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How NOT to Read a Self-Help Book

I am a fanatic for Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. I give away copies, evangelize for the book, and recently published a replica of the original 1937 edition.

Having beat a drum for Think and Grow Rich for years, I am sometimes asked by friends and coworkers: does this brashly titled, 80-year-old self-help book really work?

How To Read a Self-Help Book Effectively

The answer is YES.

But ONLY if you avoid one common mistake: reading the book casually, thinking that you already “get it” – and thus skipping vital exercises and steps.

Think and Grow Rich will yield its magic only if you do exactly what the author says – and do it as if your life depends on it.

Maybe you’re like me. You’ve read dozens upon dozens of self-help books and you have a “been there, done that” attitude. It is easy to fall into. But that kind of approach will blunt the benefits of Think and Grow Rich. This is because Napoleon Hill wrote the book in a very exact manner.

He spent twenty years studying the lives of high achievers of all types – inventors, generals, diplomats, artists, industrialists – and he codified their common traits into a step-by-step program. Hill was certain, as am I, that he had created a model of what great minds do when bringing an idea from the conceptual stage to the physical stage.

When friends tell me that they feel stuck in life, I give them a copy of Think and Grow Rich with this advice: go home and start reading the book, and follow every step and exercise with fanatical zeal. Forget about every other self-help book that you have ever read (including those that crib from Think and Grow Rich). As a personal experiment, dedicate yourself to Hill’s process for six months.

One of the beautiful things about Think and Grow Rich is that it can be used to attain any worthy aim. Whether you’re an artist, graduate student, or soldier, if you’re not reading Think and Grow Rich, you’re selling yourself short. The book will meet you wherever you are, and will serve whatever goal you have in mind. But only if you follow its program all the way.

Let me offer a personal example.

Hill instructs you to write down a specific sum of money that you want to earn, and the date by when you want to earn it. When I first started reading Think and Grow Rich, I was uncomfortable writing down a particular amount. I hesitated doing so. It felt unnatural.

It seemed to me like I was closing off options or cheapening my priorities. Writing down a sum chaffed against my religious leanings. But once I got past those hesitancies, I found it extremely potent to commit to an exact dollar amount and deadline.

As I write these words I am looking at a yellow sticky note pasted inside the back cover of my personal copy of Think and Grow Rich (whose jacket and spine I have covered with clear packing tape to keep the book from falling apart after repeat readings).

My yellow note is dated “11/23/14” and has a specific sum which I committed to earning by “11/23/15” (which happens to be my birthday). I later wrote an addendum on this piece of paper: “This happened!! 5/27/16.” The latter date is when I noticed, quite by surprise, that the sum had arrived within the specified time frame.

Why did this happen? One reason is that writing down and committing to a precise amount and deadline can produce a unique pull on the mind, both consciously and, I suspect, subconsciously. When you write down, and thus reinforce any concrete goal, you start noticing opportunities, people, possibilities, and ideas that can serve your objective.

Read to Receive

“Set your mind on a definite goal and observe how quickly the world stands aside to let you pass.”
― Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

So, accept my advice as that of a friend who wishes you success: read Think and Grow Rich in the right way. Set aside all doubts and self-help fatigue, even if you’ve read it before. Give the book everything you’ve got – and it will give back to you.

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