The 30 Major Reasons for Failure – A lesson from ‘Think and Grow Rich’


If you’ve ever read a book called ‘The Secret’ – a runway success that was released in 2006 that made its author, Rhonda Byrne, an overnight multimillionaire, you should know that the underlying concepts of Byrne’s book were practically lifted and regurgitated from a 1937 self-help book called ‘Think and Grow Rich’ written by Napoleon Hill. ‘Think and Grow Rich’ ranks among the best-selling self-help books of all time and features in many best-seller lists even today.

The wide array of thoughts and concepts in ‘Think and Grow Rich’ is definitely worth a read, despite it being 80 years old. There are numerous take-ways from this book for any genuine reader, including a recipe for success and some great ideas on how to market oneself in the best possible way.

One section in the book that really caught my attention was the section in which the author elaborates 30 major reasons for failure.

While most people interested in self-improvement try to learn about success, few people genuinely try to understand and learn about failure. This is what insprired me to write about Napoleon Hill’s 30 major reasons for failure, and add my take on them.

As per Hill, the 30 major reasons for failure are:

1. Unfavourable Hereditary Background – A genuine lack of inherent brain power (as the author terms it) is arguably the only item in this list which can’t be corrected by direct means. One way of bridging this weakness, nevertheless, is by finding help through a Master Mind group. A master mind group is a peer-to-peer mentoring group used to help members solve their problems with input and advice from the other group members.

2. Lack of a well-defined purpose in life – This is an ailment that affects 98% of the common population, as per the author’s analysis.

Take a look around and you will notice how most people lack a central objective or goal to aim for in their lives. They drift from one day to another, directionless, ‘going where life takes them’ as they commonly state. Many such people often get misdirected to flawed ideals of social/political extremism or religious fundamentalism (thereby, becoming a threat to their own society) solely because some external agent gave them a life-purpose when none was present before.

Remember the quote from the well-known motivational speaker Tony Gaskins, “If you don’t build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs.” One needs to choose a well-defined life-purpose lest it be dictated to you by somebody else.

3. Lack of ambition to aim above mediocrity – If a person does not want to get ahead in life and is not willing to pay the price for the same, he/she is simply designed to fail. The willingness to put in effort to rise above mediocrity is undoubtedly crucial for success.

4. Insufficient Education – This is a common handicap that can be overcome with relative ease. Education, by the way, doesn’t mean a formal college degree; experience shows many great successful and educated people are self-made and self-educated. Also, education consists of accumulation not just knowledge, but such knowledge that can be effectively and persistently applied. People after all, are not paid for knowledge but for how they can apply that knowledge. In today’s digital age, knowledge can easily be brought to the fingertips of those who seek it.

 5. Lack of self-discipline – Discipline comes through self-control and one should learn to control one’s own negative qualities. The author says “if you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self”. Think about the times you have negative or spiteful thoughts – has it ever occurred to you whenever you have such thoughts, the more you think about them, the worse it gets till you are consumed from within? The lack of self-control is a recipe for failure. Practise to be in control of one’s actions and words.

6. Ill-health – Nobody can enjoy outstanding success without good health. The author outlines that many reasons of poor health can be mastered and controlled such as:

a. Overindulgence in food not conducive to health

b. Lack of sufficient physical exercise.

c. Over-indulgence in sexual activity.

d. Inadequate fresh air and improper breathing.

7. Unfavourable environmental influences during childhood – A good number of those with criminal tendencies acquire these as a result of their childhood environment or because of the influence of their associates during that time.

While we cannot go back and change our past, surely we can help youngsters realise the importance of surrounding oneself with a healthy crowd and environment. And if we were victims of such a childhood, that self-realisation should be cause enough for us to want to surround ourselves with a positive environment to offset some of the damages done.

8. Procrastination – Many people go through their lives as failures because they wait for the “right time” to do something. The time will never be right and it is up to us to start doing things with what we have. We then need to keep improvising along the way.

9. Lack of persistence – Failure cannot cope with persistence. Those who retreat at the first sign of defeat are bound to fail. Success comes to only those who persevere.

10. Negative personality – The author’s argument is quite understandable when he says success comes through the application of power, power is attained through co-operative efforts of other people and a negative personality will never induce cooperation because he will repel people. Stay positive.

11. Lack of controlled sex urge – Sexual energy is among the most powerful stimuli that can move people into action, claims the author. And being the powerful driver that it is, it must be controlled, transmuted and moved into other channels. A person who isn’t in control of his sexual urges is bound to be self-destructive.

12. Uncontrolled desire for ”something for nothing” – It is a common tendency for people to want something without having to give anything in return. A typical example of this is gambling and this kind of uncontrolled desire is a recipe for failure. Instead of wanting something for nothing, one should learn the importance of exchanging values.

13. Lack of a well-defined power of decision – Successful men are good and fast decision makers. Slowness in making decisions or the inability to make decisions will tie one to the treadmill of failure. Therefore, do not be indecisive.

14. One or more of the 6 basic fears – People often fail because they are afraid and these six basic fears are what often stop people from taking action:

a. Fear of poverty.

b. Fear of criticism.

c. Fear of ill-health.

d. Fear of the loss of love of someone.

e. The fear of old age.

f. The fear of death.

Fear is a state of mind, and more often than not, a person can master the state of his mind with considerable effort and practice. While discussing at length about each of these fears is beyond the scope of this article. It is prudent to know that presence of one or more of these basic fears are a trigger for failure.

15. Wrong selection of a mate in marriage – Marriage brings two people in close and intimate contact. A disharmonious relationship is likely to result in one’s failure and this is the kind of failure that will be marked by misery and unhappiness. It is therefore of immense importance to choose the right spouse and maintain a harmonious relationship.

16. Over caution – Being overcautious is as bad as being under cautious (or reckless). Life’s opportunities always come with an element of chance and those not willing to take them will be left to take whatever is left over after everybody else has chosen.

17. Wrong selection of business associates – When choosing who to work with, one needs to choose someone who is an inspiration, and who is himself/herself intelligent and successful. We tend to emulate those we associate ourselves with and therefore we need to pick an employer or business associate who is worth emulating.

18. Superstition and prejudice – Superstition is a sign of weakness and ignorance. The author states successful people are those who keep open minds and are unafraid of nothing.

19. Wrong selection of vocation – A person is least likely to succeed in a line of work he doesn’t like and therefore he/she should indulge only in such vocations he/she can indulge in wholeheartedly.

20. Lack of concentration of effort – The jack-of-all-trades is seldom a master of any. The author stresses on the importance of having to put one’s concentrated efforts into one ‘chief aim’.

21. Habit of indiscriminate spending –   The author states, “The spend-thrift cannot succeed, mainly because he stands eternally in fear of poverty” and recommends forming a systematic habit of saving a percentage of one’s income – this can give one a safe foundation of courage. A penniless man can only take what is offered and be glad for it. 

22. Lack of enthusiasm – Enthusiasm in an individual is not only contagious but makes that person generally welcome to any group. If you recollect an earlier made point about how success requires cooperation of other people too, and that negative personalities never get cooperation, you will realise the importance of possessing enthusiasm.

23. Intolerance – It is surprising to note that even in 1937, the author was able to identify the damaging influence of intolerance (the characteristic of a person with a closed mind). He states that people who are intolerant seldom get ahead because they cease to acquire knowledge. The author also points out the most damaging forms of intolerance are those connected with religious, racial and political differences of opinion. Personally, I couldn’t agree more looking at the world as it is today.

24. Intemperance – You would have come across the saying that anything in excess is bad (this is probably the kind of age-old wisdom that is referred to in every culture). The author goes one step ahead and states that the three worst kinds of intemperance are the ones connected with eating, drinking (alcoholism) and sexual activity and that overindulgence in any one of these is fatal to success.

25. Inability to cooperate with others – It is said that the biggest reason why people miss out on big opportunities in life is because these people are unable to cooperate with others. It is also said that no leader or well-informed businessman will tolerate a person’s inability to cooperate. Be cooperative.

26. Possession of power that was not acquired through self-effort – Power in the hand of those who didn’t acquire it through self-effort is akin to wealth in the hands of those who didn’t earn it. It is far more likely to harm a person than benefit him/her.

Quick riches are more dangerous than poverty claims the author. I have personally known such people who were left with considerable fortunes but squandered it all away in good time and were left poorer and more miserable than they were to begin with.

This is why certain societies frown upon leaving huge inheritances to their descendants. One will only learn to value and sustain wealth or power, after he/she has earned through his own efforts.

27. Intentional dishonesty – There is simply no hope for a person who is dishonest by choice, says Hill. This is because such a person will lose his reputation sooner or later. Would you want to do anything (including business) with a person who you know for certain has no integrity?  Nobody would. Be honest, at all times.

28. Egotism and vanity – These qualities are described as ‘red lights’ to others to keep away from the individual possessing them, and are therefore fatal to success. Refrain from indulging in them.

29. Guessing instead of thinking – The author states that most people are too indifferent or lazy to acquire facts with which they can think accurately. They would rather go by ‘opinion’ instead, using guesswork or snap-judgements.

I can’t help but wonder how relevant this point is even today in the Facebook-age. People go by “opinions’ based on in-your-face propaganda on social media, rather than by taking the effort to dig deep and understand something, which in turn, could give them more objective knowledge.

Put in effort to acquire facts that could help you think and decide better rather than going by blind opinion.

30. Lack of capital – A common cause of failure among those who start out new in business is the lack of sufficient reserve capital to absorb the shocks of any mistake they make. Knowing this, one should be prudent enough to plan for a financial cushion to absorb any such initial shocks so that a temporary setback doesn’t result in absolute failure of one’s endeavour.


It is true that we learn far more from failure than we learn from success. However, understanding them, appreciating them and then taking steps to work around them or mitigate them is what could lay our way for success. Napoleon Hill’s list of 30 major causes of failure may not be a fool-proof list but it is, in my limited opinion, the most comprehensive list of reasons one can learn from.

So, have you ever failed and did you understand your reasons for failure?

Did you try to learn from them?

If you haven’t done that already, spare a few moments to think about them.  It will help you in your quest for success.


2 responses to “The 30 Major Reasons for Failure – A lesson from ‘Think and Grow Rich’

  1. it is very good you have describe all factors of think and grow rich in short


  2. Antonio Tourino

    Think and Grow Rich is an amazing book, and you’ve really nailed it breaking the book down. I also read this article that breaks down each chapter and makes it clear and easy to read.


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