Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill Book Summary

Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success by Napoleon Hill

About This Book

Napoleon Hill was ahead of his time when he wrote Outwitting the Devil. There are concepts within it that would not have been well received at the time it was written, but have shown themselves to be true over time, thereby strengthening their claims for us today. Considered too controversial by Hill’s family and friends, the book remained in manuscript form from its initial creation in 1938 to its publication in 2011. Why was it so controversial? Well, the book is basically written as a one-on-one ”interview” between Napoleon Hill and “the Devil.”

But the “Devil” that Hill interviews isn’t a physical being (can you imagine!)… He uses the term “Devil” as a metaphor to represent a negative energy of sorts that plants seeds of doubt, fear, limitation and negative thoughts within the minds of most human beings to prevent them from living happy, healthy, successful lives.

In the book, Hill asks a series of questions of the Devil about all the devious ways in which he tries to hold people back in life. As he asks these questions, he allows the Devil to elaborate, and in so doing, helps unravel the Devil’s underhanded tricks—revealing how you can flip them upside down and use this knowledge to your own advantage. Throughout the book, Hill explores how you can tap into the power of your mind to overcome the fears the hold you back in life.

Here’s what you’ll learn about in this book summary:

  • Napoleon Hill’s personal journey through failure and success as he learns to apply the steps already laid out in his previous best-seller, Think and Grow Rich 
  • Identify personal obstacles (fear, procrastination, anger, and jealousy) and how the Devil uses them to keep you from success.
  • How to overcome your fears, take charge of your life, and outwit the Devil.
  • And much, much more.

Crucial quote

“Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success.” — Napoleon Hill, Outwitting the Devil

Tweetable Summary

Most of our difficulties are self-created. But so are most of our successes. When we control our thoughts and form helpful habits, we can decrease our difficulties and increase our successes.

Outwitting the Devil Book Cover




“…my ‘other self’ said, ‘Your only limitation is the one which you set up in your own mind.’” — Napoleon Hill, Outwitting the Devil

Following a period of failure and discouragement Hill heard his “other self” give specific, risky and bold, directions that ultimately led to the publication of Think and Grow Rich. We must give in to the part of us that does not recognize limitations and finds a way to accomplish what it is we desire. Temporary defeat may present itself but that is only temporary. Success is right around the corner but only if we push through the failures. When failure occurs, because it will, it is important to remember that no matter how difficult the problem may seem there is always a solution.

Hill believes that obstacles are in fact part of the plan of God (who he calls Infinite Intelligence). These obstacles are the means by which we learn leadership, serviceable skills, and the value of giving to others. It is vital to make an inventory of the blessings we do have in life and to give thanks continually for them.

Actionable insights:

– Transform your FEAR into FAITH. This is a prerequisite to achieving success. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel fear, it means you must feel the fear that naturally comes with pursuing a big dream, and have faith in yourself as you take action towards its attainment. Fear tends to make people withdraw from taking action; faith tends to get people moving—even when they’re scared. Begin today to start working on shifting your mindset from FEAR to FAITH.


“It is my business to represent the negative side of everything, including the thoughts of you earthbound people. How else could I control people? My opposition controls positive thought. I control negative thought.” — ‘The Devil’ from Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill

As we mentioned earlier, the devil that Hill interviews is not a physical manifestation but a negative energy that controls the minds of the majority of humans by planting seeds of negative thought.

In the book, Hill identifies six forms of fear that hold us back in life:

1. Fear of Poverty

2. Fear of Criticism

3. Fear of Bad Health

4. Fear of Losing Love

5. Fear of Old Age

6. Fear of Death

The two strongest forms of fear are: poverty and death.

Those who do not allow for fear to have a dominant place in their thoughts cannot be controlled by this negative energy. Instead, those who learn to think for themselves are the ones who are truly free. Those who think on their own and inspire others to do the same are the enemies of the devil.

Actionable insights:

– Stop letting others control your thoughts. Start thinking for yourself. Let go of your fears about the un-known, and start focusing on what’s actually happening… Let go of what you cannot control, start focusing on what you CAN control.

– Ask yourself: “What is in my environment that I CAN control? And how can I focus on that?”

Can you control the weather? No. Can you control what you do with most of your time? Yes.

Can you control other people’s opinions? No. Can you control which people you surround yourself with? Yes.

Can you control your thoughts? Yes. Can you control your decisions? Yes. Can you control whether your dominating thoughts are positive or negative? Yes.

Identify the seeds of fear for what they are and put them to rest.


“I cause people to allow me to do their thinking for them because they are too lazy and too indifferent to think for themselves.” — ‘The Devil’ from Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill


The devil speaks a great deal about the difference between ”drifters” and ”non-drifters”.

It is his goal to cause all humans to become drifters.

– Drifters are those who do not think for themselves but instead let life just happen to them.

– Non-drifters are self-thinkers who do the exact opposite. Non-drifters don’t just let things happen, they MAKE things happen.

Now, can you think of the one, major determining-factor between whether a person becomes a drifter or non-drifter?

Answer: HABITS.

Your habits are the single greatest influencers of whether you become a drifter or non-drifter…

Good habits will pull you up and help you become a non-drifter or consciously creates a purposeful, meaningful life.

Bad habits will push you down and make you drift into a purpose-less, meaningless life.

Unhealthy habits lead to poor decisions. They are influenced by fear and your environment. In the book, Hill describes how traditional schooling, some religious leaders, and even parents can unknowingly play a part in creating unhealthy habits in young children by stifling their curiosity and ability to think for themselves. When a child’s ability to think independently is taken from them, it creates a void—a void that’s filled by the devil, or negative thought. And when the devil takes ownership of a person’s mind, you can be sure he’ll do everything in his power to make them drift.

There are a number of ways in which we can drift due to poor habits and decisions:

– poor health choices,

– bickering in marriage,

– an occupation chosen based on fear of poverty,

– lack of savings,

– unpleasant relationships,

– and dominating negative thoughts.

Bottom line: A drifter finds himself with no purpose in life by which to be guided. A non-drifter has a well-organized plan complete with minor goals that lead to the major goal he is working towards.

Actionable insights:

– Learn to think for yourself. Take control of your thoughts and encourage those around you, especially children to explore their creativity and to think independently.

– Develop healthy habits in your diet, finances, relationships, and in your thought process.

– If you are a drifter, it’s ok! You can wake up and start being a non-drifter. The first step is to start giving of yourself. You have to give before you can get.

– To learn more about building better habits, read or listen to our summaries on: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear.


“The non-drifter takes from life whatever he wants, but he takes it on his own terms. The drifter takes whatever he can get, but he takes what he gets on my terms.” — ‘The Devil’ from Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill

Throughout the interview, the devil lays out some of his more effective tricks for derailing people in life:

– Propaganda: “Any device, plan, or method by which people can be influenced without knowing that they are being influenced, or the source of the influence.” Propaganda infiltrates schools, pulpits, movies, advertising, and even in business to discourage competition.

– Bribes: The things people most want (love, sex, money, something for nothing, vanity, egotism, power, drugs, self-expression, imitation, eternal life, heroism, and hunger) are all methods by which negative thought enters the mind and causes one to drift.

Actionable insights:

 To protect yourself from the personal obstacles that negative thought (aka the devil) throws at you, you must adopt the seven principles of good that the rest of the book lays out. (See Big Idea 6 and on)


“…rhythm is the last stage of habit! Any thought or physical movement which is repeated over and over through the principle of habit finally reaches the proportion of rhythm…” — Napoleon Hill from Outwitting the Devil

…Once habit arrives at this stage it cannot be broken.

Those who are able to control their own mind to form healthy habits escape the web of negative thought.

In this Big Idea, Hill also highlights the importance of community and common goals in relationships—focusing on the strength he found in his wife for this interview-based book. Two minds focused on the same goal help to break through obstacles and strengthen the habits that lead to success.

Another key point: Your mind attracts what it dwells on. This idea, first written about by Hill in the March 1919 issue of his Golden Rule magazine, has been popularized (for better or worse) by the book and movie The Secret. In a nutshell: Deeds follow thought. What you dwell on you will then act on.

The last take-away from this Big Idea is this: Hypnotic rhythm is not good or bad, it’s more like a magnet.

For the non-drifter it is the means by which he achieves his success. For the drifter it is the means by which he loses his way. Ultimately the devil deceives by making negative thinking and destructive deeds enticing.

Actionable insights:

– Harness the power of hypnotic rhythm by focusing on your goals and developing habits that will lead you towards them.

– For more on harnessing the power of habit to achieve your goals, read or listen to our summary of The One Thing by Gary Keller


“…any human being who can be definite in his aims and plans can make life hand over whatever is wanted.” — Napoleon Hill from Outwitting the Devil

Here is where Hill begins to lay out the seven principles of good, each of which carries with it the ”seed of danger.”

The first principle of good is: Definiteness of Purpose

Definiteness of purpose is about being purpose-driven, intentional, and focused on accomplishing your goals.

The seed of danger you can fall under if you’re careless is a sudden greed for power and ego.

Those who are definite in their plan and their purpose will not see failure; they may see temporary defeat—but not failure: “The person who moves with definiteness recognizes the difference between temporary defeat and failure. When plans fail he substitutes others but he does not change his purpose. He perseveres.”

Some time is spent on discussing the church and schools as the devil’s most helpful allies. The church continues the belief of hell and the devil, promoting fear, while the schools teach children to recite and memorize rather than become independent thinkers.

In this Big Idea, Hill also goes at length about the power of prayer.

In short: NEGATIVE prayer that whines about problems, pain, and hardship tends to bring about negative results. On the other hand, POSITIVE prayer from someone who knows what they want tends to bring about positive results.

Bottom line: Focus on what you want, not what you don’t.

As Hill writes in the book: “Your dominating thoughts attract, through a definite law of nature, by the shortest and most convenient route, their physical counterpart. Be careful what your thoughts dwell upon.”

Actionable insights:

– Develop a clear course of action that creates habits that lead to your goals.

– Work to change your local school system into an educational system that develops self-motivated, independent-thinking, self-reliant contributing members of society. Become actively involved in the education of our future leaders.


“No man is free who is not master of himself.” — Epictetus

Hill tells us that our “dominating desires can be crystallized into their physical equivalents through a definiteness of purpose backed by a definiteness of plans with the aid of rhythm and time.”

Now, it can take some effort to discover your definite purpose; perhaps a little more work to create a plan of action… But to get yourself into a regular rhythm of habits that inch you closer and closer to achieving your goals over time? Well, that requires a whole lot of upfront discipline.

There are three appetites that every individual must master:

1) hunger, 2) sex, and 3) the expression of loosely organized opinions.

There are many more that should be controlled, but these are the ones to start with.

To “master” the aforementioned appetites does not mean complete suppression. Instead, it means knowing how to feed them without overindulging.

For example:

– Hunger or physical health, mastered through healthy diet and exercise, has a direct impact on your mental and emotional health.

– Sexual energy or “sex transmutation,” is one of the more dangerous forces/appetites that can lead to poverty and ruin when mismanaged. Hill also warns that overindulging in sex can also crush your creativity. But, when this energy is mastered, it can be transmuted into a driving force to help you accomplish your goals, catapult your creativity, and boost your energy levels.

– Someone who talks too much and expresses loosely organized opinions, attracts unfavorable attention. It is the one who listens that learns, not the one who talks. Uninvited expressions of opinions destroy relationships and networking opportunities.

Actionable insights:

– Develop healthy habits around food and exercise.

– Learn to control your sex drive and harness that energy into creativity and goal-seeking. See Napoleon Hill’s ideas on “Sex Transmutation” from Think and Grow Rich to learn more.

– Tame your tongue (and your typing) on social media. Listen before you speak, and when you do give your opinion, make sure it is well developed and sought after.


“…failure often serves as a blessing in disguise because it breaks the grip of hypnotic rhythm and frees the mind for a fresh start.” — Napoleon Hill from Outwitting the Devil

Failure benefits the driven because it brings with it opportunity.

Failure only becomes failure when it is accepted by you as permanent. Instead, begin to see it as a setback or better yet, an obstacle to overcome.

People are blessed with abundance or stuck in poverty because they have made the state of their existence permanent through hypnotic rhythm… For example, a person stuck in poverty, may stay in poverty if they spend most of their time thinking about—and focusing on—their financial problems and poverty-ridden circumstances. Why? Because what you focus on will only expand.

Even if you don’t want to be in financial distress, simply thinking about your problems around that issue will only expand them.

On the flip side however, thinking about SOLUTIONS to your financial problems will expand your potential for climbing out and creating abundance in your life.

Thoughts plus actions determine our outcomes.

Positive thoughts lead to productive actions, which lead to powerful results.

We can each change ourselves and the outcome of where we are in life by first changing our thoughts and then acting on them accordingly.

Adversity is a tool in that it takes away vanity and egotism from people and forces them to look for a new way to tackle a problem. It requires introspective original thought, intelligence, and meditation. It breaks the old habits that led to this failure and wipes the slate clean to start new habits.

Actionable insights:

– 80% solution-focus / 20% problem-focus. Spend most of your time thinking about solutions rather than dwelling on problems.

– When faced with a failure, change your thought patterns. Your past does not equal your future. Just because you failed last year, last month, last week, or today — does NOT mean you can’t get up and try again. This failure is not the end. It is merely an obstacle that needs a solution. Spend time evaluating how you got to this point and what steps you can take to overcome it. Then go out and do it.


“Nature will not tolerate idleness or vacuums of any sort. All space must be and is filled with something…When the individual does not use the brain for the expression of positive, creative thoughts, nature fills the vacuum by forcing the brain upon negative thoughts.” — Napoleon Hill from Outwitting the Devil

Environment and time are key components of success. It is the people we surround ourselves with and the activities we spend our time on that influence who we become. If you put yourself in an environment that aligns with your definite purpose and goals, you can position yourself to succeed. Conversely, if you put yourself in an environment that does not, you position yourself to drift into perpetual failure.

Non-drifters are cautious about their environmental influences, while drifters are victims of their environments.

Over time we harmonize with our environment… So make sure you are in an environment that adds to your value and goals, not one that drains you.

Thought-habits develop over time. Negative thoughts are punished, and positive thoughts are rewarded with success. Time is the process by which we acquire wisdom, but only for the non-drifter. Negative thought habits do not lead to wisdom.

Learn to exercise caution when mapping out your plan to success. Often times, people jump in before they’ve fully thought out a plan. But don’t mistake fear for caution. They are not the same. One paralyzes, while the other helps create a plan of action.

Actionable insights:

– Surround yourself with people headed in the same direction as you, or be pulled in the wrong direction. Are the people around you supporting you or holding you back? Pick a harmonious crowd; use care and caution when developing relationships.

– Learn to say NO to anything and anyone that could cause you to drift.


Key take-away:

  • You are in control of your destiny—but only if you take the actionable steps required.

Actionable insights:

  • Control your thoughts and overcome your fears.
  • Create habits that harness the power of hypnotic rhythm.
  • Failure is not permanent. It is only an obstacle. Adjust accordingly.
  • quote:

Here’s one final crucial quote for you to ponder upon as we close-out this book of Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill:

“You are entitled to know that two entities occupy your body. One of these entities is motivated by and responds to the impulse of fear. The other is motivated by and responds to the impulse of faith. Will you be guided by faith or will you allow fear to overtake you?”


Napoleon Hill

Napoleon Hill | He began his writing career for a small-town newspaper at the age of 13 and would later become the birther of the self-help genre. Hill founded a nonprofit educational institution called the Foundation which focused on leaadership, self-motivation, and success and continues to thrive today. Learn more + connect: www.naphill.org


“There is a solution for every legitimate problem, no matter how difficult the problem may seem.”

“Be definite in everything you do and never leave unfinished thoughts in the mind. Form the habit of reaching definite decisions on all subjects.”

“Remember this: whatever you have, you use it or you lose it!”

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