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Napoleon Hill: Success Through Positive Thinking

Tips on achieving success from one of the great proponents of cultivating a positive mental attitude.

By Nina Hämmerling Smith, Weston, Connecticut


“A person with positive mental attitude aims for high goals and constantly strives to achieve them.”

An early proponent of positive thinking, Napoleon Hill was a bestselling author, an advisor to presidents, a motivational speaker and, to this day, an inspiration to millions.

Hill came from modest means in Pound, Virginia, in 1883. After losing his mother at a young age, he started acting out—until his new stepmother purchased him a typewriter. 

Soon, as a young reporter, he received a plum assignment: to interview the self-made billionaire industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. He inspired Hill’s life work by challenging him to write up a formula for personal success based on interviews with some of the great innovators of the time; not only himself but also Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom he advised from 1933 to 1936.

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Hill developed the Philosophy of Achievement, which he published in 1928 as The Law of Success, a wildly popular multi-volume set. Unfortunately, just a year later, the Great Depression hit the nation and Hill’s own personal success took a significant hit.

One of the most inspiring stories in Hill’s life was his own son’s. Blair was born without external ears; doctors feared that he would be deaf and mute for his entire life. Hill, of course, refused to accept this negative diagnosis. “The outlook was far from encouraging,” he wrote, “but desire backed by faith knows no such word as impossible.”

Through a positive mental attitude and a burning desire that his child hear, Hill set about helping Blair, who himself never doubted that he would hear and speak. Eventually, having acquired limited hearing with the help of a phonograph, his family’s persistence and compassionate teachers, Blair found an electronic device that allowed him to hear—and decided to make it his life’s work to help other deaf people. “For the first time in his life,” Napoleon Hill wrote, “he heard practically as well as any person with normal hearing. ‘God moves in mysterious ways. His wonders to perform.’ ”

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In 1937, Hill published his most famous work, Think and Grow Rich, which remains one of the leading books on personal motivation and self-help to this day. Hill’s focus was not simply wealth, however; he provided tips and ideas for achieving any goal through self-confidence, enthusiasm, cooperation and tolerance.

Helping others was a key element of his philosophy; in Think and Grow Rich, Hill wrote, “I will eliminate hatred, envy, jealousy, selfishness and cynicism, by developing love for all humanity, because I know that a negative attitude toward others can never bring me success.”

Hill continued publishing books for the next three decades until his death at age 87 in 1970. He also shared his philosophies as a teacher, lecturer and motivational speaker. Watch him in action here:

The 1960 book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude—co-written with W. Clement Stone, who ran the The Napoleon Hill Foundation for 40 years—suggests reading the Bible to help “keep your mind on the things you want and off the things you don’t want.”