the present, some of the greatest thinkers the world has ever produced have paid with their lives for daring to uncover this Universal Law so that it might be understood by all. In the light of the past history of the world, it is an encouraging bit of evidence, in support of the fact that men are gradually throwing off the veil of ignorance and intolerance, to note that I stand in no danger of bodily harm for writing that which would have cost me my life a few centuries ago. /567

This is an important insight for indeed many have paid with their lives for the constitutional liberties we enjoy today, and this should be encouraging us to apply the golden rule equally in our own lives so that we propagate freedom and tolerance, and help breaking the cycle of violence that is the result of the age-old principle of ‘eye for eye’ that is the embodiment of the principle of negativity or intolerance.

Needless to add after this rather extensive review that the present master course is a great achievement in condensing the most important ‘habits’ of a successful person, and even more so, a systematic road map that contains the principles of ‘self-building’ as it be be termed, so as to bring about success from inside-out, in the firm conviction that we are not thrown around by circumstances, good luck or bad luck, or any of the factors superstitiously held for ‘being responsible’ for our successes or failures. There is only one road to success while it may be sowed with many temporary failures or defeats; the important thing is to persist and to remain positive!

The biography of the Napoleon Hill, whose life was not easy at all, is by itself a strong argument for this truth.


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