Reading Room

As a Man Thinketh – James Allen

“Of all the beautiful truths pertaining to the soul that have been restored and brought to light in this age, none is more gladdening or fruitful of divine promise and confidence than this – that you are the master of your thought, the molder of your character, and the maker and shaper of your condition, envirReadingRoomAsAManThinkethonment and destiny.”

“Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results. We understand this law in the natural world, and work with it; but few understand it in the mental and moral world-although its operation there is just as simple and undeviating-and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it.”

“Law, not confusion, is the dominating principle in the universe; justice, not injustice, is the soul and substance of life; and righteousness, not corruption, is the molding and moving force in the spiritual government of the world. This being so, we have to but right ourselves to find that the universe is right.”

In a nutshell

We don’t attract what we want, but what we are. Only by changing your thoughts will you change your life. With its theme that “mind is the master weaver,” creating our inner character and outer circumstances, As a Man Thinketh is an in-depth exploration of the central idea of self-help writing. James Allen’s contribution was to take an assumption we all share – that because we are not robots we therefore control our thoughts – and reveal its fallacy.

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. However, 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 reality we are continually faced with a question: “Why cannot I make myself do this or achieve that?”

In noting that desire and will are sabotaged by the presence of thoughts that do not accord with desire, Allen was led to the startling conclusion: “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.

We are the sum of our thoughts

The logic of the book is unassailable: 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 also what we fear. His explanation for why this happens is simple: Those thoughts that receive our attention, good or bad, go into the unconscious to become the fuel for later events in the real world. As Emerson commented, “A person is what he thinks about all day long.”

Our circumstances are us

Part of the fame of Allen’s 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 a subtle argument. 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 fact, 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. Nevertheless, as any biographer knows, a person’s early life and its conditions are often the greatest gift to an individual.

The sobering aspect of Allen’s book is that we have no one else to blame for our present condition except ourselves. The upside is the possibilities contained in knowing that everything is up to us; where before we were experts in the array and fearsomeness of limitations, now we become connoisseurs of what is possible.

Change your world by changing your mind While Allen did not deny that poverty can happen to a person or a people, what he tried to make clear is that defensive actions such as blaming the perpetrator will only run the wheels further 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 one who is most efficient at processing failure.

Allen observed, “Most of us are anxious to improve our circumstances, but are unwilling to improve ourselves-and we therefore remain bound.” Prosperity and happiness cannot happen when the old self is still stuck in its old ways. People are nearly always the unconscious cause of their own lack of prosperity.

Tranquillity = success

The influence of Buddhism on Allen’s thought is obvious in his 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 as if that is their natural state, but nearly always it is the fruit of self-control.

These people have advanced knowledge of how thought works, coming from years of literally “thinking about thought.” According to Alien, 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. “Tempest-tossed” souls battle to gain success, but success avoids the unstable.

Final comments

Some 100 years after its first publication, As a Man Thinketh continues to get rave reviews from readers. The plain prose and absence of hype are appealing within a genre that contains sensational claims and personalities, and the fact that we know so little about the author makes the work somehow more intriguing.

To bring its message to a wider audience, two updated versions of the work that correct the gender specificity of the original have been published: As You Think, edited by Marc Allen (no relation), and As a Woman Thinketh, edited by Dorothy Hulst.

This copy was taken from 50 Self-help Classics, written and compiled by Tom Butler-Bowdon.


About Tom Cottrell

A struggling author, pilgrim and citizen of Planet Earth.
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One Response to Reading Room

  1. Pingback: How to go about thinking | A short stroll to the horizon

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