As A Man Thinketh


Proverbs 23:7 states; "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he". This verse being the influence for James Allen’s book ‘As a man thinketh’. First published in 1903; it was described by Allen himself as dealing with the power of thought, and particularly with the use and application of thought to happy and beautiful issues.

For me; next to the Bible, this is THE one book I would recommend everyone, not to just read, but to study. As Allen stated; “this is a book that will help you help yourself” Because most of us believe that mind is separate from matter, we think that thoughts can be hidden and made powerless - this allows us to think one way and act another. But Allen believed that the unconscious mind generates as much action as the conscious mind, and while we may be able to sustain the illusion of control through the conscious mind alone, in actuality we are continually faced with a question, 'Why can I not make myself do this or achieve that?'

All was of the opinion that 'we do not attract what we want, but what we are.' Achievement happens because you as a person embody the external achievement; you don't 'get' success but become it. There is no gap between mind and matter.

The three most powerful points I took from the book were;

  • Men do not attract what they want, but what they are

  • A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts

  • Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves, they therefore remain bound

We are the sum of our thoughts

The headline message from the book is that noble thoughts make a noble person, negative thoughts hammer out a miserable one. To a person mired in negativity, the world looks as if it is made of confusion and fear. On the other hand, Allen noted, when we curtail our negative and destructive thoughts, ‘All the world softens towards us, and is ready to help us.’

We attract not only what we love - but what we fear. His explanation for why this happens is simple: those thoughts which receive our attention, good or bad, go into the unconscious to become the fuel for later events in the real world. As Emerson said, ‘A person is what he thinks about all day long.’

Our circumstances are us

Part of the fame of this book is its contention that ‘Circumstances do not make a person, they reveal him.’ This seems an exceedingly heartless comment, a justification for neglect of those in need and a rationalisation of exploitation and abuse; of the superiority of those at the top of the pile, and the inferiority of those at the bottom. This, however, would be a knee-jerk reaction to an argument of subtlety. While Allen does not deny that poverty can ‘happen’ to a person or a people, what he tries to make clear is that defensive actions like blaming the perpetrator will only further run the wheels into the rut. What measures us, what reveals us, is how we use those circumstances as an aid or spur to progress. A successful person or community, in short, is that which can process failure with the most efficiency. Each set of circumstances, however bad, offers a unique opportunity for growth. If circumstances always determined the life and prospects of people, then humanity would never have progressed. In actuality, circumstances seem to be designed to bring out the best in us, and if we make the decision that we have been 'wronged' then we are unlikely to begin a conscious effort to escape from our situation. It all seems too hopeless. But as any biographer knows, a person's early life and its conditions are often the greatest gift to an individual. Gold does not emerge from jewellers' shops but from mud and rock. One self-help author influenced by Allen is Wayne Dyer. Dyer observed that '...being broke is a temporary state of affairs that afflicts almost everyone at one time or another, but being poor is an attitude, a set of beliefs that gets reinforced when we shift to blaming life circumstances for the condition of our poverty'. The tragedy of poverty is that children born into it begin to accept it as part of their culture. Allen talks about those who feel that it is all right to do shoddy work because they are being paid so little. Yet this attitude - superficially justifiable - keeps them in the very situation they despise.

What I took from it... Allen's thought is obvious in the emphasis on 'right thinking', but it is also apparent in his suggestion that the best path to success is calmness of mind. People who are calm, relaxed and purposeful appear to look like that is their natural state, but nearly always it is the fruit of self-control. These people have an advanced knowledge of how thought works, coming from years of literally 'thinking about thought'. According to Allen, they have a magnet-like attraction because they are not swept up by every little wind of happenstance. We turn to them because they are masters of themselves.

Some of my favourite quotes from the book are;

  • Men do not attract what they want, but what they are.

  • A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.

  • Cherish your visions. Cherish your ideals. Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment, of these, if you but remain true to them your world will at last be built.

  • Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves, they therefore remain bound.

  • Every action and feeling is preceded by a thought.

  • Right thinking begins with the words we say to ourselves.

  • Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him to himself.

  • You cannot travel within and stand still without.

  • As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts, can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.

  • Every man is where he is by the law of his being; the thoughts which he has built into his character have brought him there, and in the arrangement of his life there is no element of chance, but all is the result of a law which cannot err.

  • The thoughtless, the ignorant, and indolent, seeing only the apparent effects of things and not the things themselves, talk of law, of fortune, and chance. Seeing a man grow rich, they say, 'How lucky he is!' Observing another become intellectual they exclaim, 'How highly favoured he is!' And noting the saintly character and wide influence of another, they remark, 'How chance aids him at every turn!' They don't see the trials and failures and the struggles which these men have voluntarily encountered in order to gain their experience; have no knowledge of the sacrifices they have made, of the undaunted efforts they have put forth, of the faith they have exercised, that they might overcome the apparently insurmountable, and realise the vision of their heart. They do not know the darkness and the heart aches; they only see the light and the Joy, and they call it 'luck'; do not see the longing arduous journey, but only behold the pleasant goal, and call it 'good fortune'; do not understand the process, but only perceive the result, and call it 'chance'.”

  • The circumstances which a man encounters with suffering are the result of his own mental inharmony

  • The human Will, that force unseen. The offspring of a deathless Soul, can hew a way to any goal though walls of granite intervene. Be not impatient in delay, but wait as one who understands; When spirit rises and commands, the Gods are ready to obey.

A poem from the book.

Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,

And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes

The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,

Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:

He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:

Environment is but his looking-glass.

My Rating

Why this book isn't part of the education system everywhere; I don't know! Such simple logic that everyone should know before the age of ten. Almost a hundred years after publication, As A Man Thinketh continues to get rave reviews from readers. For me it is one of the best books I have ever read. Short and to the point. The book is full of wisdom and I would recommend everyone to read it. I will make it a habit to read through this book a few times a year.

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