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As a Man Thinketh, published in 1903, is a succinct pamphlet that should be read again and again to internalize and live its message. The title of the book echoes a line from the Bible’s Book of Proverbs: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  It also reminded me of the Law of Mentalism and the Law of Cause & Effect from the Seven Hermetic Principles of the Kybalion.

James Allen’s book is consistent with the era in which it was written, and as such, the book refers to ‘man’ as a shorthand for ‘a person’, ‘people’ or ‘humans’. 

In this summary of As a Man Thinketh, we will look at the main lessons from the book.

About James Allen

Born to illiterate working-class parents, it seems that James Allen, the author of As a Man Thinketh practiced what he preached. Young Allen was able to overcome the substantial disadvantages of the untimely murder of his father when he was fifteen, which forced him to drop out of school and find menial employment to support his family.   

His wife Lily wrote of him: 

He never wrote theories, or for the sake of writing; but he wrote when he had a message, and it became a message only when he had lived it out in his own life, and knew that it was good. Thus he wrote facts, which he had proven by practice.

Summary of the Main Lessons from As a Man Thinketh

Thought & Character

THOUGHT = BEING. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts. 

MASTER: Man is always the master of himself, even if only a foolish master.

EFFORT: Only by much effort are gold and diamonds found. Use efforts to trace your thoughts to their effects. He that seeketh findeth. 

Effect of Thought on Circumstances

GARDEN: A man’s mind is like a garden which may be either intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild, but whether cultivated or neglected it will bring forth. 

As a Man Thinketh Summary: Your mind is like a garden

CIRCUMSTANCES: Circumstances does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.  Thought and character are one; outer circumstances are harmonious with the inner state. Buffeted by circumstances until you realise this creative power. 

The soul attracts what it secretly harbours; that which it loves and that which it fears. It reaches the height of its cherished aspirations and falls to the level of its unchastened desires – circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own. 

You do not attract what you want but what you are.  You get what you earn not what you pray for. Prayers are only answered when they harmonise with your thoughts and actions. 

Suffering is to purify and burn off all impurity. There is no point in burning gold after the dross has been burned off and likewise the perfectly pure being cannot suffer. 

Law, not confusion is the dominant principle of the universe. 

Men think that their thoughts can be kept secret; they cannot. Thoughts rapidly crystallize into habit and habit solidifies into circumstance. 

A particular train of thought persisted in cannot fail to produce its results on character and circumstances. 

You cannot choose your circumstances BUT YOU CAN choose your thoughts and so indirectly yet surely choose your circumstances. 

Effect of Thought on Health & the Body

The body is the servant of the mind. Like circumstance, disease and health are rooted in thought. Change of diet will not help the man who will not change his thoughts. 

To protect your body, protect your mind. 

Thought & Purpose

PURPOSE: Until thought is linked with purpose there can be no intelligent achievement. Aimlessness leads to catastrophe and destruction. 

As a Man Thinketh by James Allen: Find your purpose
As a Man Thinketh Summary: Make sure your purpose is clear

Make your purpose the central point of all your thoughts.  Make your purpose your supreme duty and devote yourself to its attainment.  Look neither left nor right until you have achieved that purpose. Doubts and fears must be rigorously excluded. He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure. Thought allied fearlessly to purpose becomes a creative force. The effort in trying to achieve this purpose will strengthen your character and provide a new starting point for future purposes. 

If you cannot think of a purpose then focus on the faultless performance of your duties and your thoughts will be gathered and focused accordingly. 

The Thought Factor in Achievement 

All that man achieves or fails to achieve is as a result of his thoughts. Your strength/weakness purity/impurity are your own and not another’s.

He who has conquered weakness is free and belongs neither to the oppressor nor the oppressed. 

Before you can achieve anything you must lift your thoughts above slavish animal indulgence.  

SACRIFICE: There is no achievement without sacrifice and success is measured by the level of sacrifice you have made. 

Success can only be maintained by right thought. Many give way when they succeed and rapidly fall back to failure. 

Visions and Ideals 

Cherish your visions and ideals; if you remain true to them you can realize them. 

As a Man Thinketh Summary: Change your thoughts and you will change the world

Into your hands will be placed the exact results of your own thoughts; you will receive what you earn – no more no less. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration. 


The calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control.  

A man becomes calm in the measure that he understands himself and others. A calm man having governed himself knows how to adapt himself to others and they, in turn, feel his spiritual strength and learn that they can rely on him. 

As a man thinketh summary: serenity

People prefer to deal with someone whose demeanour is strongly equitable. 

The strong calm man is always loved and revered. Serenity is the last lesson of culture.

To put the stark advice of As a Man Thinketh into practice, you might find our summary of Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz useful.

If you enjoyed this summary of As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, check out some of our other summaries and reviews.