"All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thought."
So begins my favorite James Allen's essay, "The Thought-Factor in Achievement," one of seven essays that make up his most successful publication, As A Man Thinketh. Regardless of the clarity and practical value of this collection of essays, it and its author remain obscure. Considering the fact that in our modern world "success" by any of its myriad definitions is sought with such passion and that communication is instantaneous and ubiqutious, it's hard to understand why his name and words are not on more lips.
Over thirty years ago, my then husband and I, wanting very badly to succeed as Amway Distributors, purchased a self-help leadership development series called "Lead the Field" by Earl Nightingale. As a bonus, we also received two tapes of Earl Nightingale reading As A Man Thinketh that served as our introduction to this late 19th century writer. I can't tell you what ever happened to all that "Lead the Field" material, but I wore out those two bonus tapes and have kept a copy of As A Man Thinketh at my bedside all the years since. It has influenced my thinking more than any other thing - animal, vegetable, or mineral. I would gladly give any taker all the books that fill the six-plus foot self-improvement section in our library, but I wouldn't sell my copy of As A Man Thinketh.
And I know what you thinketh right about now, too. Surely it's something like, well if that book is so wonderful, why isn't MsMOMA the richest, most famous, most accomplished, all round most everything person in the world if she's been reading it over and over every year for thirty-plus years? I can tell you why. Reading it, even over and over, isn't enough. Believing it, even deeply and completely, isn't enough. The truths he illuminates must be applied, practised consistently.
The answer is in the first line of the essay "Thought and Purpose." "Until thought is linked with purpose there is no intelligent accomplishment. With the majority the bark of thought is allowed to "drift" upon the ocean of life. Aimlessness is a vice..." She who has no purpose, gets no where. That's the message and the answer to the question and describes me pretty perfectly. My only purpose in life has been to enjoy it and be happy. In this I have succeeded. Now I am confronted by the question, is this enough?
The most important thing I learned from James Allen, and have internalized like I thought of it myself, is that we choose our thoughts and thereby our circumstances. If my thoughts produce congenial circumstances, I just keep thinking the same thoughts. If I want to change my circumstances, I change my thinking. The passion behind my thoughts determines the speed with which my thoughts out-picture in my environment. It is very empowering to know that I can, to a great extent, control my circumstances. While there may be other forces at work in the universe that contribute to my destiny, and there are many theories on this point, at the very least perhaps I should control the things I can control, and that would be what thoughts I encourage.
Like everything else, this is easier said than done. I seem to need constant reminding that I must focus on some goal if I want to avoid drifting about on the sea of life and never arrive at any destination. Continuing the nautical metaphor, I must be comfortable drifting because no particular port of call has ever beckoned persuasively enough that I'm willing to break out the oars and put my back into rowing hard enough to get there.
About this aimlessness James says, "Those who are not prepared for the apprehension of a great purpose, should fix the thoughts upon the faultless performance of their duty, no matter how insignificant their task may appear. Only in this way can the thoughts be gathered and focused, and resolution and energy be developed, which being done, there is nothing which may not be accomplished."
I find this, like everything else in the world, very interesting indeed. And therein lies the dilemma.