As a Man Thinketh by James Allen | Book Summary and PDF
In the As a Man Thinketh PDF Summary you will learn:
- How our thoughts and character come into play
- The effect of our thoughts on circumstances
- Why success is directly proportional to sacrifice
- What drives goals
- How our dreams and vision change circumstances
- The thought factor in the achievement/non-achievement of goals
About the Book/Author
As A Man Thinketh by British philosopher James Allen is one of my top 3 favorite books of all time and one of my most recommended. Having read a thousand books, this one never disappoints that I keep coming back to it every month. I highly recommend you do the same.
Published in 1903, this 20+-pager is one of the greatest books ever written about the power of thought. James Allen was a pioneer in the modern self-help movement and this book was the earliest work of the movement.
A lot of great books like Think and Grow Rich, The Science of Getting Rich, and Earl Nightingale’s works all came as a result of this book. I recommend that As a Man Thinketh be on your shelf or in your phone so you can read it every month.
Here are 8 great ideas from this book.
1) On Character
“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”
Our character is a result of our thoughts and nothing else. We are what we think. Everything we have become in our lives is because of our way of thinking.
“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”
We’re making or breaking ourselves every single moment with our thoughts. There is no middle ground.
“…Man is the master of thought, the molder of character, and the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.”
We mold our own character. Nobody else is responsible for it. We make our own conditions and we are not at the mercy of circumstances.
As Bill Gates said, you might be born poor and that is okay, but if you die poor, that is your fault.
“Man…contains within himself that transforming and regenerative agency by which he makes himself what he wills.”
We can make ourselves what we will or want ourselves to be. We have that transforming and regenerative agency within us that allows us to make or break ourselves, depending on our thoughts. We are literally the ones who design, build, and mold our character.
(Get a high-level overview of the whole book by accessing a mindmap of it at 2000books.com/self. You can jump into this idea or any of the ideas in the book and click through them. It’s free.)
2) On Circumstances
“Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be a creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself.”
Only when we realize that we are the power that commands the hidden soil and seeds of our own being that our thoughts and creative power lead to circumstances. That’s when we become the rightful master of ourselves rather than being always buffeted by the circumstances.
“Circumstances grow out of thought… A man cannot directly choose the circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances.”
Although we cannot choose our circumstances directly, we can fashion or change our thoughts to define or change our circumstances.
“Circumstance does not make a man; it reveals him to himself.”
A lot of times we believe that our problems and griefs are caused by our circumstances. But as James Allen says, our circumstances are only revealing us to ourselves. Instead of thinking that they’re what we have been given, we need to understand they are what we have made for ourselves.
“Man, therefore, as the lord and master of thought, is the maker of himself, the shaper and author of environment.”
We are shaping and authoring our environment every single moment. We are the ones responsible for creating the kind of environment that we have as the master of our own thoughts.
“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves. They therefore remain bound.”
There are people who are anxious to improve everything around them but are unwilling to improve themselves. They keep pining for better circumstances, but inside they refuse to change or become a better version of themselves. Our circumstances will not improve unless we decide to improve.
“Man is the cause (though nearly always is unconsciously) of his circumstances and that, whilst aiming at a good end, he is continuously frustrating its accomplishment by encouraging thoughts and desires which cannot possibly harmonize with that end.”
If we have an end goal in mind but our thoughts and desires do not harmonize with it, we are constantly going to sabotage our whole effort. We can’t just have a good goal and hope that it will somehow be accomplished. Only when our thoughts and desires are harmonized with our goal can we accomplish it.
“A particular train of thought persisted in, be it good or bad, cannot fail to produce its results on the character and circumstances.”
In every single moment, whatever train of thought we persist in is what will lead to changes in our character and in our circumstances.
3) On Sacrifice
“The man who does not shrink from self-crucifixion can never fail to accomplish the object upon which his heart is set.”
If we are willing to give it our all and die for the cause, there is no way we cannot accomplish the object of our desire. Be willing therefore to give it your all in order to get what you desire.
“Even the man whose sole object is to acquire wealth must be prepared to make great personal sacrifices before he can accomplish his object.”
A lot of the world today has been taken over by the 4-hour workweek mindset where some people think that doing just the bare minimum work will get them great results. You have to put in a lot of sacrifice before you can accomplish the objects of your desire.
The book The 4-hour Work Week talks about the idea of building a business where you only work 4 hours a week for the rest of your life, but it’s a very dangerous notion. I highly recommend you stay away from the idea of thinking that you just need to work 4 hours a week. In order to do something great, you will need to make great personal sacrifices.
“There can be no progress, no achievement without sacrifice, and a man’s worldly success will be in the measure that he sacrifices his confused animal thoughts, and fixes his mind on the development of his plans, and the strengthening of his resolution and self-reliance. And the higher he lifts his thoughts, the more manly, upright, and righteous as he becomes, the greater will be his success, the more blessed and enduring will be his achievement.”
Success is proportional to the extent we can fix our mind on our purpose and to the sacrificing of all those animal instincts (examples: watching TV, spending time on the internet, eating junk food, and other things that we subject ourselves to). Those are the 2 crucial keys.
“He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little. He who would achieve much, must sacrifice much. He who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.”
There’s no real gray area here, it’s very black and white. Your accomplishments are going to be proportional to your sacrifices.
How much are you willing to sacrifice? Some people have the notion that they can build an easy business and easily make money. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos — none of these guys made very little sacrifices. They have all sacrificed greatly.
- Michael Phelps took only 3 days off during his 5-year practice.
- Bill Gates worked tirelessly for almost 10 years and never took a single day of break.
- Elon Musk works 100 hours a day.
- Warren Buffett has been working tirelessly on his business for the last 50 years or even more.
Anyone who says that it’s possible to accomplish great results with very little effort is seriously mistaken. Every great story is a story of a lot of sacrifices. It may be possible not to sacrifice a lot in the pursuit of a balanced life, but the accomplishment of great results requires great sacrifice. It’s a law of the universe.
4) On Purpose
“Until thought is linked with purpose, there is no intelligent accomplishment.”
Thoughts are being multiplied in some ways by purpose. If you have no purpose, the thoughts are useless and there’ll be no accomplishment.
Therefore, mix a great purpose with constant thoughts and soon great accomplishment will follow.
“Aimlessness is a vice, and such drifting must not continue for him who would steer clear of catastrophe and destruction.”
Aimlessness should not be taken lightly. If you do not have an aim in any area of your life, you will see that you are drifting which, if continued, may lead to catastrophe and destruction. James Allen used stern words here.
In the book Outwitting the Devil, Napoleon Hill also says that the biggest reason the devil gets you drifting is aimlessness or not having a purpose. It’s why we succumb to the devil within.
“They who have no central purpose in their life fall an easy prey to everything petty.”
Having a central purpose, however, can prevent us from falling prey to petty things.
“A man should conceive of a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it. He should make this purpose the centralizing point of his thoughts.”
When we make our purpose the point of our thoughts, that’s when we will set out to accomplish it. We must constantly think of this purpose almost like it’s a never-ending thing. In his other book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill says that we can never stop thinking about our purpose, goals or desire. It is the price we must pay in order to accomplish our goals.
“Even if he fails again and again to accomplish his purpose (as he necessarily must until weakness is overcome), the strength of character gained will be the measure of his true success, and this will form a new starting point for future power and triumph.”
We will fail in our pursuits as we necessarily must until we overcome our weaknesses. That’s part of the pursuit and of our endeavor in some ways. But as a result of this failure, we will gain strength of character, which is the true measure of success. Then we can use that strength of character in going after bigger dreams and goals.
“To begin to think with purpose is to enter the ranks of those strong ones, who make all the conditions serve them, who only recognize failure as one of the pathways to attainment.”
We join the ranks of the strong ones as soon as we begin to think about our purpose. The strong ones make the conditions serve them rather than become the victims or be at the mercy of the conditions. The strong ones only recognize failure as one of the pathways to attainment.
The book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday is dedicated to the idea that failure is the pathway to achievement. Obstacle is the way forward.
“Thoughts allied fearlessly to purpose becomes creative force.”
From saying that thought linked with purpose leads to intelligent accomplishment, now he says it can also become a creative force. We need a purpose to be always aligned with our purpose in order to become a creative force in this world.
“The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors, that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires; and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.”
We attract what we secretly harbor, whether we love it or we hate it. Whatever it is that we secretly desire, or think about, we will continue to attract and bring into our lives.
The circumstances that are true in our lives today are a reflection of what we’re thinking about all the time. We cannot blame our circumstances because we are the ones responsible for them through our thoughts.
5) On Dreams and Vision
“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg; and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.”
Every great achievement starts with a dream. If you read the biographies of any of the great people of all time, you will see that their achievements started with a dream. Nobody was served with it in a silver spoon and was told to figure things out and accomplish it without a vision.
Dreams are what make our realities. If we’re not dreaming big enough, we cannot create our bigger reality.
“Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become.”
You will become what you dream about. Dream and you will become that dream.
“Your Vision is the promise of what you shall one day be…”
You will become the vision that you hold in your mind. Your ideal is crucial because it is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil. You’re living that prophecy, and that prophecy will come true.
“Your circumstances may be uncongenial, but they shall not long remain so if you but perceive an Ideal and strive to reach it. You cannot travel within and stand still without.”
If you strive for an ideal, your circumstances will change and evolve. That’s the key.
“Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your Vision, your Ideal.”
Your thoughts, your vision and your ideal are what will change your circumstances and your environment. So realize whatever it may be, it will rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal.
“And you too, youthful reader, will realize the vision (not the idle wish of your heart) be it base or beautiful or a measure of both, for you will always gravitate towards that which you secretly most love.”
This is a very loaded sentence but the key here is in the parentheses: “not the idle wish…” Sometimes people complain about their wish not coming true. This may be because it’s not the vision or the ideal that they think about all the time but just an idle wish.
What comes true is a burning purpose or desire. (The same thing is said by Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich.)
“You will become as small as your controlling desire, as great as your dominant aspiration.”
The keyword here is “dominant.” There are a lot of people who have a lot of ideals, wishes, and aspirations, but the dominant aspiration is what’s going to make or break you.
You have the opportunity today to change your dominant aspiration or what you think about all the time. Then you will become that person again.
“The thoughtless, the ignorant, and the indolent, seeing only the apparent effects of things and not the things themselves, talk of luck, of fortune, and chance.”
Also known as the lazy ones who don’t understand the laws of nature, the thoughtless, ignorant, and indolent people are the ones who are merely thinking about luck, fortune, and chance. The brave ones, however, believe in the power of thought and are going to make it happen.
“In all human affairs, there are efforts, and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result. Chance is not.”
Earlier we talked about the idea of how our sacrifices are a measure of the result. Sacrifices are directly proportional to the efforts we’re putting in. So the strength of the effort is a measure of the result.
“The Vision that you glorify in your mind, the Ideal that you enthrone in your heart, this you will build your life by…”
You become again the pictures you paint in your mind. A famous saying goes: Don’t just set goals; cast a vision of what you want your life to become because that’s what it will become.
It’s not just about the goal, it’s about the vision that you’re glorifying in your mind every single moment and the ideal that you’re throwing in your thought every single moment.
6) On Who We Are
“Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.”
This almost sums up the whole book. We are not attracting just what we want, but who we are becoming in this process. Our thoughts are changing our character and our circumstances. Our thoughts are directing us towards who we are or whatever we will become.
7) Thought Factor in Achievement
“All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.”
There’s no mention of circumstances, of outside variables or conditions. All that a man achieves and fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts. This is a very sobering reminder that our thoughts are the core reason for our own achievement or everything that is coming true in our life.
“As he thinks, so he is. As he continues to think, so he remains.”
It’s not only the fact that thoughts are creating our achievements, but as we continue to think the same thoughts, we will continue to remain in the same position. We have to consistently challenge ourselves to think bigger in order to accomplish bigger goals and achievements.
We’re not victims of our circumstances but only of our own thoughts.
8) The Garden and the Seeds
“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein and will continue to produce their kind.”
Our mind is like a garden and it’s our job to properly plant the right seeds of thought into it, because if we don’t, weeds will grow. We need to be deliberate and intentional with our thoughts and aims if we don’t want random weeds of thoughts to multiply.
“As the plant springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought and could not have appeared without them. This applies equally to those acts called ‘spontaneous’ and ‘unpremeditated’ as to those which are deliberately executed.
Every act is a result of our hidden seeds of thoughts.
“Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results. This is but saying that nothing can come from corn but corn, nothing from nettles but nettles. Men understand this law in the natural world, and work with it, but few understand it in the mental and moral world (though its operation there is just as simple and undeviating) and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it.”
Thoughts are just like seeds. If you plant corn seeds, you will produce corn, not apples. Whatever thought we’re constantly planting in our minds gets us the same results. Our job is to constantly nurture and be careful about the thoughts we’re planting into our minds. We all use this idea in the natural world all the time.
“Let a man radically alter his thoughts, and he will be astonished at the rapid transformation it will effect in the material conditions of his life.”
“Men imagine that thoughts can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance.”
Our thoughts lead to habits and the habits lead to circumstances. Circumstances don’t just randomly appear in our life. Again, we are not victims of the circumstances but of our own thoughts.
Only great thoughts can create for us the life of our dreams.