As A Man Thinketh by James Allen

This book wasn’t intended to be on my list of books for my 50 book challenge, but I couldn’t wait to dive in when it arrived in the mail. You can order your copy here if you want to read before comparing notes with me.

I’ll get to Part 2 of Guns, Germs, and Steel shortly, but I want you to look at this book with me because it speaks to the mindset of this entire project.

Before you engage in a life-changing project to read 50 books, you need to know that you are shaped by your thoughts, and that you are also the master of your thoughts.

Here are 5 truths I’ve pulled from As a Man Thinketh that I’m going to cover here with you:

5 Lessons Learned

  1. We are not formed by our circumstance.
  2. We decide which thoughts we allow and engage.
  3. Thoughts eventually blossom into actions.
  4. Love and fear predict outcome more than prayer and wishes.
  5. We don’t attract what we want. We attract what we are.

You have control, and that means you have responsibility. And that means you have the capacity to manage your thoughts completely.

Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself.

James Allen

We are not formed by our circumstances

As James Allen wrote, when we look to outside circumstances as the explanation and cause of who we’ve become, we rob ourselves of the ability to change, because we rob ourselves of the truth.

When will we stop looking to those “exceptional people” who rise above their circumstances as superheroes or superior people? They are just people, like you and me, who refused to allow what was happening around them to define them. This consistent, willful decision may be extraordinary in comparison to the norm, but it is by no means beyond your grasp.

This realization will change each of us dramatically. And not only are we not victims of what happens around us, we can shape who we become by infinitesimally tiny choices.

Every man is where he is by law of his being; the thoughts which he has built into his character have brought him there, and in the arrangement of his life there is no element of chance, but all is the result of a law which cannot err.

James Allen

We decide which thoughts we allow and engage

It’s easy to misconstrue the reality of how thoughts and thought management works. The unchallenged assumption most people have is that thoughts are like little magical entities that erupt from the substrate of our subconscious.

We tend to consider every thought in our minds as originating from us, regardless of how unintentional they are. And so, if the thoughts are ours, regardless of how impossible it is to trace to a reason for existence, we tend to accept them as-is and offer no effort or time in addressing them.

Thoughts need to be tended. Constantly.

Concept #1: Not all thoughts in your head are actually yours.

I’m not convinced that all thoughts originate within our minds. Thoughts are frequencies and I believe that thoughts can be “received” as well as “transferred”. How and why are not my expertise. Needless to say, engineers are actively and successfully developing technology that reads thoughts, and so it is likely that thoughts can be sent/received somehow.

Concept #2: It’s your job to evaluate, challenge, and steward the thoughts that pass through.

It’s revolutionary to consider yourself the gate keeper of thoughts. Or the shepherd. Or even the gardener. If you are tending to the thoughts, you hold a very important judging capacity.

With this worldview, you are less a victim of undisciplined and unpredictable thoughts, and you are more an active police force, questioning the validity of thoughts. Challenging their necessity. Holding them accountable. Refusing continued access if they can’t pass the test.

We must discard this lifelong assumption that we are passive recipients of thoughts only and that these thoughts are beyond our control.

Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.

James Allen

Thoughts eventually blossom into actions

Allen wants you to accept that thoughts are like seeds. That’s why your function as the gatekeeper is so important. Once a series of seeds is planted, it’s going to eventually bear fruit. They take root deep inside and they grow beneath the surface. Eventually they break through and surface, directing actions and character.

We can waste a lifetime whacking weeds that pop up. But the weeds are the fruit of the seeds we could have challenged and refused much earlier.

Look, it’s not a fun idea at the onset to consider a lifetime of evaluating and challenging thoughts. It takes intentionality. It takes energy. It takes commitment. Those mental reps are like hitting the gym every single day and getting in your reps with the weights. You don’t become Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight. But you do end up massively stronger after two years of consistent weight training.

No one is teaching children en masse the skill of critical thinking. So we allow unchallenged thoughts to go deep and grow weeds which confuse the daily execution of our purpose and mission later on.

Love and fear predict outcome more than prayer and wishes

Not what he wishes and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonize with his thoughts and actions.

James Allen

Allen offers a profoundly important statement. For the Christian who prays for everything but seems to receive almost nothing, there have certainly been times when you evaluate your process and wonder why prayers go unanswered. You may question whether God answers prayer. You may feel that the whole thing is a sham.

And James Allen would inform you that prayers are as ineffective as wishes when the prayers don’t line up with his daily disciplined thoughts and actions. In other words, if I call myself a Christian and I pray to God requesting healing for my body but I turn around and treat my body like its junk, my prayers and my thoughts do not harmonize. I am asking God to force my body to be healthier than I am willing to sustain.

Bottom line: If my prayers disagree with my choices, even my internal choices, then I am being disingenuous. I either need to quit praying for changes or start holding myself responsible for as many of those changes as I am able.

We don’t attract what we want. We attract what we are

I couldn’t help but think about “The Secret” when I read this book. James Allen’s book obviously predates that pop culture phenomenon, but he was aware of people already believing that they can attract what they want in life.

Preparation leads to opportunity. Desire is good so long as it takes action.

A couple quotes that fall in line with this idea:

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

We see people “burst” onto the scene with a new album, new book, new gig, and we are amazed at how suddenly they achieved success. Except it wasn’t suddenly at all. They were tending their gardens for years prior, and when their skills matched the weight of responsibility of opportunity, they were equipped to capitalize on an opportunity that presents itself.

I can daydream about being an author every day of my life. If I don’t type words on my laptop each day, that daydream will never become reality.

I can daydream about being physically fit and toned, but if I don’t wake up and exercise every day or two, that daydream will never become reality.

“Set your intention” is a massively popular phrase right now. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with it. Because the root word of intention is “intent”, i.e. the ACTION you intend to deploy to achieve a goal.

Closing thoughts

There’s a lot of meat here for such a small book. The message that I’m going to take away from this book is that each person is the master of their own thoughts, and therefore they are the masters of their character. And therefore they are the masters of their circumstance. Because circumstance is what is formed by our actions, and our actions are what is formed by our thoughts.

if I could put this into even simpler terms, James Allen is telling me that I have no one else to look to or to blame or to hold accountable. But that I am empowered with the exclusive right to determine my thoughts, which will shape my beliefs, and my actions which will shape my outcomes, and my circumstances which will intern shape my entire life..

These seem like abrasive, condemning thoughts to the person who is undisciplined and unwilling to make consistently responsible decisions.

Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves. They therefore remain bound.

James Allen

What a statement. This is a call to hold ourselves accountable rather than looking elsewhere to blame people or events who and where we are in life. That requires a painful amount of honesty and personal accountability.

I encourage you to read this book, and as I have, to allow what is true to examine you and highlight opportunities to more completely align yourself with truth.

Want to know more about my 50 Book Challenge?

Click here to watch the Instagram video that inspired my project and join me as I cover each book here on this blog!

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    1. I hear you. I consider this to be an aspirational model. Like any fitness regimen, it takes putting in the reps consistently over a long period of time to see how it really affects your life.

  1. But we are formed by our circumstance. How else do you explain the higher crime rate in lower income communities? Don’t you think you should give other people some benefit of the doubt?

  2. This really hit me, you know? Like, sometimes I feel stuck because of stuff happening around me, but it’s cool to think about the possibilities from just thinking differently. Gonna grab that book!

  3. The part about thoughts turning into actions totally makes sense. It’s like what you think about affects what you do. Gonna start paying more attention to the stuff bouncing around in my head.

  4. There are implications here regarding Christianity that I’m not sure that sound pretty far fetched. Prayer doesn’t work??? You sure about that?

    Other than that I found the summary pretty insightful. But the prayer part definitely needs more thought.

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