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Outwitting the Devil (Full Summary)

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The Big Idea of Outwitting the Devil by Napolean Hill

For nearly two months I suffered with the worst of all ailments; indecision. – I knew the seventeen principles of personal achievement but what I did not know was how to apply them. Outwitting the Devil, page 11

The entirely fascinating start to the book where Hill tells us about his failures and battles with doubt and indecisiveness had me hooked. We hear stories of his own paralyzing fear like the day in July 1923 when he received an anonymous phone call warning him he was destined for a pine box if he didn’t leave Ohio within the hour. He escaped immediately to West Virginia and he speaks of how his courage left him and his nerves cracked. Hill speaks from the heart of someone who has experienced the fear, procrastination, frozen thoughts and general uselessness that visits us mere mortals. He entreats us to learn how to control our thinking and he declares quite simply that you are either motivated by fear or by faith. Faith he refers to as a miracle, a sixth sense.

Hill interviewed 25,000 men and women rated as failures and over 500 that were classed as successful including Henry Ford, Thomas A. Edison and John D. Rockefeller over a period of twenty years for his groundbreaking book Think and Grow Rich. He says “How strange after talking with the greatest men I sought out the Devil for a working knowledge of the greatest of all principles uncovered in my quest for truth. How strange I was forced to experience poverty and failure and adversity before understanding the law of nature.”

We are treated to lengthy debate between Hill and the Devil, which results in seven principles showing us how to create our own success by:

  • Definiteness of purpose
  • Mastery over self
  • Learning from adversity
  • Controlling environmental influence (association)
  • Time (giving permanency to positive rather than negative thought habits and developing wisdom)
  • Harmony (acting with definiteness of purpose to become the dominating influence in your own mental, spiritual and physical environment
  • Caution (thinking before you act)

Insight #1: Drifting

"My greatest weapon over human beings consists of two secret principles by which I gain control of their minds. I will speak first of the principle of habit, through which I silently enter the minds of people. By operating through this principle, I establish (I wish I could avoid using this word) the habit of drifting. When a person begins to drift on any subject, he is headed straight toward the gates of what you earthbound call Hell."
- Outwitting the Devil, page 73

Drifting is a fabulous word that Hill has utilized to describe what happens when we no longer focus on our purpose, whatever that may be. We are even guiltier of this “drifting” today as our attention is hijacked by e-mail, blogs, web sites or any number of advertisers. The devil intrudes on us by disrupting our thoughts and slowly establishing bad habits that ultimately do not serve us well but we have a devil of a job to get rid of!

Hill urges us to retain a definite purpose in everything that we do. He is unremittingly damning of the education and religious systems that he says help retain poor thinking and ultimately fail us all. And when Hill asks the Devil how come he doesn’t just get rid of all the churches so that God is annihilated from people’s thinking – the Devil quickly retorts that it is the Churches that keep him alive in people’s minds by filling us all with fear of the Devil, Hell and damnation. So without God he would disappear from people’s thinking, wither and perish and this in many ways mirrors the position he takes on success and failure – that each generates the other.

Insight #2: Self-discipline

"People who achieve outstanding success – is usually in exact ratio to their experiences of defeat before succeeding."
- Outwitting the Devil, page 202

In order to combat drifting, Hill urges us to use self-discipline. What I love about this book is that it is in many ways a product of its time; definitive and reverential in its tone, intermittently bursting into bombastic colourful language like when Hill directs that self-discipline means mastering three appetites: 1) our desire for food 2) the desire for expression of sex and 3) the desire to express loosely organized opinions. Hill’s words are piercing. He says we should stop overeating and taking rich food as we poison and clog up the body sewer system, causing us to be sluggish and he finishes with the statement “If he (the person) could only take one good look at and one bad smell of his sewer system–he would be ashamed to look at himself in the face.” Now that’s telling us to get ourselves in order.

But self-discipline does not mean that we will inevitably be successful. Hill talks about his own challenges, fears and failures, and uses the Devil to repeat that misfortune or hardship are the walking shadow to success. He believes that what we endure will bring a corresponding benefit. He declares that adversity is a good thing as adversity allows you to form new habits, which serve to break the hold of hypnotic rhythm and change your path from negative to positive. The term hypnotic rhythm refers to the mindlessness that we enter into on a regular basis. Continuing the spiritual element to our lives he says, “It is a sin to accept from life anything one does not want because that indicates an unpardonable neglect to use the mind.”

This article highlights the key points and ideologies of Outwitting the Devil by Napolean Hill from Actionable Books

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