Have you ever had a discussion with someone who posed this question: “If you could invite any five people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be?”
It’s an interesting question to consider, but one that doesn’t have to remain strictly a hypothetical. Now, of course you can’t drag the bones of history’s greatest corpses to your table (“Oh dear, Teddy’s hand just fell off into his soup. Awkward.”). But you can enjoy a form of ongoing conversation with history’s most eminent men, and it can continue far past the dessert course.
I believe that every man should create his own personal “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors” — a sort of imaginary team of mentors whom he can consult for advice and inspiration throughout his life.
Napoleon Hill’s Invisible Counselors
As we discussed in our post about famous Master Mind groups, success guru Napoleon Hill believed that when two of more people met together and blended the energies of their minds in harmony, a sort of “third brain” was formed–a potent “Master Mind” the whole group had access to.
This third brain allowed each member of the group to tap into the “sixth sense,” which Hill described as “that portion of the subconscious mind which has been referred to as the Creative Imagination. It has also been referred to as the ‘receiving set’ through which ideas, plans, and thoughts flash into the mind. The ‘flashes’ are sometimes called ‘hunches’ or ‘inspirations.’”
Hill argued that people should form their own Master Mind groups in which they met in person in order to recharge their brains, refine their ideas, and receive inspiration. But he also believed that a person could form his own “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors,” just as he had done:
Long before I had ever written a line for publication, or endeavored to deliver a speech in public, I followed the habit of reshaping my own character, by trying to imitate the nine men whose lives and life-works had been most impressive to me. These nine men were, Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Ford, and Carnegie. Every night, over a long period of years, I held an imaginary Council meeting with this group whom I called my “Invisible Counselors.”
The procedure was this. Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes, and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my Council Table. Here I had not only an opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great, but I actually dominated the group, by serving as the Chairman.
I had a very DEFINITE PURPOSE in indulging my imagination through these nightly meetings. My purpose was to rebuild my own character so it would represent a composite of the characters of my imaginary counselors. Realizing, as I did, early in life, that I had to overcome the handicap of birth in an environment of ignorance and superstition, I deliberately assigned myself the task of voluntary rebirth through the method here described…
In these imaginary Council meetings I called on my Cabinet members for the knowledge I wished each to contribute, addressing myself to each member in audible words, as follows:–
“Mr. Emerson, I desire to acquire from you the marvelous understanding of Nature which distinguished your life. I ask that you make an impress upon my subconscious mind, of whatever qualities you possessed, which enabled you to understand and adapt yourself to the laws of Nature. I ask that you assist me in reaching and drawing upon whatever sources of knowledge are available to this end…
“Napoleon, I desire to acquire from you, by emulation, the marvelous ability you possessed to inspire men, and to arouse them to greater and more determined spirit of action. Also to acquire the spirit of enduring FAITH, which enabled you to turn defeat into victory, and to surmount staggering obstacles. Emperor of Fate, King of Chance, Man of Destiny, I salute you!”
Hill would greet the rest of his “invisible counselors” in a similar manner, varying the address “according to the traits of character in which I was, for the moment, most interested in acquiring.”
In-between cabinet meetings, Hill would extensively study the lives of each of his counselors, and after several months of this, his invisible advisors became more and more real to him, to the point they all developed mannerisms and characteristics befitting their personalities. His imaginary meetings became so vivid, in fact, that he discontinued them, so that he would not begin to confuse the workings of his head with reality. But, Hill said, Lincoln then came to visit him in his sleep, and told him he had a great work to do and not to shirk the duty. So Hill recommenced the cabinet, and grew the roster to over 50 members, including, “Christ, St. Paul, Galileo, Copernicus, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Homer, Voltaire, Bruno, Spinoza, Drummond, Kant, Schopenhauer, Newton, Confucius, Elbert Hubbard, Brann, Ingersoll, Wilson, and William James.”
Hill believed that his imaginary meetings with his Invisible Counselors were of enormous benefit to his life:
I still regard my Cabinet meetings as being purely imaginary, but I feel entitled to suggest that, while the members of my Cabinet may be purely fictional, and the meetings existent only in my own imagination, they have led me into glorious paths of adventure, rekindled an appreciation of true greatness, encouraged creative endeavor, and emboldened the expression of honest thought.
Somewhere in the cell-structure of the brain, is located an organ which receives vibrations of thought ordinarily called “hunches.” So far, science has not discovered where this organ of the sixth sense is located, but this is not important. The fact remains that human beings do receive accurate knowledge, through sources other than the physical senses. Such knowledge, generally, is received when the mind is under the influence of extraordinary stimulation. Any emergency which arouses the emotions, and causes the heart to beat more rapidly than normal may, and generally does, bring the sixth sense into action. Anyone who has experienced a near accident while driving, knows that on such occasions, the sixth sense often comes to one’s rescue, and aids, by split seconds, in avoiding the accident.
These facts are mentioned preliminary to a statement of fact which I shall now make, namely, that during my meetings with the “Invisible Counselors” I find my mind most receptive to ideas, thoughts, and knowledge which reach me through the sixth sense. I can truthfully say that I owe entirely to my “Invisible Counselors” full credit for such ideas, facts, or knowledge as I received through “inspiration.”
On scores of occasions, when I have faced emergencies, some of them so grave that my life was in jeopardy, I have been miraculously guided past these difficulties through the influence of my “Invisible Counselors.”
Why Create Your Own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors
“Nurture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.” -Benjamin Disraeli
While Napoleon Hill had a penchant for the metaphysical that doesn’t jive with every man’s worldview, regardless of whether you ever expect Lincoln to show up at your bedside, forming your own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors can be very beneficial to your life.
As Hill mentioned above, forming such a cabinet can provide you inspiration in many forms.
First, your cabinet can not only spur impressions of the more abstract variety, it can also give you practical ideas you can experiment with implementing into your life. I love learning about the habits of great men, such as how they napped, used a pocket notebook, set up their studies, and improved themselves in different areas. Now it’s certainly not the case that just because a great man did something one way, then it’s the best way for everyone to do it, or even the best way for me to do it. But I figure it’s always worth a shot, as even if the idea doesn’t work for me, it often serves as a jumping off point for the invention of a method all of my own. Sometimes there’s no need to reinvent the wheel; if someone’s already put in the time to figure out the best solution, it’s our privilege to take it and run with it.
Your cabinet can also help buoy you up when you’re struggling with a difficult decision or are tempted to give up on something. Asking “What would ____ do?” in a certain situation can keep us going in the right direction.
When Andrew Carnegie (more on him later this month) was a boy, he would often turn to the example of Scottish hero William Wallace for inspiration:
“There were two roads by which to return from my uncle’s house in the High Street to my home in Moodie Street at the foot of the town, one along the eerie churchyard of the Abbey among the dead, where there was no light; and the other along the lighted streets by way of May Gate. When it became necessary for me to go home, my uncle, with a wicked pleasure, would ask which way I was going. Thinking of what Wallace would do, I always replied that I was going by the Abbey. I have the satisfaction of believing that never, not even upon one occasion, did I yield to temptation to take the other turn and follow the lamps at the junction of the May Gate. I often passed along that churchyard and through the dark arch of the Abbey with my heart in my mouth. Trying to whistle and keep up my courage, I would plod through the darkness, falling back in all emergencies upon the thought of what Wallace would have done if he had met with any force, natural or supernatural.”
Contemplating what Wallace would do kept Carnegie going through more serious challenges as he grew older, causing him to later reflect:
“If the source of my stock of that prime article—courage—were studied, I am sure the final analysis would find it founded upon Wallace, the hero of Scotland. It is a tower of strength for a boy to have a hero.”
And, I would add, it is a tower of strength for man to have a hero as well.
Finally, maintaining a Cabinet of Invisible Counselors can kindle within you, as Hill put it so well, an “appreciation for true greatness.” Hill believed that all minds vibrated with energy, and that all the highest and most refined vibrations–history’s greatest thoughts–were picked up and stored forever in the ether. One’s membership in a Master Mind, whether real or imaginary, allowed a person to tune into this signal and tap into the universe’s vast “Temple of Knowledge.”
If that sounds a little far out, really the idea here is simply that the more you surround yourself with, think about, study, and engage with great minds—in person or in books—the more that greatness rubs off on you. What you spend your time doing, you become. You can call it connecting with energy, soul, or archetypes or just the workings of natural law; whatever you want to think of it as, the effect is the same.
One can spill a lot of ink trying to define what true manliness is, but at the end of the day it’s something you simply feel—you know it when you see it. And I find that when I’m reading about and engaging with the lives of great men, that feeling becomes very real and very clear to me. Manliness is made manifest.
How to Create Your Own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors
“Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of a man you are, for it shows me what your ideal of manhood is, and what kind of a man you long to be.” – Thomas Carlyle
1. Pick the members of your cabinet. You can choose as many people as you’d like to become part of your imaginary team of advisors. They can be living or dead, real or fictional, famous or not. You can put in Jesus or Muhammad, or Jesus and Muhammad. You can throw in your grandpa and your college rugby coach. Theodore Roosevelt and Atticus Finch. Sherlock Holmes and Ronald Reagan.
Now, I know it’s terribly unfashionable these days to engage in anything that even mildly smacks of “hero-worship,” but inviting men into your cabinet doesn’t mean you think they are perfect; remember, a man doesn’t have to be perfect to be inspiring. In fact, you may pick men who, while they may not be examples to you of well-rounded manliness, demonstrated certain characteristics you really admire and want to work on. For instance, you might loathe LBJ’s politics and personal life, but really admire his skill as a tough negotiator, and thus bring him into your cabinet to advise you on that point.
2. Learn as much about your invisible counselors as possible. In order for your counselors to “advise” you, you need to learn as much about their lives and get as much into their minds as you can. This means diving into their autobiographies, biographies, and writings. Now if you have a very large cabinet, I would recommend picking 5-7 “core members”–the men you admire the most–and really going in-depth with the research on their lives.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: one of the best ways of working on your manliness is reading the biographies of great men. It really does help shape and inspire you.
3. Consult with your counselors. You can do this however you’d like. You can be like Napoleon Hill and have regular meetings with your invisible counselors, where you imagine having very in-depth conversations with them. Personally, whether it’s because my imagination is so feeble, or I just have a hard time “going there,” I simply read up on great men, take notes on points that particularly stick out to me, and file the information away in my cranium. Then, when I am facing something difficult, I search through my brain files to find a counselor who can perhaps shine some light on the problem. For example when I feel discouraged because of criticism, I think of how TR was mocked as a state legislator and his injunction to stay “in the arena.” When I’m grappling with a tough decision, I think of General Eisenhower pacing the room on the eve of D-Day, trying to decide whether to postpone the invasion for the arrival of better weather, with thousands of lives depending on his choice. When I’m physically uncomfortable, I think of the GI’s huddling in the cold at the Battle of the Bulge. When I feel restless, I think of the happiness my grandfather found in living a good and simple life.
You can consult with your cabinet in whatever way works for you. You may also wish to hang up a picture or poster of a couple of the men you most admire to serve as a daily reminder of the kind of man you want to become.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie
Illustration by Ted Slampyak