Entreprising Notes pages are for my thoughts as I progress through a book… You can check out the Review page here, which is about grading the book as fairly as possible.
Please note that book links to Amazon pages in this post are affiliate links. I am a proud Amazon Affiliate, and if you’d like to support my work, buying a book through my affiliate link is a win-win, and I truly appreciate it.
To buy As A Man Thinketh through my affiliate link, please click here.
Chapter 1: Untitled
December 19, 2019
Finally got to listen to the first chapter … which is untitled.
To be honest, I wasn’t impressed.
This isn’t my first time listening to this text; I listened through it once before – it’s only 45 minutes or so…
Not a long read.
And I liked it the first time.
I liked it well enough this morning, too, but with my Rubric ears on, I heard Allen state that this book isn’t a long treatise; that these are his realizations from “meditation and experience.”
That this text is “suggestive rather than explanatory.”
Then, in the first chapter, it became clear that what he meant was to string together a series of conclusions, without presenting any reasoning.
That I don’t care to contradict any of his conclusions is irrelevant. The Rubric isn’t forgiving of this format.
As A Man Thinketh Chapter One Quotation
Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory 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 peace and strength.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter 1 Page 6
Pick any sentence from the first chapter, and it stands on its own as a quotation.
This is what you get when you string together conclusions without any reasoning.
And people gravitate toward this kind of thing; which explains our meme culture.
Quotations are generally conclusions. Claims that imply thought, but don’t expound it. That’s what makes for a great soundbite.
But it’s dangerous; claims without the context of reason are persuasive without substance.
That’s not to say Allen’s claims are dangerous per se; it’s to say all claims offered without reason should be suspect.
There are so many books on the power of thought that don’t skip the meat of the concept.
Another one right up there on the list is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which I’ll be reading again soon.
Unfortunately, the first chapter just has quotations … an endless stream of meme-like text if you’re into that sort of thing.
For me, I preferred the podcast I listened to after As A Man Thinketh… Dolly Parton’s America, 8th installment. It’s so good… the storytelling is just amazing.
So I’ll leave you with that for now.
Chapter 2: Effect Of Thought On Circumstances
December 20, 2019
This chapter was better than the first.
The sentences were connected by more than having been printed within the same chapter.
Still, there’s so much missing from the text, it’s hard for me to get behind this book, no matter how similar the end conclusions Allen presents align with my own thinking and beliefs.
Let’s get down to it.
As A Man Thinketh Chapter Two Quotation
Not what he wishes and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter Two Page 13
Even as I subscribe to the foundation of the laws Allen is describing, I’m so weary of blunt conclusions that push context to the side.
I suppose if you only use this lens as a way to look at yourself and your own circumstances, then maybe the harm it can cause would be self contained.
But later in the pages, he states:
Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter Two Page 14
He at once is alluding to the great power of the mind, and also reducing mankind to, what? A lazy bunch? An ignorant bunch?
Any hope offered in these pages is quickly evaporated in the air of contempt within which it is presented.
This is the same contradiction I found in the pages of 12 Rules For Life by Jodan Peterson, which, as of now, is the only book on The List that I’ve intentionally abandoned.
I’m not ready to abandon As A Man Thinketh; for one, it’s so short, I can labor through it. Whereas Peterson’s tome was going to take at least two weeks of my time.
At the same time, the lack of compassion in these pages troubles me.
I often observe business people judging themselves and others with the same sentiments I’m finding in this book.
The effects are NOT successful hijacking of their own thoughts to produce better versions of themselves, though. Instead, they are miserable and continue producing miserable results.
And they also take out their misery on others.
If one is to think of themselves in such terms; bearing the responsibility for every aspect of his circumstances by virtue of his thoughts, it logically follows that all others’ circumstances are products of their own “just” rewards created by their own thoughts.
Allen warns against judging a man wholly by his circumstances; for we can’t know all of a man’s thoughts. But he maintains that the circumstances themselves are results of the man’s thoughts and actions, if even unseen.
He also writes plainly about suffering “always” being caused by “wrong thought.”
Here’s the thing; this statement isn’t wrong if you’re distinguishing between circumstances and suffering. Allen alludes to this distinction later in the chapter, but doesn’t stay clear with that distinction when it matters.
The moral question of compassion is begged, then, if you concede there is no such thing as a person who lives independently of other people’s circumstances.
I assert that interdependent circumstances better describes what we observe.
And interdependent circumstances preclude the notion that our circumstances are wholly our own, created by only our own thoughts and resulting actions.
Allen hints and I will forthrightly concede that circumstances do not equate to suffering – or whatever experience one is having. Suffering is an intimate and wholly subjective experience driven by thoughts.
But I cannot subscribe to the idea that circumstances are wholly determined by one’s thoughts and actions contained within one’s lifetime. Not based on the argumentation here, anyway.
These thoughts remind me of another author whose books are full of kind, compassionate, and nonviolent approaches, while still focusing on one’s responsibility for their own thoughts.
In fact, one of his titles is reportedly the only book downloaded to the iPad belonging to Steve Jobs: Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda.
To be fair, Autobiography is simply an introduction to a MASSIVE body of written work by Yogananda. Autobiography is in itself no more practical than Allen’s As A Man Thinketh.
But should you be inspired to take control of your thoughts, as Allen suggests is the key to mastering your own life, the practicality of instruction offered by Yogananda’s other work is unparalleled.
Autobiography is a wonderful segue to the takeaway from this chapter, which is meditation.
Allen introduces the As A Man Thinketh by stating it is the result of his meditation and experience.
Paramahansa Yogananda is credited with having brought yoga and meditation to the West.
I think I will meditate on both a bit more.
Chapter 3: Effect Of Thought On Health And The Body
December 21, 2019
Welcome to the shortest day of the year (for us Northern Hemisphere peeps)!
And the shortest chapter ever.
More of the same, so let’s just get to it.
As A Man Thinketh Chapter Three Quotation
He who has strengthened and purified his thoughts does not need to consider the malevolent microbe.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter 3 Page 25
I think I’ve made my points about the lack of argumentation and compassion within these pages.
Instead of beating that very dead horse, I’ll move onto focusing on the practicality of what Allen offers, which is directly related to being able to prove or disprove to one’s self the tenets he puts forth.
No matter how true what Allen is presenting here might be, he offers nothing to the reader (thus far) by which they might attain Allen’s “purity of thought” ideal.
Consider the quotation above; if you have clean and pure thoughts, you don’t have to worry about germs.
The closest thing to an argument so far in this book is implied here…in a bit of a stretch.
It goes like this:
Disease is incompatible with clean (or pure) circumstances.
Since he’s already stated that circumstances arise from thought (the thesis of Chapter 2):
Clean circumstances begin with clean thoughts, which lead to clean habits, which reinforce clean thoughts and habits, and result in clean circumstances.
Therefore, disease is incompatible with clean thoughts.
Furtherfore (yup, I just made that up), a person who is pure of thought doesn’t need to be concerned with germs.
It’s quite appealing to think if you’re on this merry-go-round of purity that you don’t need to be concerned with icky things such as impure thoughts and habits and their resulting disease.
But where the hell do you get on the merry-go-round?
Hopefully he gets around to telling us soon.
Specifically, the moral foundation of sanctity and purity.
This seems to be the lens through which every sentence of this book was written… The idea that there is a clear demarcation between that which is clean and pure and that which is not.
And the normative or “should” implication that one should opt for and pursue “pure” at all costs.
We collectively decide what is clean and unclean; in religions specifically and in society in general – just think about the dietary restrictions of a religious order, and compare that with the anti-fat, anti-carb, anti-gluten campaigns with which we are all familiar.
Such a short chapter, and there’s really not a whole lot to take from it…
Perhaps it’s time for a giveaway instead.
One of my favorite prompts for meditation, which seems to support Allen’s thoughts in As A Man Thinketh, is from the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Even smile in your liver.From Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
This quotation was quickly borrowed from GoodReads.
Chapter 4: Thought And Purpose
December 22, 2019
We’re finally getting somewhere.
Both the logic and practicality of this chapter are much improved over previous chapters.
And there are some answers offered that are more useful than many other treatments I’ve found on finding one’s purpose and pursuing it.
Let’s begin, shall we?
As A Man Thinketh Chapter Four Quotation
Those who are not prepared for the apprehension of a great purpose should fix the thoughts upon the faultless performance of their duty, no matter how insignificant their task may appear.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter 4 Page 29
This is where Allen suggests we hop on the merry-go-round of pure thought.
And I can’t fault it. It’s a pretty sound argument…
If you don’t know what to do with your life, focus on doing life the best you can right now.
By focusing your energy on your performance, you gather the will and strength to do not just what’s before you, but to pursue your purpose when it presents itself.
Allen also states that fear and doubt preclude success, and I can’t argue against that, either.
By practicing turning your thoughts to what you can do, you begin to banish doubt and fear, and discover you can do more and more over time.
It’s a slight stretch to pull this argument from the text, but it’s there. And it’s good.
As A Man Thinketh is such a short text, but it reminds me of much longer and more detailed texts on the power of thought (and energy).
I’ve mentioned Paramahansa Yogananda, whose work was spiritual and religious, while As A Man Thinketh is definitely secular – even with mentions of “heavenly,” and “blessed.”
There is no ultimate power of God or anything else mentioned in the pages (thus far). So while Allen’s text is normative, it is not done from a religious perspective.
I think the key takeaway here is to pursue your purpose, and to substitute your duty for purpose if you haven’t yet found a purpose worth pursuing.
I have been meditating and thinking on this very thing for a bit of time. Entreprising started as a flicker of an idea nearly four years ago … but has recently resurfaced as the thing I must get done.
Conquering fear and doubt to pursue my purpose here at Entreprising seems like a chore. Am I up to the challenge?
Chapter 5: The Thought-Factor In Achievement
December 26, 2019
A cold. The rain. The holiday … all excuses for my lack of blogging. But here I am, back at it.
I’m getting bored with this book, so let’s just get to it.
ALL that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter 5 Page 32
This chapter reverts back to the claim upon claim format of the first.
And while Allen writes about a “perfect Compassion,” it doesn’t seem to extend to one’s self.
I’ve done enough writing on both of these points for previous chapters, so I won’t continue here.
One of my favorite things about reading is being reminded of other things I’ve read or studied or encountered.
I did get one of those moments in today’s reading.
I was reminded of Frankfurt’s theory of free will, from a piece I read in a class I took on the Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona in 2013.
In As A Man Thinketh, Allen says:
A man whose first thought is bestial indulgence could neither think clearly nor plan methodically; he could not find and develop his latent resources, and would fail in any undertaking.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter 5 Page 33
This reminds me of the discussion of first and second order desires, will, and second order volition.
I’ve thought about Frankfurt’s theory many times since encountering it. If our first order desires and will are not aligned with our second order desires, are we free?
When I think of Allen’s “bestial indulgence,” I’m reminded of the first order desire for something base or detrimental. But Allen doesn’t distinguish between thoughts, desires (first or second order), will, or volition.
I have a feeling he would have enjoyed entertaining these ideas, though.
I don’t know that there’s going to be much more to take away from this book…
For tonight, my gift is remembering that class. Feeling a bit nostalgic about it if I’m being honest.
Chapter 6: Visions And Ideals
December 28, 2019
In this chapter, the absolutes in which Allen was writing at the beginning of the book give way to less black and white notions of how one’s circumstances are cultivated.
Not much. But a little.
Let’s get to it.
As A Man Thinketh Chapter 6 Quotation
Your circumstances may be uncongenial, but they shall not long remain so if you but perceive an Ideal and strive to reach it.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter 5 Page 38
Earlier in the book James said that one’s circumstances are the direct result of one’s thoughts.
Here, he’s saying if you change your thoughts, your circumstances will change IF you strive to change them.
That is not the same as saying that your thoughts dictate your circumstances.
Instead of thought = circumstances, the equation becomes thought + action = circumstances.
This is much more in line with my ideas about the power of thought… So I don’t resent him for having finally said it.
Still, he leaves a lot more to be desired in terms of practicality here.
Allen says by “perceiving an Ideal” and “striving for it,” we can overcome “uncongenial” circumstances.
He goes on to say it is an “unrest” that causes one to act on their “Ideal,” but he fails to describe the leap from thought to action beyond that in this chapter.
In an earlier chapter, Allen said that focusing on a “faultless performance” of one’s duties will give way to a proper purpose over time. I would trade “purpose” in this chapter for “Ideal.”
The jump from Ideal to action is what reminded me of George Graham’s book, The Disordered Mind: An Introduction To Philosophy Of Mind And Mental Illness.
Specifically, how Graham so eloquently describes depression as a lack of volition to produce the effects of the will.
Depression aside, this suggests that thought, will, and volition are distinct, which is in line with my previous association of As A Man Thinketh with Frankfurt’s theory of free will (from Chapter 5).
Further, it suggests that will and volition do not reflexively follow from thought; I can think without will and volition.
I can have the thought that I need and want (to do) something in my mind, and I can think it over and over again, and still never make a move to do it.
Another distinction that is not fully fleshed out in the text is thought about which we are away, and thought about which we are unaware.
Allen writes you will reap your Ideal one way or the other; and if you’re reaping something other than what you think your Ideal is, then your Ideal is really a secret desire you’ve been harboring in the way of your thoughts.
Which goes to the work of being mindful of your own thoughts, and brings me to the takeaway.
Really a giveaway; a lovely quotation from My Stroke Of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor.
If I want to maintain my inner peace, I must be willing to consistently and persistently tend the garden of my mind moment by moment, and be willing to make the decision a thousand times a day.Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke Of Insight – Chapter 18 Page 154
Taylor, a Harvard-educated brain scientist, woke up one morning while having a major stroke, and writes about the experience of her mind during and following.
I discovered the book from her TED talk.
Chapter 7: Serenity
January 4, 2020
Coming to you from the beautiful Blairsville, Georgia … life has taken yet another turn. I’m here to help my Mom recover from a setback in health.
Let’s get back to it, shall we?
As A Man Thinketh – Chapter 6 Quotation
The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good.James Allen, As A Man Thinketh – Chapter 6 Page 43
This is my second favorite chapter of the book, ending on a strong note. I don’t think there’s much to counter here when it comes to tranquility being a foundation for success. At least success in its most rewarding sense.
There is plenty of marketing for the “hustle” life, the “stress overload” life, etc.
But the mark of success that sticks out most in my mind is the voice that carries more weight the quieter it becomes.
I once learned that if you whisper to a crying baby, they must get quiet to hear you.
I never found this effective myself as a mother, but the point is not lost on me.
I remember working on a young man on the rise to fame in the rap world. He was due to perform a concert a few minutes later, and all the hustle and bustle behind stage was enough to make my head spin.
So many people were running around, lost and stressed. All making noise enough to make it difficult to think.
It was not a tranquil environment, and yet this young man kept his head about him. It was something to behold.
At one point, a pair of people, one woman and one man, came up to him while he was face down on the table. They were all worked up over a “merch” mistake.
The rapper barely spoke over a whisper, and the two quickly turned on their heels and went about their business.
Frazzled. That’s what I call it when I lose myself in a situation. He demonstrated the anti-frazzle. As if his threshold to rise was about a billion times higher than mine.
“…for people will always prefer to deal with a man whose demeanor is strongly equable.” (James Allen, a little later on the page.)
Business-wise, this chapter reminds me of the book Good To Great, by Jim Collins.
Specifically, the discussion about what leaders of companies who went from good to great had in common.
It’s been a long time since I read that book, so I’ll have to take another look soon. But if I recall correctly, it seems some of Allen’s “serenity” in the way of this chapter describes the Level 5 managers Collins discusses in his classic business book.
How does one become serene or tranquil?
I don’t think As A Man Thinketh can be confused with a how-to manual. It’s clearly not meant to instruct on achieving any of the aims it presents.
So we’ll end here, without a takeaway.
Check out the review of As A Man Thinketh here.
Cut to the chase. Chapter insights from the top business books sent straight to your inbox every day, along with updates and special offers. Sign up to keep up.
*Bonus* Receive a free PDF of Entreprising's Guide to Crucial Conversations when you sign up today.