'As A Man Thinketh' And Jordan Peterson's '12 Rules': Two Books That Will Change Your Life

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Posted: Nov 12, 2018 11:29 AM

I recently reread a book that I hadn’t reviewed for a long time. It is short, but it has had a lasting impact on my own life. The author, James Allen, was born in 1864 in England. His father, a businessman, went bankrupt and had trouble recovering. He moved to America to try a new start there, but was robbed and murdered before he could send for his family. James had to leave school when he was fifteen and went to work as what we would now call an administrative assistant. He eventually devoted his life to writing, and during the nine years of his writing career until his early death in 1912, he wrote nineteen books. Among them was “As A Man Thinketh.” 

The title derives from a Biblical proverb, “As a man thinketh, so shall he be.” Thoughts become actions and ultimately determine the reality. It describes the mind as a garden, which, if planted with good seed and well-tended, will yield good fruit. Sowing bad seed or leaving it to grow weeds will yield a harvest of bad fruit.

A bank robber or mugger or rapist doesn’t just wake up one morning and suddenly decide to go rob or mug or rape. The seeds were planted long before, sometimes years before, and nurtured through constant feeding. The acts would not occur without the prior existence of the thoughts that bring them to life. In the same way, a surgeon didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to operate on someone’s brain. It took years of dreaming, studying, working hard, and persevering. Everyone takes life as it comes, with all its ups and downs, and either makes it better or makes it worse.

As Mr. Allen’s own life can attest to, life can be brutal. It can test you to the limit, but it is not what happens to you that matters. It is how you respond that determines your character, your habits, your actions, your happiness, and your ultimate reality. Even people born into wealth are subject to difficulty, heartache, and setbacks, and there are many examples of such individuals who fail the test. They are unhappy, angry, selfish, or self-centered, often leading to loss and misery, regardless of where they start.

Only you are in charge of your life. Good and bad things happen to everybody, but nobody can tell you what thoughts to put into your head. I personally know people who were dignified and happy even when dying or suffering dire circumstances. Your own happiness, your own results, depend on what seeds you plant and nurture in your own garden.

That message is sorely needed in America today, and indeed the rest of the world. It is a message that people crave. It is the basic message presented by Jordan Peterson, the Toronto professor and clinical psychologist who has become famous for his outspokenness, and it is the reason that he has become wildly popular with his YouTube videos, his books, and his live presentations. People need to take responsibility for their own lives. As he said in his “Twelve Rules for Life,” you need to clean your own room before you try to go out and change the world. You need to stand up straight, act with confidence, and make the right choices. 

As you take control of the little things in your life, the bigger things become more manageable. Everyone thinks every minute of every day. It is up to the individual to choose which thoughts to cultivate, to choose what actions to take, and to protect his or her own garden from assault by all the bad seeds that modern life can throw.