7 Powerful Life Lessons From As a Man Thinketh [Book Summary]

by Steve Allen

Updated 1 month ago

This is my comprehensive book summary of As a Man Thinketh by James Allen.

As a man Thinketh: The Original 1902 Edition (The Wisdom Of James Allen)

You’ll learn many lessons, including:

  • Thoughts create our character
  • How our thoughts influence our life
  • We are not victim to our circumstances, we create them
  • And more!

Book Overview in My Own Words

The fundamental premise of this book can be summed up with one quote, which includes the title of the book and reference in the first chapter:

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Proverb 23/7

But what does this mean?

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The quote comes from the bible and in the bible’s context and how it relates to this book, we can interpret it as:

“You become what you think on a subconscious level”.

As a man thinketh in his heart means, what you think on a deeper level as opposed to what you think consciously.

And “so is he“, meaning, “is what you become”.

To understand this further, let’s get some context from what the Bible says.

Right before this proverb is mentioned — a begrudging host has invited others to eat his food.

He says the words “Take what you want”, but that’s not what he means.

It is a test put forth by the host to know the strength of his guests’. A test of will and a test of self-control.

And we can interpret this into a battle between our own mind and heart.

We often say one thing or know on a deeper level what is right, but then we allow ourselves to do the opposite, letting our thoughts take control of us instead of commanding our thoughts to take the right action.

We shouldn’t be greedy, we shouldn’t try too hard to impress, we shouldn’t take and never give, we shouldn’t say one thing and do another and so on.

I interpret the above story as though the host’s words are the voices in our head or the thoughts that influence us to do things we don’t want to do.

If we allow our thoughts to dictate us, then a day will come when we look at ourselves and our life and wonder how things come to be the way they are, filled with anguish and regret.

About the Author: James Allen

James Allen was a British philosophical writer who’s work has become the inspiration of almost all self-help material today.

He was born in Leicester, England in 1864 and produced more than 20 titles from self-help books to poetry in the early 1900’s.

Allen’s most popular books include As a Man Thinketh, From Poverty to Power, and Eight Pillars of Prosperity.

7 Powerful Life Lessons From As a Man Thinketh Review

Lesson 1: A Persons Character is the Sum of Their Thoughts

“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”

James Allen

To put it simply, we are who we are because of our thoughts. Our thoughts influence our emotion which govern our actions and behaviors.

Everything we do in our lives can be traced back to a single thought.

Whether our actions are spontaneous, unpremeditated, or deliberate, they all stem from our thoughts.

You don’t get successful; you become successful. Likewise, you don’t wake up one day committing crimes; you become a criminal.

Thoughts have a direct correlation with our identity, and our identity is our destiny.

Man is a growth by law, and not a creation of artifice.

Artifice – “clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others.”

We can act and speak words that deceive people of our truth, but it is our thoughts that make us. We only grow into the person we want to be perceived as by the thoughts which consume our mind the most.

Lesson 2: Circumstance Doesn’t Create a Man, They Reveal Him

“Thought and character are one, and as character can only manifest and discover itself through environment and circumstance, 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 given time are an indication of his entire character, but that those circumstances are so intimately connected with some they are indispensable to his development.”

James Allen

We are not at the mercy of our circumstances; we create them.

There is only a limited amount of circumstances we’re born into, of which we do not choose.

Our parents, our location, and how we’re raised are a few, but it is our choice of thought that cultivates an unlimited possibility of circumstance we experience later in life.

Many people are born into the same circumstances, yet only a few will discover they are the master-gardener of their soul and director of their life.

As soon as we’re able to leave home and make our way in life, we can choose the life we want to live.

Unfortunately, by the time we reach this age, we have picked up all the habits and beliefs of our parents and the way we see ourselves.

If we were raised to take responsibility for ourselves and developed a healthy self-esteem, then we will probably make better choices and create a fulfilling life.

If, however, you are one of the unfortunate ones (like myself), childhood could have resulted in a poor self-image, crippling attachments, and unhealthy habits.

It’s then common to feel like a victim to your circumstances, and believe the only way out is for someone of something to save you.

You know, like in the movies.

This is the difference between the two mindsets, which is that one person is working from the outside in and the other is working from the inside out.

When you work from the outside in, you see the circumstances in your life as happening to you. Bad things happen and it makes you feel bad. Good things happen and it makes you feel good.

The alternative is to recognize that you have all the control from within and the choice to feel good no matter what’s happening.

Yes, bad things might still happen, but you choose not to let it affect you because you don’t take it personally.

Lesson 3: Sickness Is a Manifestation of Thought

What is the difference between two people who receive bad news from their doctor with only a few months to live. And then, one dies three months later and the other lives for many years?

The difference is that the one who died took the news as fact and that there was nothing they could do about it.

The other denied the prognosis and lived.

It’s as simple as that and it happens all too often.

Studies in recent years are validating the idea that disease manifests first in our mind and then in our bodies.

Authors such as Allen have been talking about this spiritual idea for hundreds of years and science is catching up.

Just a peak into Epigenetics reveals that it’s not our genes that determine our fate, but how we respond to our environment that can impact how genes are expressed.

This suggests that there’s a direct link between our thoughts, interpretations, and our biology.

For instance, recent studies in how we experience stress conclude alarming results; whereby people who believe stress is harmful had a 43% higher risk of dying compared to people who view stress as helpful.

Lesson 4: A Life Without Purpose Leads to Worries, Self-Pity, and Failure

Without a purpose, we drift in life not knowing our destination.

Aimlessness is a vice.” – And to those who hold true to a vision and purpose, avoid the shortcomings of what an aimless life brings them.

When we have no path to walk, we wander around, allowing our thoughts to run our minds. And if we allow our minds to be run by our thoughts, they take over our lives and produce a weak man with no self-control.

A life purpose with an aim to accomplish it produces thoughts that strengthen our character, which holds us accountable to see our purpose through to the end.

Those who think with purpose recognize failure as a pathway to its attainment.

We must fail to see our purpose come to fruition. Those who think weak thoughts without purpose fail before they begin.

Life without purpose or a reason to do things prevents us from being aware of when we are going off course.

Life with purpose keeps our eyes on the ball and attention on our thoughts. When the right thoughts wane, the intensity of our vision loses its power.

We can easily get into doubt, fear and self-deception if we don’t know what the future holds and great things in the future cannot happen without correct thoughts and a solid purpose for living.

Lesson 5: We Don’t Get What We Want in Life, We Get Our Habits of Thought

“All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his thoughts.”

James Allen

We only achieve things through unconscious repetition.

If our thoughts are filled with lack, unworthiness, doubt, and sickness, we manifest only what they reflect.

We can only achieve what we are.

Someone who thinks of confident thoughts, abundance, wellbeing, and compassion for others, become those things.

When we impress these thoughts deep down into our subconscious, they become a habitual and we can only act in accordance to what is second nature.

Our first nature is instinctual and if our basic needs go unmet in adolescents, unworthiness and lack produce thoughts of their kind.

If these thoughts go unnoticed and left to roam wild, they become habitual and our destiny.

For us to evolve past the point of attaining our own basic needs, we must take responsibility for our mind and choose our thoughts carefully.

Unhelpful thoughts that rule our life can only live on when we don’t attend to them.

We are not our thoughts, but the witness and master of them.

When our minds rely on thoughts to feel alive, we become addicted to them, identifying with them and what they say.

This identification and addictive tendencies manifest in the physical world.

We turn to other addictions to complete the cycle of habitual thinking, whether it be drugs, alcohol, an activity, or relationships.

Psychologist Carl Jung once said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

We are doomed to repeat what isn’t made conscious.

When we become conscious of how our mind has operated and we can directly link it to unwanted experiences, it becomes easier to let go of who we once were.

But it doesn’t come without sacrifice.

We cannot make progress without sacrifice because any kind of achievement takes effort and the willingness to become the person who can achieve them.

Old ways of being need to be purged and grieved and bad habits that no longer serve us must be turned into ones which serve our highest good.

Lesson 6: Your Life is the Sum of Your Vision and Ideals

“You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.”

James Allen

Up to this point in the book, Allen speaks mainly of our past and present.

Whether it be our current circumstance, character, health or self-image, they can all be traced back to thoughts about the past or present.

Chapter four touches on thoughts of worry and failure, which are said to be thoughts driven by fear of the future.

But to think of the future without fear depends on our strength in Vision and Ideals.

To hold a vision of ourselves greater than our past failures and worthier than our present self-esteem is to bring that vision into existence.

Becoming aware of our thoughts and making a choice to change them creates a new vision for ourselves.

When we realize the influence of our thoughts, we imagine a different and brighter future.

That vision is the driving force for new, empowering thoughts and the attainment of our deepest desires.

You imagine a new version of yourself in your vision and that version of you deserves everything you’ve ever wanted.

New thoughts arise from that vision and you become that what you think of and visualize most.

“The Vision that you glorify in your mind, the Ideal that you enthrone in your heart – this you will build your life by, this you will become.”

James Allen

Lesson 7: Serenity

Serenity is finding that center of ourselves where presence and inner peace live.

When we return there often, it expands, and we realize that awareness is who we truly are.

This is where genuine life exists. Not in thought, not in suffering, and not in hoping and wishing.

Only in this present moment do we come alive.

“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.”

James Allen

BONUS Lesson: On Responsibility

We get to choose which thoughts become our destiny.

A recurring theme from As a Man Thinketh is taking responsibility for our thoughts and life.

He compares the lack of individual reponsibility being equal to the lack of order and balance in the universe, which would cause its destruction.

This beautifully symbolic metaphor perfectly describes the nature of our thoughts and that caos and self-destruction are inevitable without responsibility.

Our strengths and weaknesses are our own and not the responsibily of another.

And our suffering and happiness are evolved from within.

Without personal responsibility, we look to blame others, our situation, or our health for our failures.

We project blame outside of ourselves because it’s less painful to realize that we are the cause of our misfortunes and failures.

Knowing this truth only enables us to create a better life for ourselves and get out of the patterns of thinking that caused us to fail in the first place.

When we conquer weakness, we stop being a slave to a co-dependent society and learn to take our own lives seriously.

We learn to embrace both the victim and persecutor for they have not yet escaped from the caos and destrusction.

We take full ownership and autonomy of our destiny and we do it by simply choosing to; by giving ourselves permission.

Achivements cannot be fullfilled with complete freedom whilst stuck in the victim mentality, but condeming those who are still apart of it are blindly trapped within.

The only way out unscaved is with perfect compassion and unwavering responsibility.

We do this by looking within, watching our thoughts and diliberately directing them to purity.

Once we choose this path, we become the change we so desire to see in the world and the right people will follow in our footsteps with love and respect.

Steve Allen

Steve is a self-proclaimed writer and the founder of Grand Habit. A blog where he shares practical advice on self-awareness, personal transformation, solopreneurship, and productivity.

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