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The Enduring Legacy of Napolean Hill’s Worst Quote

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In 1937 Napolean Hill published one of the best selling self-help books ever written, Think and Grow Rich. It went on to sell more than 15 million copies.

Napolean Hill’s list of dubious claims is long. While he may have indeed studied the lives of a long list of successful business men, there is no evidence supporting his grander claims.

He claims that he interviewed Andrew Carnegie, that he was an advisor to two presidents: Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR’s most famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” was also claimed by Hill.

The deeper you research his life, the clearer it becomes how much of a fraud he truly was.

Contained within his book is probably the most misunderstood and persistent quote repeated ad nauseam in the personal development world:

“Whatever Your Mind Can Conceive and Believe, It Can Achieve.”

The promise behind this quote is so alluringly compelling.

Everything you want is just on the other side of sheer blind belief.

The repercussions are equally damning. If you’re not yet successful, it’s because you either haven’t conceived, or don’t believe quite enough.

Another quote that is missing important pieces. In fact, it only has a very small bit of truth to it.

His best-selling self-help book, Think and Grow Rich, contained this quote and spawned the concept of the “Law of Attraction” popularized in the most recent retelling, The Secret.

The idea is this: If you believe anything hard enough, you can will it into your life. Fame, riches, success, you name it.

The problem with Hill’s quote is two-fold: The fine line between belief and delusion, and the missing piece.

Looking at examples of success in the face of overwhelming odds, it seems like belief is the common denominator. The Wright brothers were told it’s impossible to fly. What they had on their side was not delusion, but years of study and a strong theory they were going to test out. It’s the difference between operating on a feeling versus fact.

It’s the difference between people jumping off buildings to test out their homemade wings that “should work” vs actual research.

The Truth of the Quote

Of course in every good quote there is a kernel of truth, and this one is no different. The belief portion of the quote is the motivator to keep you moving forward.

In order to persevere, you have to believe that it’s worth going through the challenging uncomfortable periods. You have to believe that the discomfort and tough periods are worth it before you’ve proven it.

That’s why it’s a leap of faith.

But you can’t succeed on belief alone. You can’t simply “think” your way to your dreams.

“Thinking” to grow rich is a sure fire way to ensure your dreams stay dreams forever.

Napolean Hill glosses over the most important part: the hard work. You can set your mind to it, but without the work, it will again go nowhere.

So I humbly propose a better, albeit less punchy version:

“Belief comes before building and sustains you through the dark times”

How would you rewrite his quote?

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