Preface: The previous post described how I came to view “the law of attraction”as a voluntary behavioral modification technique. Recently popularized in the book, The Secret, the law of attraction holds that our thoughts determine what we attract into our lives. I decided to blog about this after reading the beginning of Napoleon Hill’s (1928) The Law of Success.

To continue from the previous post…..

What led Napoleon Hill to write Law of Success?

It’s interesting to know how Napoleon Hill came to write this book. He was born in a one room cabin in 1883. As a 13-year-old boy, he began writing for small town newspapers. Several years later, he received an assignment to write about the success stories of millionaires. One of these was Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate and one of the most powerful men in the world.

Carnegie commissioned Hill to interview over 500 successful men and women, some of whom were millionaires, and to distill his results into a simple formula for success that could be used by the average person. Napoleon Hill devoted the next 25 years of his life to this endeavor, focusing on how beliefs influence personal success. Among those he interviewed were Carnegie himself, William Wrigley (chewing gum), Thomas Edison (electric light bulb), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Henry Ford (automotive industry), F. W. Woolworth (5 and dime stores), and Theodore Roosevelt (US President). Many of those he interviewed had grown up in poverty themselves, just as Hill had.

Drawing on the thoughts and experiences of those he interviewed, Napoleon Hill and Andrew Carnegie produced a multivolume work, The Philosophy of Success in 1925. Three years later, Hill abridged and published it as The Law of Success. This is the book that I am reading. Nine years later, Hill published his inspirational classic, Think & Grow Rich, which has sold over 70 million copies worldwide.

Interestingly, Hill did not reveal “the secret” of success in Think & Grow Rich, preferring by this time that readers discover it for themselves. In The Law of Success, though, as far as I can see, it’s all there.

To be clear, Hill didn’t invent modern conceptions of the law of attraction. Authors at the turn of the century wrote about it, including William Walker Atkinson in his book, Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World, published in 1908. Hill, though, is credited with popularizing the concepts.

The Secret of The Secret

Here are three key elements of the Hill’s law of success (and law of attraction) in a nutshell:

  • Like attracts like. People are attracted to people and situations that are similar to themselves. The implication is that if you wish to attract a certain type of person in your life, you must be attractive to that type of person. The law of success rests of the foundation of the law of attraction.
  • Intention shapes results. If you want something, it’s important to distinguish exactly what it is that you want and have a definite intention to obtain it. Hill refers to this as “the Definite Chief Aim.”
  • Personality and external support matter. To execute your dreams, certain personality and external supports are also necessary. The 15 lessons in The Law of Success cover those that Hill found most pertinent. One of these is self-confidence to help you master basic fears that can thwart your efforts.  Another is a group of people who have all pledged to support your goal.  Hill refers to this support group as “the master mind.” Accordingly to him, if you are trying to do it alone, you miss the synergy that comes from concerted and targeted effort toward your goal.

Summing up in Hill’s words, “These are the steps leading from desire to fulfillment: First the burning desire, then the crystallization of that desire into a definite purpose, then sufficient appropriate action to achieve that purpose. Remember that these three steps are always necessary to achieve success” (Lesson 2, p. 55; emphasis in the original).

That, my friends, is the real “secret” from Napoleon Hill himself. It’s not that wishing will make it so. It’s not that once you think something up, it will magically appear. Rather, based on his extensive research with 500 successful men and women of his time, Hill found that to achieve your dreams, you must have sufficient desire, a clear and definitive purpose, and the willingness to work to achieve it with others’ support.

If you think there’s nothing “new” about that notion, it isn’t. What it takes to make it happen, though, is what separates the rubber from the road.

What does behavioral science have to say?

The foundational premise of the law of attraction is that “like attracts like.”  Intuitively, we know this is so. The idea is also supported by what researchers refer to as “similarity bias”—we are biased to favor people and things similar to ourselves. A woman I know was bypassed time and again for promotion in her organization. Her manager, a highly extroverted male, regarded her as “not leadership material” because she was polite and did not push her own ideas on others.

Hill published the Law of Success in 1928. Fifty years later, a similar theory was formulated and tested by researcher Icek Ajzen. He referred to it as the Theory of Planned Behavior. The theory holds that three factors influence your intentions which in turn influence your behaviors.

The three factors are (1) your attitude toward the anticipated behavior, (b) your beliefs about whether you can successfully execute the behavior (self-efficacy), and (c) the extent to which those around you support that behavior (subjective norms). Readers of Reframing Change will recognize the consistency of these three factors with principles discussed in the “Conscious Use of Self” and “Initiating Change” chapters.

The Theory of Planned Behavior has held up in numerous research studies and is now highly regarded by behavioral scientists for its practical applications, particularly in the health prevention fields.

To be quite explicit, here is a comparison of the elements of Hill’s and Ajzen’s theories:

Let’s go back to the woman I mentioned earlier who was bypassed for promotion repeatedly and think about how she might use the laws of attraction and success:

  • Does she really want that promotion or is it just a vague longing (definitive chief aim)?
  • Does she have such a burning desire for a promotion that she is willing to change her behavior so that she is more clearly recognizable to her manager as a leader (while staying true to her values)? Or, is she just hoping that somehow her manager will magically have an epiphany and recognize her leadership potential?
  • Does she truly believe that she could even make those changes (self-confidence) or is she subconsciously fearful that she will never have what it takes?
  • Who would support her in making the necessary changes in her behavior to attract recognition as a potential leader and eventually an actual position (master mind)?
  • What actions does she need to take now (appropriate action)?

As I continue to read The Law of Success, I’ll have more to say about Hill’s principles as I understand them and tell how behavioral science research supports them. I won’t do this all at once. Rather, I will write about it over the coming weeks or months as inspiration strikes.


  1. What do you want to achieve in next two or three years?
  2. How might the law of success be useful to you in figuring out how to reach your goal?


  • Pelham, B. W., Mirenberg, M. C., & Jones, J. T. (2002). Why Susie sells seashells by the seashore: Implicit egotism and major life decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(4), 469-487.

Filed under: achieving your goalsconscious use of selfinfluencing othersmaking positive changes

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