Outwitting the Devil – Napoleon Hill

An imagined interview between Napoleon Hill and the devil himself

At his pinnacle, Napoleon Hill was a successful 20th century author, having published Think and Grow Rich after forgoing law school on the advice of Andrew Carnegie, to interview some 25,000 normal people and 500 outliers.

As interesting as it was, Hill noticed that simply mimicking advice from the outliers was not enough. Doing your own thing, ignoring all the haters, never giving up and so on – can be as much a recipe for failure, as it is for success. Is it all a concoction of timing, placement and luck? They certainly have their part to play. 

Just one year after the first book’s huge success, Napoleon ventured into an exploration of the missing half – lessons from the root of all evil himself. It was deemed too controversial for its time (1938) and was not released by Sterling Publishing until 2011, 40 years after Hill’s death; partly what makes it such a fascinating read today. Hill shared some controversial views on churches and schools which in his opinion, discouraged individuality and kept people stifled in a web of fear. 

The key themes of the book attempt to uncover the secrets to ‘success’ and therefore freedom, by evaluating the greatest obstacles that ‘mr. earthbound’ faces in order to attain his goals in life, at the hands of ‘his majesty’.

Whether you interpret these dark forces to be something external, or merely the inner antics of our own minds, this book is for the entrepreneurs looking to beat the odds, anyone who wishes to conquer their fears and those interested in the timeless wisdom of a century old manuscript, from one of the pioneers of the modern self-help genre. 

The difference between Drifters and Non-Drifters

The devil’s goal is to make all humans aimless drifters through habit.

‘I can best define the word “drift” by saying that people who think for themselves never drift, while those who do little or no thinking for themselves are drifters.’ This results in the antithesis of a stoic, a philosophy that was explored in my brief review of ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown here.

Drifters let themselves be emotionally tossed around in life, allowing external factors, mostly out of their control, to dominate their minds and therefore lives. Drifting eventually becomes a ‘hypnotic rhythm’, which traps people in a prism of fixation on the trivial. 

Finding One’s Other Self

There are only 2 bases from which we build our entire lives: faith and fear.

During his lifetime, Hill received a death threat that forced him into hiding with relatives for over a year, paralysed with fright. It was something that Carnegie had mentioned to him years previously that brought him back into the light, ‘the other self’. 

‘You will discover that the cause of success is not something separate and apart from the man; that it is a force so intangible in nature that the majority of men never recognise it; a force which might properly be called ‘the other self’. Noteworthy is the fact that this ‘other self’ seldom exerts its influence or makes itself known, excepting at times of unusual emergency, when men are forced, through adversity and temporary defeat to change their habits and to think their way out of difficulty.

When fear has so often become our natural default, the ‘other self’ is founded in and motivated by, faith. Faith is what tells you to stop giving in to fear and doubt and finish, instead of fixating on paralysing possibilities.

The fear that causes us to drift is instilled early on in the form of societal pressures and the fact that, as Hill believed, the education system is inefficient to equip people for the real world, with the main focus being on rote learning of endless facts and figures as opposed to adequately developing critical thinking, creativity, individuality and practical application of fundamental principles. 

Hill had first hand experience of this, his life goal was to create his first philosophy of individual achievement through his interviews. However as they piled up over the years, he found that his notes were at risk of becoming aimless. He became stuck in the fog of fear and indecision. While taking a break in the fresh air, he re-gained motivation in the form of a commanding, determined part of himself. An ‘infinite intelligence’ he believed we could always tap into when we fight through the doubt. This reminds me of the same concept so many others seemed to tap into – from Hill, to Rowling to Tesla to Carnegie. 

Hill’s Seven Principles

To attain mental, spiritual and physical freedom, we must follow seven principles and escape the devil’s grasp. 

Definiteness of Purpose: Define the real aspirations you want to move towards, consider what’s at the root of why you want those things and start taking the steps towards making it a reality. I believe this can often be in the form of a theme, as opposed to a definitive and rigid goal. 

Mastery over self: Learn discipline over impulse. Don’t give in to lazy habits, or worse, create new ones. Tame the monkey mind. 

Learning from adversity: The greatest lessons come from our most difficult times. Every problem has a solution so there’s no reason to think of failure as anything other than a temporary state of mind. 

Controlling environmental influence: Who you hang out with, what you do, what you talk about, what your room looks like – don’t be sloppy, it all makes an impact. We are creatures of our environment and we adapt accordingly. 

Time: Habits cement over time. You can choose to cement the negativity and emotional turbulence of a drifter, or the positivity and wisdom of a stoic. We are great at coming up with excuses for unproductive behaviour, whether the laziness extends to poor eating habits or irregular sleeping patterns, the real danger is when they become a thoughtless, careless and regular way of life. 

Harmony: In order for you to balance the mental, spiritual and physical aspects of your life, you must be the one in control. How often are our views, opinions and actions too easily influenced by the media, our friends or popular opinion. Question what you think more often, as uncomfortable as it is. The wisest people are often the most uncertain and present a balanced and reasoned argument, whereas those that think they know everything are often ignorant. 

Caution: Always think before you act. Intuition is important when you have honed it via thoughtful experience, it should not be mistaken with instinct. 

They say that life is a game, so if you want to win (by making yours truly your own), it helps to know the rules! Hill’s book transcends time in that his ideas are as relevant today as they were 80 years ago. The main message is that although these may seem like simple strategies, putting them into practice is hard. Most people go through life accepting their circumstances because they fear the consequences of attempting something different. 

Most of us are more afraid of the uncertainty of a life of trying, failing and growing, than a life of safety, predictability and stagnation. We all face setbacks in life but if you let them eat away at your faith, you give into fear and you let the devil win. It’s your life so don’t be a drifter, claim ownership over yourself, before something else does. 

‘My experience has taught me that a man is never quite so near success
as when that which he calls ‘failure’ has overtaken him, for it is on occasions of this sort that he is forced to think. If he thinks accurately, and with persistence, he discovers that so-called failure usually is nothing more than a signal to re-arm himself with a new plan or purpose. Most real failures are due to limitations which men set up in their own minds. If they had the courage to go one step further, they would discover their error.’