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This is a guest post by Frode Osen. If you’d like to join us to bring the key lessons of the world’s best books to everyone, let us know.

What Is the Book About?

As the title and foreword suggest this book is about the way a person thinketh; shapes his or her reality. Its wisdom is incredibly deep, and we’ll only be scratching the surface in this summary.

It’s a profound, inspiring, quick-reading book of just 37 pages that anyone can read in an hour or two. If you choose to read it, you will not regret the wisdom gained.

About the Author

James Allen was a British philosophical writer known for his inspirational books and poetry as a pioneer of the self-help movement. 

As A Man Thinketh is his best-known work and has been mass-produced since its publication in 1903. It’s been an invaluable source of inspiration for motivational and self-help authors. Let’s jump into the big ideas!


Tools vs. weapons.

The Master-Gardener
Cultivate your mind’s garden.

Hidden Justice
Learn from mistakes.

It’s a vice.

Supreme Duty
What’s yours?

As a Man Thinketh Summary

Book Summary of As a Man Thinketh


“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury 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. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Divine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master.”

James Allen

Man is made or unmade by himself.

James Allen describes how you and I chisel our own character.

  • If we think the right thoughts, we are using tools to build “heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.
  • If we think the wrong thoughts, we are using weapons to destroy ourselves.

He strains the point that our character is not the result of “luck” or “chance”:

“A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of favour or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with Godlike thoughts. An ignoble and bestial character, by the same process, is the result of the continued harbouring of groveling thoughts.”

James Allen

The thoughts we regularly think can either make us Godlike, or bestial.

This makes me think about when I was apprenticing as a carpenter back in high school. Every day when we gathered during lunch breaks to eat, there would be constant talk about sex, how “those up there” (the bosses) did nothing but sit on their asses, and how filthy drunk they got last weekend. On Mondays, there would always be someone who said, “Thank God it’s Friday soon.” ← A Friday where they could get back to drinking and the same old.

→ My point? I started to become like that too! Bestial thoughts in others harbored bestial thoughts in me.

When I got into reading self-help, philosophy, and other non-fiction books, I gradually noticed how my thoughts about the world would change. Drinking is something I actively abstain from to do more good work; Friday is not a particular day I look forward to. I look forward to every day where I can strive to become more than I currently am, so I can serve the world as best as I can.)

Spotlight on you: What thoughts are you thinking on a regular basis? Are they filthy thoughts about drinking and such, or Godlike thoughts like serving society, and actualizing your potential?…

… Reflect on that for a while, and remember that you are RIGHT NOW in your own making. ↓

“Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results.”

The Master-gardener

“Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts. By pursuing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. He also reveals, within himself, the laws of thought, and understands, with ever-increasing accuracy, how the thought-forces and mind elements operate in the shaping of his character, circumstances, and destiny.”

James teaches us that we can weed out useless and impure thoughts, and cultivate useful and pure thoughts. How? → By taking the role of a master-gardener.

What happens if we don’t actively cultivate our mind’s garden?:

“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.”

(Can you see how this relates to the seeds that fell into my mind while I listened to impure thoughts?)

Whether we actively cultivate our mind’s garden with pure thoughts, or let impure thoughts run wild, the garden WILL bring forth results.

↑ Another metaphor is that of an empty glass, that Darren Hardy talks about in The Compound Effect:

“Your mind is like an empty glass; it’ll hold anything you put into it. You put in sensational news, salacious headlines, talk-show rants, and you’re pouring dirty water into your glass. If you’ve got dark, dismal, worrisome water in your glass, everything you create will be filtered through that muddy mess, because that’s what you’ll be thinking about. Garbage in, garbage out. …

But just like a dirty glass, if you flush it with clean, clear water under the faucet long enough, eventually you’ll end up with a glass of pure, clear water.”

→ And how can we pour clean water/useful seeds into our minds? We read inspirational and instructional books, listen to good audio programs, and spend less time watching TV, news, or any other media that doesn’t contribute to our goals, or our minds.

How are you doing on this? Got any weeds or dirty water that needs to be flushed out?

Hidden Justice (Learn From Mistakes)

“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.”

The way I interpreted this passage, is that in every circumstance/ mistake/ failure, there’s a “hidden justice” that we can search for, and therefore be able to conquer any adversity…

→ … and that searching for that hidden justice means learning from our mistakes.

It’s what Napoleon Hill calls “seeds of opportunity.”

About 2,000 years ago, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius mentioned that the ruling power within us takes obstacles, and turns them into material we can use to grow stronger. He says that “It is like a fire mastering whatever falls into it. A small flame would be extinguished, but a bright fire rapidly claims as its own all that is heaped on it, devours it all, and leaps up yet higher in consequence.”

Spotlight on you! (Please reflect on the questions)

  1. Have I made a mistake lately, or experienced a failure?
  2. What did I learn from it?
  3. What can I do next time, to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again? Alternatively, can I choose to accept that I, like all others, am not perfect?

Did you find the hidden justice behind your mistake/failure? (Me? I know that a moderate or intense workout boosts my mood and energy throughout the day. One morning, I didn’t go for a run like a always do, and that made me feel lethargic during the day. I have now decided to go for a jog no matter how I feel, or what weather it is) J

Aimlessness (It’s A Vice)

“Until thought is linked with purpose there is no intelligent accomplishment. With the majority the bark of thought is allowed to ‘drift’ upon the ocean of life. Aimlessness is a vice, and such drifting must not continue for him who would steer clear of catastrophe and destruction.

They who have no central purpose in their life fall an easy prey to petty worries, fears, troubles, and self-pityings, all of which are indications of weakness, which lead, just as surely as deliberately planned sins (though by a different route), to failure, unhappiness, and loss, for weakness cannot persist in a power evolving universe.”

When someone has a central purpose in their life – they know what they’re here to do – they are able to concentrate all of their thoughts and actions toward living true to that purpose.

If someone doesn’t have a purpose (main goal in their lives), their thoughts are allowed to just “drift” on the ocean of life. Jim Rohn echoes this wisdom in The Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle, where he says:

“For some people, their past deeds have charted a course which threatens to imprison their future, and yet they do not take corrective and immediate action. They allow the drift of neglect to continue unabated.”

Marcus Aurelius was also a strong contender against aimlessness:

“Every hour of the day give vigorous attention, as a Roman and as a man, to the performance of the task in hand with precise analysis, with unaffected dignity, with human sympathy, with dispassionate justice – and to vacating your mind from all its other thoughts. And you will achieve this vacation if you perform each action as if it were the last of your life: freed, that is, from all lack of aim, from all passion-led deviation from the ordinance of reason, from pretence, from love of self, from dissatisfaction with what fate has dealt you.”

What do you think happens when a person is aimless?…

→ … he becomes weak, and falls prey to petty worries, fears and troubles, for example “So-and-so said something unkind to me,” or “These bad things always happen to me.”

If you don’t feel like you have purpose in your life, don’t despair. Anyone can gain the strength of those who have purpose, who wake up all fired up to go out and make a difference in the world.

As James says:

“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.

To put away aimlessness and weakness, and to begin to think with purpose, is to enter the ranks of those strong ones who only recognize failure as one of the pathways to attainment; who make all conditions serve them, and who think strongly, attempt fearlessly, and accomplish masterfully.”

Back to you: Cultivating a deep sense of purpose in your life is not a quick-fix, since it requires that you “Know thyself,” as Socrates said a couple thousand years ago…

… but it IS possible to start the process of cultivating it right.this.moment.

In Born for This, Chris Guillebeau talks about what factors we need to think about if we want to discover what we were born to do. He says:

Despite our differences, most of us want a balanced life full of work that brings happiness and prosperity. As much as possible, we want to do something we enjoy. We want to put our skills to good use. And ideally, we don’t want to face a false choice between love or money – we’d like to do what we love and be well compensated for it. 

Put simply, here’s what we’re looking for:

* Something that makes us happy (joy)

* Something that’s financially viable (money)

* Something that maximizes our unique skills (flow)”

Let us, therefore, get more clear on this! (Reflect on the questions below, or even better, write down your answers)

  1. What do I love to do? (Me: Read, write, and teach.)
  2. Is it something I can become truly great at; maybe even the best in the world? (Me: Yes, and yes, it’s possible.)
  3. If I become good enough, will people be willing to pay me to do it? (Me: Yes. I’ve seen other people do it, so I know that it’s possible for me too.)

Reading, writing these summaries, and creating YouTube videos is something I love (though it’s a LOT of hard work); it’s something I can become truly great at; and I believe it’s something people will be willing to pay me for as I start creating courses.

My chosen purpose: Help people actualize their potential, by becoming all that they are capable of being.  

Yours? (Remember that you can change it later if it feels like the right thing to do.)

Supreme Duty (Purpose → Character)

“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. It may take the form of a spiritual ideal, or it may be a worldly object, according to his nature at the time being; but whichever it is, he should steadily focus his thought-forces upon the object, which he has set before him. He should make this purpose his supreme duty, and should devote himself to its attainment, not allowing his thoughts to wander away into ephemeral fancies, longings, and imaginings. This is the royal road to self-control and true concentration of thought. 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.”

It’s a term which reminds me of Napoleon Hill’s “definite major purpose,” as he talks about in Keys to Success:

“Your progress toward success begins with a fundamental question: Where are you going?

Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement, and its lack is the stumbling block for ninety-eight out of every hundred people simply because they never really define their goals and start toward them.

Study every person you can think of who has achieved lasting success, and you will find that each one has had a definite major purpose. Each had a plan for reaching that goal, and each devoted the greatest part of his or her thoughts and efforts to that end.”

Both James and Napoleon tell us that we need to have a purpose for our lives, and that we need to concentrate most of our thoughts and efforts toward the fulfillment of it, if we ever want to amount to something.

  • James says that aimlessness (not having a purpose) is weakness.
  • Napoleon says that anyone who has achieved lasting success has had a definite major purpose.

When we DON’T have a purpose, it’s easy to get sidetracked by distractions like TV, overeating, excessive drinking, gossiping, complaining… and all such things.

Another point I want to stress, is that when you commit to a purpose, and work strenuously on it, your character strengthens. When you constantly overcome fear, resistance, mistakes, and failures, you eventually become an entirely new person.

As James says:

“Thought allied fearlessly to purpose becomes creative force: he who knows this is ready to become something higher and stronger than a mere bundle of wavering thoughts and fluctuating sensations; he who does this has become the conscious and intelligent wielder of his mental powers.”

All in all, having a purpose leads to a TON of goodness.

Here’s to embracing the fact that we create our reality with the thoughts we regularly entertain, while staying committed to a central purpose that we pursue to serve the world!

Action Steps (Choose One Or Several)

  • If you haven’t already, answer these questions from the idea, “Hidden Justice,” to learn from your mistakes, and turn failure into success:
    • Have I made a mistake lately, or experienced a failure?
    • What did I learn from it?
    • What can I do next time, to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again? Alternatively, can I choose to accept that I, like all others, am not perfect?
  • Answer these questions from Chris Guillebeau (unless you already did) to discover what you were born to do:
    • What do I love to do? (Me: Read, write, and teach.)
    • Is it something I can become truly great at; maybe even the best in the world? (Me: Yes, and yes, it’s possible.)
    • If I become good enough, will people be willing to pay me to do it? (Me: Yes. I’ve seen other people do it, so I know that it’s possible for me too.)
  • Share your favorite idea with a friend or family member. Teaching is the best way to learn and master something.
  • Buy a physical copy of this book (definitely my preferred format!) or download a free PDF online.

“This little volume (the result of meditation and experience) is not intended as an exhaustive treatise on the much-written-upon subject of the power of thought. It is suggestive rather than explanatory, its object being to stimulate men and women to the discovery and perception of the truth that

‘They themselves are makers of themselves.’

by virtue of the thoughts, which they choose and encourage; that mind is the master-weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance, and that, as they may have hitherto woven in ignorance and pain they may now wave in enlightenment and happiness.”

~ James Allen from As A Man Thinketh

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