Head to the self-help section of your local bookstore, and you’ll find it a crowded space, both in terms of books and readers. The idea that anyone can improve themselves is one of the pillars upon which America was founded, and today, that trend is stronger than ever.
More and more, self-help authors are turning to reputable, peer-reviewed studies hailing from the latest cognitive psychological science research, but what if someone told you that an 80-year-old self-help book written by a man born in 1883 might just be more effective than much of what we read today?
Napoleon Hill, author of the bestselling 1937 self-improvement book, “Think and Grow Rich,” continues to be a favorite of the business elite to this day. After spending two decades studying the lives and habits of the rich and powerful, Hill distilled his knowledge into some of the most insightful self-help books ever written.
But Hill’s writing isn't limited to his most famous work. Pieced together from lost manuscripts that Hill put away as WWI ignited the globe, “The Path to Personal Power” is now being published for the first time.
This book, originally intended to help those who had lost everything in the Great Depression, brings readers three lessons developed from Hill’s discussions with Andrew Carnegie, the self-made steel tycoon who was one of the richest individuals in American history.
Still relevant in today’s financially-tumultuous world, “The Path to Personal Power” will lead you to the realization that you already have the power to attain success, and will show you how to tap into one of the most powerful forces in the world: the human mind.st
Let’s take a look at what Hill’s work has to offer, and why it’s worth your time.
Why You Should Read an 80-Year-Old Self-Help Book
We live in a world ruled by empirical fact—if knowledge is not gained through observation and experience, we do not trust it. If a self-help book fails to cite recent studies, we grow suspicious. If it is based on intuition or individual experience, we put it down.
And so why would we ever trust a book written in a time before the advent of peer-reviewed psychological studies upon which we now base many of our self-help books? What can Hill offer that contemporary authors cannot?
To answer this question, we went to writer, publisher, and self-help expert, Mitch Horowitz. Horowitz is the executive editor and vice-president of Tarcher Perigee, publisher of “The Personal Path to Power.”
“We live,” says Horowitz, "in an era of TED talks and health headlines that always seem to be extolling some daily breakthrough in brain science or cognitive study. These are things that were arrived at as insights of human nature by people not only in Hill’s generation, but even prior.”
Horowitz goes on to explain that Hill’s generation used language that is remarkably similar to that which we use to describe modern cognitive principles—they talked about establishing new metaphorical “grooves,” in the brain through the power of the mind, for example, where today, we know about the possibility of rewiring neural pathways through the disciplined modification of our thoughts and habits.
“You know,” muses Horowitz, “all these breakthroughs in brain science tend to correlate very well with insights into human nature that Hill’s generation, or people just prior to Hill’s generation—even the generation that came up just before Hill—had gleaned just through their own observations of human nature.”
But it’s not only the very real intuitive strength of Hill’s work that makes it worth reading. Those contemporary, peer-reviewed studies we value so much don’t always hold up as well as we might think. These studies, which take place far from the public eye, often translate into inaccurate and sensationalist headlines when picked up by the media, which are then popularized by self-help authors.
Such works can be outright wrong, at worst, or at best, are often missing something vital. Horowitz wrote a piece called “In Defense of the 'Woo-Peddlers',” in which he responded to a journalist who wrote an article stating that self-help is finally coming into an age of maturity due to the advent of reliable scientific studies.
Here, Horowitz makes the point that works like Hill’s “rest on the broad and even epic nature of their philosophy. Such works impart meaning and provide an ethical path to follow, with the aim of developing the whole person. Most clinicians and researchers, however, disregard, if not denigrate, individual testimony from New Agers, positive thinkers, and AA members.”
Hill’s “Personal Path to Power” is a timeless work based on the observable experiences of a very successful man, but also seeks to teach with the “whole person” in mind, imparting not only practical, but also spiritual advice that brings together many different schools of thought to bring you a complete self-improvement package.
Not too bad for a man born less than two decades after the Civil War.
Now that we know why Hill’s work is worth reading, let’s take a look at the lessons it stands to impart.
The Power of Purpose
Hill’s book is divided into three main lessons which promise to help you find, as Hill writes, “that other self, which will throw off all the chains of limitation that previously bound you and reveal to you a veritable giant of power asleep in your brain, needing only some outside force to awaken it.”
The first—and arguably the most vital of these lessons—focuses on the importance of what Hill calls “definiteness of purpose.”
Here, Hill talks about what separates the successful from the unsuccessful: a directed sense of purpose backed up by discipline and effort. He writes that anyone who is successful “…has a Definite Major Goal; he has a plan for the attainment of this goal; he devotes the major portion of his thoughts and his efforts to the attainment of this purpose.”
This goes beyond mere wishful thinking—something we’re all guilty of. Hill advocates taking a far more active role in your own life by backing up your desires with planning and action. He recommends writing out a “statement of your Definite Major Purpose,” and memorizing it, treating it almost as a prayer, having faith in your ability to carry it out.
Indeed—many of Hill’s admonitions are take cues from the spiritual world, focusing on the invisible force of the human mind. Finding your “Definite Major Purpose,” is an exercise in faith and devotion in yourself that will drive you inexorably toward the attainment of your goals.
The Power of the Collective Mind
Hill’s second lesson will take you from the individual to the collective with what the calls the "Master Mind principle." Hill writes that the Master Mind principle is the basis of all personal power that attains noteworthy proportions.” If you want to go from good to great, you’re going to have to work closely with other like-minded people, according to Hill.
This is the step that is missing from the stories of many Americans—we are inherently individualistic, and we often want success to be ours, alone. Hill’s Master Mind principle means, in essence, participating in a small support group in which members help one another with their goals in a “spirit of harmony.”
To achieve this spirit of harmony, Hill says, we must understand what motivates others, and use that knowledge to select people who will “respond in a spirit of harmony to the particular motive held out to them in return for their aid.” Additionally, for one to be a part of a Master Mind group, one must not have selfish desires, ego, and belligerent attitudes, and thus be a constructive, rather than destructive, part of the group.
Developing your own Master Mind group means that you gain the intelligence, experience, and education of other people. In essence, your group of weaker, individual minds will form a single, powerful mind that has the ability to help each member achieve their goals.
In contemporary language, this might look like networking, but what Hill advocates is much more intimate. You’re not just casting a large net for those who might potentially help you—you’re cultivating a small, tight-knit group of like-minded people who will help you achieve your primary goal.
And so, if you desire the greatest levels of success, you’re going to have to take Hill’s advice and go outside yourself.
Going the Extra Mile
Hill’s final lesson lies in, as he puts it, “Going the extra mile.” He defines this idea as “rending of more service and better service than one is paid to render.” It is this habit which Hill proposes to be the secret to Andrew Carnegie’s quick rise from day laborer to wealthy company owner.
Hill shows readers that the success which many attribute to mere, blind luck is actually quite in our control. When we “go the extra mile” not only under special circumstances, or for those we favor, but as an everyday habit, we bend “luck” in our favor.
In essence, when you do more work than you are paid to do, and you combine this habit with your Definite Major Purpose and Master Mind group, you can do anything. When asked by Hill what separates a hard worker from someone who not only works hard, but finds success, Andrew Carnegie puts it best.
“I demand riches in definite terms; I have a definite plan for acquiring riches; I am engaged in carrying out my plan, and I am giving an equivalent, in useful service, of the value of those riches I demand, while the others have no such plan or purpose.”
According to Hill, if you do the work you wish to be paid for, and do it with a purpose, you’ll soon find yourself with better “luck” than you’ve ever experienced before. Even better, you'll not only achieve success for yourself, but you'll help others, as well.
“The Path to Personal Power” contains many familiar concepts, but Hill’s unique ability to re-forge these concepts into easily understandable and actionable plans makes this book essential reading.
If you find yourself struggling to succeed, devoid of purpose, or overly-reliant on luck, fully exploring this, the most recently published of Napoleon Hill’s work, may be that “outside force” needed to awaken your mind and help you realize your full potential.