A conversation with Napoleon Hill

Many think that success is mainly a matter of luck. Those who actually do believe so, never become successful! What is success though? When we think about it, we may think of money, popularity, power… Those definitions are not wrong, but they confuse the mean for the end.

How suffering leads to understanding 

Few years ago, a dear friend wanted to become a Wall Street guy. He worked hard to achieve his objective, until one day he made it. There he was! Closing deals worth millions of dollars, making a six figures salary. Although he felt very miserable. Was he successful? According to the definition of success above, he was. But, why did he feel miserable? Well, he believed that his end in life was money, and he became millionaire. On the other hand, he was not satisfied, neither happy. Each day he felt a mounting feeling of unhappiness pouring in his veins and he couldn’t stand that. He started to wonder what was wrong with him. He had it all: money, cars, NYC, girls and so on. What was lacking then? He was not the kind of person he wanted to be. In the last years due to Wall Street he did make a lot of money but he did not have time for himself. He started to use drugs since some of his friends did so. Although his family and friends back home saw him as “the successful guy” who “has it all”, he did not feel in that way. He felt his life was a huge lie but he did not have the courage to confess it. His feeling of frustration rose even further. He felt lonely and abandoned by everyone. How could he confess his problems to his family of closest friends when he was the “successful guy”? His family and friends would have not understood him. Was he a bad person? How could he possibly be unhappy with all that? Was he ungrateful? Each second of his day, became like a giant rock falling into the sea; creating a state of anxiety, that became unbearable. He did not know where to start, how to ask for help, who would be able to understand him. One day he was walking through Manhattan. It was a foggy day and he couldn’t bear the thought of spending another unworthy day at the office. He was walking fast, almost like someone who wants to kill the negative thoughts at the sound of his feet pounding on the ground. When he got to Madison Ave, between 62th and 63th street, his eyes crossed for an instant a Book Store’s window-shop. A familiar face struck him hard like a thunder slamming a tree. The familiar face was displayed next to a book cover that said “Think and Grow Rich”. It was the first time he saw that title but for some reason that face seemed to recall his granddad physiognomy. Little grandpa (that is how he called him for his stature) was the wisest person my friend knew. Unfortunately He passed away when he was still a kid. He felt compelled to get in the store and buy the book. Still today he does not know why subconsciously he did that, but he met for the first time his life savior: “Napoleon Hill”.

What does Napoleon Hill have to do with our friend’s story?

What made our friend miserable was the fact that he confused the means for the end. He had a misconception about success. Indeed, he believed that success was related to having things, such as: money, car, popularity and so on. As many others he believed that happiness was achieved through acquiring things. He believed that a bigger house, a new car and a beautiful girl would have changed the way he felt about life. He discovered very soon how deceiving was his conception about life and success! Indeed, success is not having things but being the kind of person who is able to have things. Therefore, if we cannot say for sure which comes first, if the egg of the chicken, when it comes to success we do know that we must first “be” and then “have”. In our friend’s story Napoleon Hill plays a key role since he is the first author to conduct a study on success almost like a scientist more than a writer. He asks himself “what are the common qualities that successful people share?” Incredibly, Napoleon Hill found out that most of the successful people shared the same mindset; a way of thinking that made them different from all other people on planet Earth. Therefore, he concluded that someone’s success is due to internal factors. Napoleon Hill found out that high achievers had to develop qualities they lacked in their youth long before becoming successful. This implies that success is not determined by genetic or real heritage but from deeper factors. The point is that most of the time once you become successful people seem to forget that before becoming so, you had to work your tail off and build your character. People seem to believe that success is something given by God and none can either give or take away from you. People seem to believe that “a leopard cannot change its spots”. In other words you cannot change your nature! Are those universal truths or just universal misconceptions? According to Napoleon Hill’s over twenty-years research, achievement in life is not casual but causal. Billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are not who they are because some angels from the sky came down on earth and blew the wind of fortune on them. Of course luck plays a role when it comes to success, but talent is more important than luck. It turns out, that most of successful people had to work hard to “master their-selves”. Therefore success is more of a process. Napoleon Hill will guide you through this process and introduce you to the “science of success”.

Who is Napoleon Hill?

As reported by the Napoleon Hill’s biography “he was born into poverty in 1883 in a one-room cabin on the Pound River in Wise County, Virginia. At the age of 10 his mother died, and two years later his father remarried. He became a very rebellious boy, but grew up to be an incredible man. He began his writing career at age 13 as a mountain reporter for small town newspapers and went on to become America’s most beloved motivational author. Fighting against all class of great disadvantages and pressures, he dedicated more than 25 years of his life to define the reasons by which so many people fail to achieve true financial success and happiness in their life.” (For more info see Napoleon Hill Bio)

How did Napoleon Hill succeed?

Let me tell you the story of a smart but very poor kid: Andrew. In the second half of the 19th century Andrew’s family moved from Scotland to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, when Andrew was just thirteen. At that time living conditions in North America were very harsh for poor people. Andrew’s family did not have the money to pay for his education. Although, Andrew did not get discouraged and he started to work as a messenger for a local telegraph company. He did not make a lot of money but he was glad, since he could contribute to his family finances. One day, when Andrew was still a kid, an Allegheny’s citizen, Colonel James Anderson, opened his library to local working boys. This event changed Andrew’s destiny. He spent hours and hours in the library reading anything he could get his hands on. At age 30 Andrew had already amassed a good fortune. Eventually, he built the Carnegie Steel Corporation into the largest steel manufacturing company in the world . Of course, his name was Andrew Carnegie and he was the wealthiest man on Earth (for more info see Andrew Carnegie Bio). Although you may think of Gates and Buffet as the wealthiest men ever existed, you should know that Andrew Carnegie wealth at its pick reached over $300bln dollars (in today’s money); almost more than the combined wealth of top ten today’s richest men on Earth. Though this was an impressive achievement, what strikes most about Carnegie’s story is his humanity and humility (read the Gospel of Wealth, by Andrew Carnegie).

In this context Carnegie’s story is relevant since Napoleon Hill started his journey toward the “science of success” through Andrew Carnegie’s suggestion about the “magic formula” for achievement. What many at the time considered luck, Andrew Carnegie called “magic formula”. This formula was anything but magic; instead, Carnegie understood at an early age that success was not only achievable by anyone, but also teachable. With those assumptions in mind Napoleon Hill was asked by Mr. Carnegie to analyze hundreds of many that had accumulated great fortunes. Napoleon Hill started an over twenty years-long journey that led to a framework presented in “Think and Grow Rich”. This framework is the outcome of his life’s quest to the “science of success”.

What makes Napoleon Hill’s framework so cool?

As for Dale Carnegie’s framework in “how to win friends and influence people”, the framework “discovered” by Napoleon Hill can be applied by anyone, at any time in life. Although Dale Carnegie gives you some practical advises where you can test the outcome instantly. Napoleon Hill’s framework is different in one aspect: “it takes time to see the outcome”. In the meanwhile you may lose faith in the framework. Therefore, one condition is required: “you must believe that one idea can change your entire world. Therefore you have to keep nurturing such idea until it becomes reality”. Does it sound mystical and impossible to you? Then, you are not ready for this book. On the other hand I can understand your feelings in this moment. You might ask yourself “how can I believe in the power of thought when reality requires you to act?”. Of course, thoughts are not going to pay your bills. A thought is not going to change the external world and it is not going to make your frustration go away. You might ask then: “What is the point of nurturing a thought when I could be working to pay my bills?” Before moving to this objection, let me introduce you to “misperception of senses”.

Reality is all in your mind

Did you ever have a dream seemingly so real than you woke up and felt in a limbo for few seconds? How many times did happen to you to dream to fly, or drown and it felt like you were really experiencing those dreams? If you are like me, you may have asked yourself many times: what is reality? Is what we perceive real or just a misperception of our senses? Is the apple red and juicy or instead this is it just an approximation that our brain creates to give us the feeling that we understand the reality around us? And if our senses help us to approximately understand the external world, how accurately they allow us to see things as they are? I am not sure if you ever asked yourself such questions but if you did so I hope to give you some scientific answers. You might think: “Of course we see the world for what it is. I mean we are humans, the most sophisticated and advanced race on Earth, ever existed”. Well, if you thought so I will give you a bad news, this isn’t true. Donald Hoffman, professor of cognitive science at University of California, Irvine, appeared in a TED talk entitled “do we see reality as it is?” (Do we see reality as it is? TED Talk Transcript) The answer to that seemed to be that reality is completely different from what we see through our senses. Donald Hoffman compares the reality (that we think is real) to a “3D desktop that’s designed to hide the complexity of the real world and guide adaptive behavior. Space as you perceive it is your desktop. Physical objects are just the icons in that desktop.” In other words what you call “reality” is just in your head. Your brain manufactures it for you so that you can survive in a world that is too complex to be fully understood. Therefore, approximation is the key to survival. Let me give you another example: have you ever built a financial model? Financial modeling is a practice used in finance to analyze real world’s transactions. For example, if you want to know how much is a company worth, you will produce an model. This model will contain all the assumptions that will eventually allow you to assess the “real value” of the organization. The reliability of the model stands on the assumptions used. For example, you will assume a certain rate of growth for the company in the future, a discount rate and so on. If your assumptions are reliable, so is your model. But how can an excel model tell you exactly how much is a company worth? The truth is that it can’t! The model can approximate reality until a certain extent. In addition fewer assumptions would make the model work better. Why? Well, predicting all that can happen in the financial world is impossible. Therefore we must consider just the key assumptions that play a central role in our financial model. Indeed, the point here is that the assumptions we have about the external world determine who we are; and the more assumptions (prejudices) we have, the less accurate the lenses through which we see the world are.

What are the key concepts we have seen so far?

Number one: part of the reality you see is all in your head.

Number two: assumptions about the world determine who you are.

Why are those concepts relevant to our story?

Well, concept number one will connect us to the next topic: “the power of visualization”. Concept number two, instead, requires you to stop presuming things: be open minded about the world around you, stop any assumption and prejudice now!

The power of visualization

If this is the first time you have been introduced to this concept, take a deep breath, let your assumptions about life leave your mind for few minutes and get ready for this exciting journey. Everything I am going to say in this paragraph will be backed up by new scientific discoveries. The question we want to answer is: “Can a thought change the world around you?” Of course, not! A thought is not able to change the external world. Let’s reformulate this question: “Can a thought change your world?” Yes, it can! How? In the previous paragraph we saw how reality is all in your head. Now, if you change your thought patterns you will automatically change your reality. But how? Of course, I don’t want you to delude yourself and think all is beautiful in this world. This would be counterproductive and would make you blind to risk. On the other hand you must understand that the world itself and the natural events are neutral. They are neither good or bad. The same applies to thoughts. A thought is neither good or bad but just what it is, a psychological pattern. If you recall a memory about your youth, for example: the image of the garden where you used to play with your friends as kid. The optimistic person may think of this image as a beautiful memory and will use it to affect positively his/her mood. A pessimist person, instead, will look at the image with nostalgia; he will start moaning about how miserable his/her life is now and negatively affect his/her mood. Eventually this person will make his/her life even more miserable. Of course the optimist attitude has more positive results compared to the pessimist. The point I want to make is that thoughts are powerful forces in our life because we perceive them as real. Many researches have shown that athletes thinking of practicing are improving their games as much as athletes who are practicing for real. The “visualization” seems to allow our brains to work at a higher level. Indeed, what we call visualization is a kind of mental rehearsal. This rehearsal involves several parts of our brain to work together and generate a higher form of consciousness. In addition, neuroplasticity studies have shown that visualization can actually improve our quality of life and reduce body injuries. But how does visualization work? Scientifically speaking visualization can create more consciousness and allow to certain areas of our brain to work at their best, since emotions are in check. Indeed, when we are emotional there is a part of our brain called “amygdala” which gets over-activated. The amygdala is the part of the brain directly involved with emotions and the fight or flight response. For example, if you are driving and suddenly you see a car coming toward yours the amygdala activation allows you to realize the danger and avoid it. Consequently you turn the steering wheel and avoid the other car that otherwise would have caused a mortal accident. Although very useful sometimes the Amygdala gets over-stimulated also in situations in which it should be deactivated. For example: if you are about to give a public speech the amygdala will have you believe that a danger that can put your life in jeopardy is about to happen.  In addition, when this area is over-stimulated, neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow transmission amid neurons in our brain) such as norepinephrine are activated. The norepinephrine causes a state of “high alert” and it increases our heart rate and our blood pressure. If this physiological state lasts too long can get us hijacked. This explains why in many circumstances you might have experienced a feeling of unbearable anxiety. For example: the boss asked something, you felt like the mouth frozen and couldn’t speak a word. Later on you asked yourself: what the hell happened to me? That was the amygdala over-stimulation response.

What does the amygdala have to do with visualization? It turns out that visualizing can have a great impact on your brain. Neuroplasticity studies have shown that visualization strengthen neural pathways and leads to a better brain functioning. In addition, by visualizing you are plastically changing your brain. Suddenly the world does not seem anymore an ugly and dangerous place. You feel more relaxed, your health improves and the emotions are in check. In this state of mind you will achieve your objectives with much less effort than before.

What advice would Napoleon Hill give to you?

Now that you have been introduced to the power of visualization Napoleon Hill would suggest you to go on and start practicing it. There are few exercises that you can do to start to set yourself up for success. Let’s see some of them:

  • Autosuggestion. This is a form of autohypnosis that allows certain thoughts to become part of you. Consequently they will change your mindset and will create momentum to achieve your goals. For example: if you want to boost your self-confidence (for few minutes each day) recite the formula: “I am the kind of person who is self-confident, courageous, altruist…”. In other words, chose the qualities you would like to have and try each day for few minutes to recite the statement that is most appropriate to your situation. While you make this autosuggestion try to visualize yourself as successful, confident and so on. You have to really feel confident or successful. This will speed up your progress.
  • Visualization. For half-hour each day visualize yourself like the person you intend to become. Imagine as much details as you can. If you see yourself in a particular place, with a particular person doing something, just imagine as much details as you can. Repeat this exercise once a day.
  • Bad Emotions. “Eliminate from your life hatred, envy, jealousy, selfishness, and cynicism by developing love for all humanity”. By doing this most distractions will go away. In addition, you won’t waste anymore time thinking about others, but you will become more compassionate and this will bring faith in the future.
  • Tame the impulses. Impulses can become the master of your life unless you tame them. Set up an agenda to work on things that most limit yourself. You might have a bad eating habit, watch too much TV or think too much about sex. All those bad habits suck up most of your brainpower and make you unproductive. It is time to change those bad habits with new healthy ones! For example: substitute the time spent watching TV by reading books that can help you grow. Or if you eat too much carbs substitute it with proteins (of course a balanced diet would be the your target). If you find yourself thinking too much about sex, try to substitute that with a healthy long-term relationship with a person you love.
  • Planning is the key. Set a financial target, date and repeat it daily. For example: if you want to earn $… per month, by … date, determine how you will do it and what you will sacrifice. It can be anything. For example, you might say: “I will lose ten pounds by January 31 2016 by reducing 100 calories daily of my intake and substituting this with healthy food… Repeat your plan aloud morning and night”.

Start with the suggestions above and notice the changes that will happen in your life.

Why should you follow Napoleon Hill’s framework?

This framework can be applied to any goal you want to achieve in life. Therefore, it is really up to you to decide which kind of change you want to bring and try it out. Of course, if your life is already perfect how it is, then you don’t need this framework. On the other hand, if you want to improve your life, you must start from yourself. Become the kind of person you want to be…

How to maximize your potential?

What most limits our potential is fear. Of course, not all fears are useless. Keep in mind that fear keeps us alive in certain circumstances of real danger. Beside those circumstances fear becomes a limitation. For example, if we are able to nullify “social fear” our potential can become limitless. According to Napoleon Hill there are six basic fears:

  • The fear of poverty
  • The fear of criticism
  • The fear of ill health
  • The fear of loss of love of someone
  • The fear of old age
  • The fear of death

How to overcome them? Napoleon Hill states that what makes fear unbearable is the state of “worry”, therefore to neutralize fear we must kill the habit of worry. How do we do it? As stated in Think and Grow Rich “Kill the habit of worry, in all its forms, by reaching a general, blanket decision that nothing life has to offer is worth the price of worry. With this decision will come poise, peace of mind and calmness of thought that will bring happiness”. In other words you have two choices: live your life at its maximum potential or be fearful and hide all your life-long. Which of the two options do you pick?

To close our conversation with Napoleon Hill, the following poem written by the English poet William Ernest Henley can be useful to you Invictus. Henley wrote this poem when he was sick of tuberculosis and at a very young age one of his legs was amputated. Despite of all Henley never stopped having faith in life. In that period in the hospital bed he gave birth to “Invictus” that in Latin stands for “unconquerable”. I hope this poem will help you in difficult times.


I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.


Published by


Gennaro Cuofano, International MBA. Author of "The Enlightened Accountant," and "The Art of Mentorship."