I struggled for a while with whether or not to write a summary of this classic literary essay for fear of not doing it justice. However, my desire to introduce this writing to others motivated me to proceed. This booklet, a seminal piece on the power of thought, is a mere 22 pages, yet it is so dense and packed with wisdom that it could have easily filled 500 pages had the author desired. James Allen was a British philosopher and writer as well as a pioneer of the self-help movement in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This work “As a Man Thinketh” is likely based on the Biblical verse Proverbs 23:7 which states: “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Chapter 1: Thought and Character
Allan writes that “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all of his thoughts. And since “… cause and effect are as absolute and undeviating in the hidden realm of thought as in the world of visible and material things,” we determine (or at least heavily influence) our situation in life… essentially sleeping in the bed we have made. According to the author, “Man is made or unmade by himself” and can improve his lot in life by thinking “right” thoughts and by the right choice of the application of thought (i.e., choosing the “right” actions and behaviors).
Chapter 2: Effect of Thought on Circumstances
Allan writes that “The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state. This does not mean that a man’s circumstances at any giving time are an indication of his entire character, but that those circumstances are so intimately connected with some vital thought-element within himself that, for the time being, they are indispensable to his development.” Essentially, that we are where we are based on our thoughts and our actions. Not that external factors don’t have influence, but that on balance we are each the master of our own destiny.
Chapter 3: Effects of Thoughts on Health and Body
“The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed,” Allen writes. And that, upon the body, “habits of thought will produce their own effects, good or bad.” Ever heard the saying clean body, clean mind, clean living? That’s what Allan is getting at here; that “The people who live in fear of disease are the people who get it” and that “A sour face does not come by chance; it is made by sour thoughts.”
Chapter 4: Thought and Purpose
Select quotes: “They who have no central purpose in their life fall an easy prey to petty worries, fears, troubles, and self-pityings… which lead to failure, unhappiness, and loss, for weakness cannot persist in the power-evolving universe.” “To put away aimlessness and weakness and to begin to think with purpose is to enter the ranks of those strong one who only recognize failure as one of the pathways to attainment.” “The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do. Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step.”
Chapter 5: The Thought-Factor in Achievement
Allen’s opening statement in this chapter: “All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.” And his ending statement: “He who would accomplish little need sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much. He who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.” I’ve always believed that, when combined with a purpose, hard work and persistence are key elements to success. You’ve got to be able to fight for what you believe in and be willing to sacrifice to achieve it.
Chapter 6: Visions and Ideals
“To desire is to obtain; to aspire is to achieve. Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil. 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 a soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.”
Chapter 7: Serenity
“That exquisite poise of character that we call serenity is the last lesson of culture. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control. Its presence is an indication of ripened experience, and of a more than ordinary knowledge of the laws and operations of thought. Keep your hands firmly upon the helm of thought.”
A simple “formula” that I find extremely helpful:
Your THOUGHTS determine your ATTITUDE, your ATTITUDE drives your BEHAVIORS, and your BEHAVIORS determine your RESULTS. So if you are not pleased with the results you are getting, see what you can learn by assessing and better understanding your thoughts.
Note: In these chapter summaries where I solely utilize quotes from Allen’s work it is because I could not think of a different way to express his points or because I felt that they stood very well on their own.