One of my favorite books on self improvement happens to be the all-time classic “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. It is through the concepts in this book that many people have found the motivation and drive to propel themselves towards success. It is based on generating a powerful desire for your chief aim in life through autosuggestion and definite goals and then achieving these plans through specialized skills and detailed planning. Napoleon Hill has later coined his ideas to achieve success as the Philosophy of Achievement.
I have recently read an excellent book detailing the thoughts and ideas of the Roman Stoics and how the techniques they used to better their lives can still be applied, even in the world we live in today. However, I noticed that these ideas seemed to clash with those found in “Think and Grow Rich”. The Stoics advocated learning to desire and appreciate what you already have, rather than what you don’t have, by imagining what life would be like without your current possessions. Instead of always focusing on what you want, they taught that you should think about how your life situation could have been worse, which would not only generate within you appreciation for what you have now, but also mentally prepare you should you suddenly lose your possessions due to an unfortunate event. Through this, they argued, you will be happier in life by being less attached to your possessions, yet appreciating them more.
These two philosophies seem to conflict on multiple levels. Hill recommends generating a huge desire for what you’ve always wanted in life, while the Stoics recommend extinguishing desires for what you don’t have. Hill recommends filling your mind with thoughts on how you will achieve whatever it is you desire, even if it is seemingly impossible. The Stoics recommend filling your mind with thoughts on how lucky you are to be in your current position with your current possessions. Despite these contradictions, I will demonstrate that:
1) These philosophies don’t contradict each other
2) They work very well together on a deeper level and can be used as a joint philosophy to better your life
Drawbacks and Weaknesses
In order to prove that these seemingly opposite ideas can mesh together, we must discuss the drawbacks of each philosophy. Regarding Hill’s Philosophy of Achievement, tremendous focus is put on determining what we want and then truly believing we can attain it. Yet it is acknowledged even by Hill that attaining your ultimate goal in life can take many years, if not decades. Therefore, there is a risk that by generating such a strong desire in yourself for something you don’t have, you may lose focus on all of the blessings you have right in front of you until your goal is finally achieved.
Stoicism on the other hand, teaches us techniques to appreciate what we have now through visualizing a worse-case scenario in which we are deprived of our possessions (a technique known as “negative visualization”). It also teaches that we must let go of the past, for it cannot be changed, and we must not worry over that which we cannot control. However, by focusing so much on being content with what we have now, one may end up losing focus on one’s ultimate desires and goals in life. It would be incredibly difficult to form a desire strong enough to achieve the most challenging of goals when one is very content with their place in life. For example, George St. Pierre, one of the greatest mixed martial artists in the world today, once said that his motivation for training at his grueling intensity level is the fear that his opponents are training harder than he is. While you may not have the challenges that Mr. St. Pierre faces every single day, going about your daily routine while striving to achieve difficult goals and changing your lifestyle for the better is still a monumental task for one person, and as such, will require a strong drive to reach those goals.
How They Complement Each Other
These philosophies fill in each others gaps wonderfully when applied correctly. To be successful in any endeavor you should first identify what you feel is the proper measure for success. Although the book “Think and Grow Rich” focuses on a fixed amount of money, your ultimate desire can be something that isn’t quantified by money, such as an enjoyable career or traveling to 12 countries before you reach a certain age. To supplement this, the Stoics offer advice on how to pursue goals in life. They recommend that one does not concern ones self with matters outside of one’s control. And for matters that allow you some, but not all, control, you must shift the goal from an external measure to an internal measure. Therefore, to set a goal that is reliant on external forces – such as “Have 200 people visit my blog this week from a Google search” – is ineffective because you could work on the blog 24/7 and this may still not happen, which will result in stress, disappointment, and frustration. However, if you shift that goal to an internal measure, such as “I will spend 6 hours this week learning about search engine optimization best practices and spend another 5 hours implementing what I’ve learned to the best of my ability”, you are in direct control of the outcome of that goal. Even if you didn’t reach those 200 visits, you have still attained your goal.
However, external numbers and measures serve a different, yet still important purpose. Life doesn’t care how hard you try to achieve something. It only cares about the final result. Try telling your professor that you spent 12 hours on your paper and you deserve to get an “A” because of it. Life simply doesn’t work that way. Therefore, those 200 visits a month should serve as a milestone to your progress. Rather than making those 200 visits the actual goal, make it the milestone to let you know that your internally-set goals are resulting in progress. If they aren’t giving you progress, you may have to alter your internal measure of success to further challenge yourself in that area. Example: I will spend 5 hours a week on learning how to invest in real estate to I will spend 5 hours a week on learning how to invest in real estate and spend 3 hours a week searching out successful real estate investors and asking them how they became successful. Because you are still aggressively pursuing your goals and measuring your progress with milestones, but are no longer outcome-dependent since your goals are internally-driven, the amount of stress you feel from not attaining your short-term goals is significantly reduced, allowing you have a more enjoyable present state of mind, which is what the Stoics advocate striving to possess.
The next step, according to Hill’s philosophy, is to generate within yourself a powerful desire to achieve your definite chief aim in life. This can be accomplished by using autosuggestion to convince your mind that you have the ability to achieve your aim, regardless of how difficult it appears to be. Autosuggestion is most effective when you can vividly picture in your mind the object or outcome that you desire. Therefore, the Stoics’ advice on focusing on what you have, rather than what you don’t have, seems to conflict with Hill’s advice on autosuggestion. However, this can be reconciled by distinguishing between quality desires and wasteful desires. Wasteful desires, such as needing all of the latest and greatest technology available today, only results in short-term gratification (until the next wave of technology is released) and a constant drag on your financial well-being. The Stoics are advocating that you remove frivolous desires from your life by learning to desire what you have through the technique of “negative visualization” (discussed above). If you are successful in removing frivolous desires through “negative visualization,” what remains are unrealized desires that are of quality. Such desires include the things you truly want in life, such as starting a successful business, finding a career you truly enjoy, escaping the rat race, training for and successfully completing a marathon, or saving up enough money to retire early and travel the world. The techniques outlined in “Think and Grow Rich” are phenomenally useful in generating an extreme want for these desires, which will propel you to go and achieve them with vigor and persistence. In this way, the combination of these two philosophies allows you to appreciate what you have, while still pursuing quality desires that will positively impact your life.
Note: I am not here to disparage those who spend a lot of money on the latest gadgets and fashion. If, after substantial deliberation, you determine that your money is best spent on such things, that’s fine. The key is to make sure that you are not mindlessly squandering away your hard-earned money on things that will bore you soon after buying them. Along those lines, don’t spend your time and effort on goals that will only give you short-term or fleeting gratification. Life is too short to not go for the big wins.
Finally, both philosophies believe in tracking your progress and evaluating yourself on a regular basis. The Stoics called it “meditation”, but unlike the practice of emptying your mind (the common association with the word ‘meditation’), this meditation reflects the process in “Think and Grow Rich” of asking yourself periodically the following questions:
- What progress have I made this week/month/year towards my chief goal in life?
- In what ways have I faltered and failed? How can I improve these faults and failures for the following week/month/year?
- What have I learned in the past week/month/year that is now helping me on my path to success?
- What do I still need to learn that will further help me on my path to success?
- What steps will I take in the next week/month/year to continue learning and making progress?
In conclusion, the Philosophy of Achievement as discussed in “Think and Grow Rich” and the philosophy of Stoicism can combine very well to give guidance on how people should navigate life to achieve success and happiness. If you have read through this post up to this point, I strongly encourage you to explore any philosophies that appeal to you and see how you can mix and adapt them to your values and beliefs to better yourself as a person.
For more information on the basics of Stoicism, I recommend “A Guide to the Good Life” by William Irvine (I have no affiliation with Mr. Irvine and do not profit from this recommendation).