You cannot escape your own mind.
Trapped in carbonite? A princess will save you. Stuck in quicksand in the Fire Swamps? A dreaded pirate with a thin mustache will dive in after you. Avoiding digestion inside the belly of a whale? God’s got your back (well, after he put you there, anyway). But no matter where you are, no matter who you are with, you cannot escape the confines of your own mind.
And your mind—if it is anything like mine—can be a messy, disorganized, and dysfunctional place. One minute you’re sitting down to write a blog post, and next thing you know your thoughts have drifted to that time you met the Jonas Brothers’ mom. Not very helpful. Fortunately, your mind, like any other muscle in your body, can be trained. This is what Norman Vincent Peale’s, The Power of Positive Thinking is all about. It’s about reprogramming you subconscious brain so that it works for you, not against you. I know, I know. It sounds like one of those cheesy self-help books. And it is. But The Power of Positive Thinking is also filled with practical, science-backed advice on how change your mindset and lead a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life.
It’s also worth noting that Norman Vincent Peale mentored Donald J. Trump. Trump began attending his sermons in the 50s and became a student of Peale’s (his “greatest” student, as Trump would say). Peale was rather fond of Trump, professing he would become, “the greatest builder of our time.” Trump had a similar affection for Peale, crediting the reverend with teaching him how to think his way to victory: “The mind can overcome any obstacle. I never think of the negative.” So, even if decades-old self-help books might not be your thing, you might find value in better understanding the mind of President 45. (From the Washington Post biography, Trump Revealed)
On to the book.
Reprogramming Your Brain
“Who decides whether you shall be happy or unhappy? The answer—you do!” -NVP
This book is based on the fundamental belief that the primary thing holding people back is their own minds. As the late Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once said, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” If people would simply have more faith in themselves, success would find it’s way to them, argues Peale. But how do you do that? How does one build self-confidence?
For Peale, it’s all about utilizing the power of your subconscious mind to generate positivity and energy. “But remember”, says Peale, “your subconscious mind in a sense is one of the greatest liars in existence.” What Peale means by this is that your subconscious is stuck in the past. If you—conscious you—comes to some newfound belief, your subconscious will turn and say, “You don’t believe in any such thing.” In other words, years of negative thoughts can become a habit. If you’ve been living with thoughts of inferiority, insecurity, or indecisiveness, it will take time to overwrite those ingrained neural patterns. The following sections will explore Peale’s techniques for retraining your mind.
Emptying the Brain
“Throw your mind into neutral.” -NVP
Meditation is all the rage these days. Virtually all of the world’s most successful people (or at least those who appear on The Tim Ferriss Show) have some kind of meditative practice. The good Reverend Peale, however, was been beating the drum on a daily mindfulness practice decades ago. He encourages people to spend at least 15 minutes every day in absolute silence, striving to keep their mind still. The goal is to purge your mind of negative or useless thoughts and make room for creative, positive thoughts. Peale also suggests periodically returning to a peaceful thought throughout the day to keep your brain in line. This can be as simple as repeating peaceful words like “tranquility” or “serenity” to pull your brain’s attention away from any negativity.
It is not enough, however, to purge your brain of negative thoughts. You must also then refill it with positive thoughts.
“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities!” -NVP
One of the tactics Peale implores people to use again and again are positive affirmations. This is the practice of repeating the same phrase over and over again (preferably out loud) until your mind gets the idea. Think of it like bicep curls for your brain. If your mind is out of shape (i.e. constantly producing negative thoughts), you need to put in the time and reps to get those neural pathways into peak physical condition (i.e. thinking positively). This means nourishing them with the thoughts you want to be having again and again.
Here are some of the affirmations Peale recommends:
“I believe this is going to be a wonderful day.”
“I feel good physically, mentally, emotionally. It is wonderful to be alive.”
“I believe…” (e.g. I believe I will write a New York Times best seller.)
“Tranquility. Serenity. Quietness.” (Peale believes certain words have their own power.)
“It is never worth it to get worked up or mad about anything.”
The Power of Lists
“Make a mental list of happy thoughts and pass them through your mind several times a day.” -NVP
Peale recounts a story of a man he came across. This man was in “utter despair”. He believed his life was over, that he had nothing left. He had lost faith in himself. So, after some discussion, Peale had him make a list of only the positive assets the man had going for him. As it turns out, the man had a loving wife, loving children, good physical health, his personal integrity, and so on. He had simply been focused on the negative. But once he had a real, physical list sitting before him of all the positive assets in his life, he was able to shift his perspective, to change his attitude. “So if you feel that you are defeated and have lost confidence in your ability to win, sit down, take a piece of paper and make a list, not of the factors that are against you, but of those that are for you.”
Writing these positive assets down on a physical list gives them a greater sense of being real. In addition to writing a list of positive assets, Peale recommends having a list of happy moments and peaceful moments. For example, an evening walk with your spouse, or that time the cute barista gave you a free cup of coffee. It doesn’t have to be big, just a place you can return to in your mind and boost your positivity.
“When either failure or success is picturized it strongly tends to actualize in terms equivalent to the mental image pictured.” -NVP
Chapter after chapter, page after page, Peale reminds the reader of the importance of visualization. In order to thoroughly convince your mind of anything, you must create a mental image and embed it into your subconscious. If you want to own a home one day, picture what that home looks like in exquisite detail and continually return to that picture. If you are feeling anxious or uneasy, close your eyes and imagine a place you associate with peace and quiet (e.g. a meadow in the woods, or the lounger in your living room). If you have writers block, close your eyes and picture your fingertips moving madly over the keyboard as pages and pages fill up before you. Whatever it is you desire, create a clear mental image of that in your mind, make it a mental reality, and let your subconscious push you toward the physical reality.
Actions Drive Thoughts
“It is also true that the mind can be quieted by first making the body quiet.” -NVP
By now most people are familiar with the research that smiling literally makes you happier. No matter what mood you were in before, simply smile and your brain will think, “Oh, we’re happy? I better release some endorphins.” Similar research has been done on the benefits of “power pose”, or simply sitting up straight. The point being that you can use your body to trick your mind into a new headspace. Starting to feel tense or anxious? Lie down and collapse like a jellyfish, Peale says. It’s hard to feel tense with every muscle in your body at ease. Feeling the involuntary clench of fists in anger? Deliberately de-clench. In short, act in the way you want to feel.
“If God be for us, who can be against us?” -Romans 8:31
Those who are familiar The Power of Positive Thinking might’ve noticed that I’ve glossed over all the God bits. Personally, I think the tactics in this book work just as well without appealing to a higher authority. But Peale being a reverend, he continually reinforces the idea of God. Need to vent? Pray out all of your troubles. Need energy? Pray to God and ask for some energy. Feeling negative thoughts toward someone? Pray that all goes well for them. Whether there be a God or not, prayer might well be helpful to realigning the thoughts in your mind. Think of it like talking to your subconscious.
Thinking Your Way to Victory
“I thoroughly and enthusiastically believe in certain demonstrated and effective principles which, when practiced, produce a victorious life.” -NVP
Okay, so you’ve successfully rewired your brain. You exude positivity and a healthy dose of self-confidence. You believe that you can take on the world!
Now you put that newly designed brain to work. Now you use all that positivity and energy and direct it toward what it is you want to achieve in life. Even with your newfound positivity, there will be many trials on the path to fulfillment. The following sections discuss Peale’s advice for overcoming those challenges and achieving victory.
Expect the Best
“Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow.” -NVP
Some people argue the secret to a happy life is low expectations. Peale disagrees. His rationale essentially boils down to the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect the worst, you are going to get it. Simple as that. If you expect the best, however, your mind will naturally pull you toward making that expectation a reality. “Expecting the best means that you put your whole heart (i.e. the central essence of your personality) into what you want to accomplish.” Virtually anything can be accomplished with complete, unwavering commitment.
“Do not address your efforts to the entire mountain range of all your difficulties, but attack one thing that may be defeating you at the moment.” -NVP
People will say they want to be “successful” in life. Well, what the fuck does being “successful” even mean? Odds are what your neighbor considers to be success is different from what you consider to be success. For you, success might be having a book published, or owning a home, or building a great relationship with your spouse. Whatever it is, you cannot be “successful” unless you know precisely what that means. You cannot achieve your goals and dreams if you do not specify what they are and how to go about getting them. Be specific and clearly define your end game.
Don’t Believe in Defeat
“Attitudes are more important than facts.” -NVP
Now, that’s a Donald Trump quote if I ever heard one. The basic idea here is to believe that every challenge can and will be overcome. “Practically speaking, there are only a few human stories and they have all been enacted previously. This is a fact that you must never forget—there are people who have overcome every conceivable difficult situation, even the one in which you now find yourself and which to you seems utterly hopeless. So did it seem to others, but they found an out, a way up, a path over, a pass through.” So will you.
“We might as well admit it, we want people to like us.” -NVP
I think we can all agree that’s true. Whether by the world at large or by a special someone, we want to be liked. But how do you do that? How do you get people to like you? For Peale, the tips and tricks are pretty simple.
- Remember names. People appreciate it when you remember their name.
- Be easy going. People don’t want to feel strained or judged when talking to you.
- Be interesting. Make sure people get something out of any interaction with you.
- Sincerely like everyone. Virtually every person in this world has something about them you will appreciate, if you get to know them well enough.
- Flattery works. Don’t miss an opportunity to genuinely compliment someone.
- Empower people. “Give people strength and they will give affection to you.”