Self Improvement

7 Lessons from As A Man Thinketh


Every successful person has a crucial tipping point in their life, when they went from just “getting by” to “getting things done.” Motivational and inspirational stories work for some. Straight talking and a radical shift in perception work for others.

I know from my own life that anything can happen in an instant.

Your life can change literally overnight.

So can your thoughts. So can your future.

As a young man of 18, I read a book titled As A Man Thinketh. I found it semi-randomly, that is to say, I wasn’t consciously looking for it, but the invisible hand of destiny put it right in front of me. I skimmed through it and bought it, along with a pocket size Tao Te Ching. I tossed them in my backpack and promptly forgot that they were there.

I was working in the HVAC trade at the time, and some of our work was far from home. At the motel one evening, I was burned out on watching TV and decided to clean out my pack. Down at the bottom, wrinkled and slightly tattered, was this copy of James Allen’s book that I purchased months ago.

I opened it and started reading, and read it straight through that night. It resonated so strongly with me that I read it again the next night, and pulled it out at meal times instead of reading the paper.

It was a tipping point in my life.

Here are 7 lessons that I learned from As a Man Thinketh:

“The aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,” not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”

1. “his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” Our thoughts create our lives. They create us!

“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.”

2. “every act of man springs from the hidden seeds of thought” Even our so-called spontaneous acts are created by our thoughts.

“As a being of Power, Intelligence, and Love, and the lord of his own thoughts, man holds the key to every situation, and contains within himself that transforming and regenerative agency by which he may make himself what he wills.”

3. “man holds the key to every situation” We each have within us the transformative power and wisdom to make ourselves what we will.

“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. This is just as true of those who feel “out of harmony” with their surroundings as of those who are contented with them.”

4. “there is no element of chance, but all is the result of a law which cannot err.” Luck is not involved and randomness does not determine our life. Our thoughts brought us here, and can take us elsewhere if we choose.

“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound. The man who does not shrink from self-crucifixion can never fail to accomplish the object upon which his heart is set. This is as true of earthly as of heavenly things. Even the man whose sole object is to acquire wealth must be prepared to make great personal sacrifices before he can accomplish his object; and how much more so he who would realize a strong and well-poised life?”

5. “The man who does not shrink…” We’ve got to move out of our comfort zone, into the change zone. It’s not easy. But it works.

“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 co-operate with it.”

6. “nothing can come from corn but corn…” We reap what we sow, and if we but understood this, our lives would change instantly.

“A man only begins to be a man when he ceases to whine and revile, and commences to search for the hidden justice which regulates his life. And as he adapts his mind to that regulating factor, he ceases to accuse others as the cause of his condition, and builds himself up in strong and noble thoughts; ceases to kick against circumstances, but begins to use them as aids to his more rapid progress, and as a means of discovering the hidden powers and possibilities within himself.”

7. “when he ceases to whine…” You can blame or you can take action within yourself to accept personal responsibility for your life.

This little book changed my life from the minute I began reading it, and I re-read it once a year or so just as a refresher.

Our minds slip back into our old habits pretty easily, and we’ll learn something different each time we re-visit a great book, so I like to have a “classics” section in my bookshelf. Books that led to breakthroughs for me and books that just don’t get old go on this shelf. I go back to these books anytime I’m feeling stuck, and every time I do, I come away with an insight or a lesson.

Image: powi at Flickr

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

6 thoughts on “7 Lessons from As A Man Thinketh

  • Derek,

    I also have a “classic” book section, and I too have a 4 well read and loved books that changed my life and continue to do so year after year.

    Thanks for reasserting the fact that knowledge and wisdom are timeless, and the same truth speaks to us with many tongues, at many different times throughout our lives.



  • It struck me when reading this, the debt I owe to the wiser people who shaped my thinking when I was young and searching. And now, as men with more experience, we find ourselves in the roles as leaders, passing on our wisdom to others.

  • Doug Rosbury

    Yes, How true and How tragic is a failed life. Failure can seem
    quite tragic though even when it doesn’t need to. There is always someone ready to help you when you are down and out. When you are feeling depressed, look around and be ready to surrender and allow your depression to become tears of humility. someone will respond with comfort and resources.
    God makes sure that there is someone with a shoulder to lean on. don’t be ashamed to take advantage of the kindness
    offered by someone and it can be anyone. Don’t be proud.
    surrender in humility and tears and start over.—Love, Doug

  • Funny. When I was 22 this book slipped into my life in a similar way. I was in an antique shop, with my dear friend Amanda, who lead us straight towards the books. If it weren’t for her, I never would have found it – a 1950’s print, hardback, with a fern on each cover, for 5 bucks. She told me how her dad loved it; how he pretty much lived by that book.

    Similarly, I forgot about it for quite a while. To condense a very long story, I was extremely close to this individual, until she betrayed me, as they often do. We had been through so much together that when I was unexpectedly forced to divorce her as a friend, it was a bit like loosing a part of myself. I remember distinctly how gullible and bitter I felt the day she was exposed to be a complete liar to me.

    It was such a shock that I suddenly wanted to get as far away from her as possible. So I just started driving west. I drove for something like three hours, until I was pretty much out in the middle of nothing, not too far from the border. I found a little side-road off 57 that lead to a dead end, parked, put out a blanket, and just sat there. Out in west Texas there’s basically zero light pollution, meaning that the entire galaxy is visible on clear nights. That night was especially clear. By the light of the Milky Way herself I went through my backpack for cigarettes, and stumbled upon it once more.



    The dust cover was all tattered on the top and bottom, but otherwise the book was still immaculate, resting at the bottom of my canvas sack. I built a fire and read the entire book right there – and got about half way through it again – before I finally fell asleep. When I returned the next day, I got a call from our mutual friend, Eric. He informed me that Amanda (that was her name anyway) had died in a car accident, the night before. The last thing I ever said to her was something to the effect of “Don’t ever speak to me again.”

    That book was my salvation while I mourned my strange friend-turned-enemy. It’s weird to wish that someone was alive, just so you could tell them how much you despise them, and then to instantly feel guilty for despising them, because they are dead. It was a tipping point in my life – at the time it felt for the worse – but that book helped me keep moving. It’s a constant, sobering reminder of the impact of my own thoughts and actions. I still have it to this day.

  • I just listened to a recording of this today read by Earl Nightingale. It is such a great book with a lot of very practical advice. While I agree with all of your points on the book I’m sure you’ll agree that even though it is a short book that you could read it twenty times and still get something new out of it each time. Great post. Thanks for sharing.


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