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Not everyone is lucky enough to have a mentor — someone to turn to for help, direction, motivation and the next big steps in your life. I know because I was one of those unlucky people, but sometimes you have to make your own luck. Even if you find yourself without a mentor, you can still establish that same relationship with someone that might not be as real through the inspiration they left behind.

What if you could turn to a roundtable of counselors that included powerful minds like Napoleon Hill, Augustine “Og” Mandino, Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale and Orison Swett Marden? Imagine being able to call on any of history’s greatest success stories as mentors whenever you need help. Well, you can! They wrote everything down in their books with the very intent of having others find the answers they need. 

Among my roundtable of mentors, the one who most influenced my life was James Allen. By picking up his book, I can call him any time and get the answers, life lessons and character-building I need. He may not be alive to know it, but James Allen’s mentorship taught me to understand the relationship between my thoughts and circumstances, which allowed me to become the leader I am today. 

Thoughts can make or unmake you

James Allen taught me that my thoughts influence my circumstances. In his most famous work, As a Man Thinketh, Allen wrote, “Man is made and unmade by himself.” He calls our individual character the literal sum of our thoughts, which you can and should control. While positive thoughts elevate your circumstances through joy and peace, negative thoughts are like internal weapons, self-forged and self-imposed, that destroy us from within.

Our thoughts can both be the fuel that drives our ambitions or the obstacles that stand in their way. Neither luck nor fate holds influence over my circumstances. As long as I believe outside conditions have power over me, my own creative power remains dormant. Sure, getting lucky can help, but learning how to control your own circumstances and shape your destiny is extremely powerful. 

Related: 9 Ways to Rewire Your Brain for Creativity

Your mind is like a garden

Through Allen’s writing, I also learned that the mind, in controlling all thought, is quite powerful, but it needs to be properly cultivated to thrive. Our circumstances usually develop from the thoughts and actions that we let into our lives, like seeds growing in a garden. Positive thoughts bear the fruits of our efforts; negative thoughts poison the soil. Even neglect results in weeds taking over our lives, leaving no room for any useful growth.

Just like a garden, you can either intelligently cultivate your mind or let it run wild. Keep weeds out of your garden by planting your goals and marking a straight path towards achieving them. Maintain healthy positive thoughts with effort and consistency. By controlling the soil and seeds out of which circumstances grow, you become the master of your own life.

Related: The Life-Changing Effects of Drinking More Water

Dream lofty dreams

Our only limits, according to Allen, are the ones we impose upon ourselves, so don’t limit your dreams. The loftier your dreams, the greater you can become, but dreaming big only starts by thinking big. You can choose to be as small as the empty desires that control you, or as great as the aspirations of who you aim to be. Created with the right thoughts and followed with the right action, we can turn our dreams into reality.

Success starts with believing in a dream — not wanting or wishing for it, but knowing it’s attainable. To achieve our dreams, they need to be more than something we put on a list and send to Santa Claus. Any goal can be attainable with a well-structured thought process and a strong work ethic. Even big dreams can come true as long as we have an actionable plan to achieve them. We only receive what we earn, says Allen — no more, no less — and success must be earned. So, if you dream of success, make an effort to earn it.

How to train your thoughts

James Allen is one among many to write about the virtues of surrounding yourself with positive people to bring about positive circumstances. Stay positive by staying away from people that put you down. Onlookers love to ignore the efforts, sacrifices and failures that people endure before they achieve success and simply comment, “How lucky they are to be successful!” If you can brush off those foolish comments, fine, but if that negativity gets into your head, then surrounding yourself with fools only makes you another fool among many. Instead, seek out people who support, love and push you towards success — not just money-seeking, but a serene life in general. 

A tranquil mind, says Allen, brings with it greater success, influence and power for good, so train your mind to keep calm no matter what you encounter. Don’t think everything is a fire and break down when something bad happens. You end up making decisions without thinking them through, and rash decisions are not usually the right ones. If you can keep calm, you can more objectively view the situation and make decisions that yield positive outcomes. 

Related: 7 Keys to Making the Right Decision the First Time and Every Time

Perhaps my favorite James Allen quote is, “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Allen himself was the child of hardship: His working-class father died shortly after arriving in America, and Allen, the oldest at 15, had to find work to support his illiterate mother and two siblings. When he died 33 years later, having made himself a prolific author and publisher, he would become one of the pioneers of modern inspirational thought. Just like James Allen, you can think yourself into the person you want to be.

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