The Power of Positive Thinking - Critical summary review - Norman Vincent Peale

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The Power of Positive Thinking - critical summary review

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Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: 

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Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers

Critical summary review

Our brain is shaped by our minds, even if minds are only a network of thought and the brain exists in physical space. It’s not complicated at all.

If so, negative thoughts should, in time, lead to anxiety and failures, and positive ones should instill a person with just enough energy to lead a happy and successful life. 

But you know that already, don’t you?

After all, ever since the end of World War II, there’s never been a shortage of books, all of which state pretty much the same, and there’s a good chance that you have probably heard of—and even read—at least a few of these books.

Well, The Power of Positive Thinking is the book that started the trend. 

First published in 1952, both scholars and health experts negatively reviewed the book, which was embraced almost immediately by millions of people around the world. They found in it a set of instructions for an utterly different way to live their lives, not another mere self-help guide à la Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich."

Believe in yourself, and you shall succeed

“The Power of Positive Thinking” starts off with a bang: 

“Believe in yourself!” – Peale shouts from the rooftops. “Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with sound self-confidence you can succeed.”

Easier said than done, right?

Well, as an exceptional minister, Peale wasn’t one to sink into the quicksand of platitudes and banalities under which hundreds of rhetoricians and motivational speakers lie irretrievably buried. On the contrary, he never forgot to supply a piece of advice with “simple, workable rules” that you can apply in practice.

Having problems with self-confidence?

Just follow this ten-step program:

1. Visualize success

First of all, stamp a mental picture of yourself succeeding – indelibly and for good. 

Never let this picture fade away by doubting its reality. The brain tries to turn into reality what the mind pictures, so never think of yourself as failing, no matter how bad things seem to be going at the moment.

There is nothing more dangerous when your self-confidence is in question.

2. Counter negative thoughts with positive ones

Of course, if you know anything about the ironic process theory, you already know that it is not that easy to think happy thoughts all the time. 

Because if I told you not to think of a white bear, the very first thing you’d think about is precisely that.

Well, do you know what a person does when an irritable sound gets stuck in their brain? They just play another song! 

To translate that to Peale speak: “whenever a negative thought concerning your personal powers comes to mind, deliberately voice a positive thought to cancel it out.”

3. Overcome all obstacles

As you know from experience, fear inflates things. Mostly, because it involves things that have not happened yet, and because we, humans, tend to exaggerate and, whenever possible, find excuses rather than ways.

Well, stop doing that!

Do not accumulate obstacles in your imagination: focus on the present and eliminate fears and anxieties. Minimize and depreciate every so-called obstacle: you must find a way to see things as they are and not as your most fearful self makes them to be.

4. You are you

A curious thing about people is that they tend to diminish their own potential and to exaggerate other people’s achievements.

The truth (confirmed by many studies and geniuses) is that most people, no matter how confident they seem, are often just as scared as you.

So, stop copying them!

Walk your own path ahead because nobody can be as efficient when it comes to you as you. After all, nobody knows what you want more than you know.

5. Affirmative mantra n.1

As we said above, Peale was a Christian minister, so no wonder he suggests a Christian mantra from Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” So, if you are a Christian, repeat this quote ten times a day. Every day. Slowly and confidently.

6. Get a counselor

Sometimes everybody needs some help. If nothing works, get a competent counselor and learn the origin of your self-doubt feelings. Who knows?

You may suffer from an inferiority complex due to something that has happened to the seven-year-old you. Just facing such traumatic events changes everything. “Self-knowledge,” writes Peale, “leads to cure.”

7. Affirmative mantra no. 2

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me,” says Philippians 4:13 in The New Testament. 

Repeat this affirmation, out loud if possible, at least ten times a day. “That magic statement is the most powerful antidote on Earth to inferiority thoughts,” suggests Peale.

8. Develop respect

First, make a precise estimate of your own skills and abilities, then raise this about ten percent. That’s how someone gains respect for themselves.

Anything more than that leads to egoism; anything less leads to not fulfilling your own potential.

Believe in your power and never set for less than you can achieve.

9. Put yourself in God’s hands

To do this, simply state it: “I am in God’s hands.” 

Visualize what lies behind these words. Repeat them slowly and with even more resolve. Feel the words flowing into your very soul.

Affirm that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) in the form of adequate power to meet life’s demands.

10. God is on your side

Remind yourself that God is always on your side, and that, if he is with you, then nothing can defeat you. 

Find inner peace

We know what you’re wondering: Is it at all possible for a person to experience that coveted-state peace and awareness? 

Peale says that it is not only possible, but something everyone should strive for.

To do so, an individual must learn to look deeply into the eyes of the problem and find its real root – not just think about the problem or explore its “outcomes” and final “consequences.”

If a person wants to evolve from a state of anxiety and unease to a state of total awareness and wisdom, all that a person needs is to take heed of this simple advice.  With it, they can easily disregard all horrible, remorseful, and downright pointless thoughts that infect their minds.

But Peale thinks it is also only the start!

Another way to achieve a state of peace and quietness is reviving childhood memories. 

"The Child is the father of the Man," wrote once British Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and he was right in more than one way. Reliving your childhood memories, dipped in all that innocence and naivety, is a great way to forget everything about your present problems and renew your connection with God. He was close to you once, allow yourself to be close to him today.

Moving from noisy to quiet and peaceful places is another thing one should do to achieve inner serenity. The world is just too loud today, and you need to do something to hear yourself think.

Better yet, to don’t hear yourself think. Peale suggests remaining thoughtless for at least 15 minutes each day, unaware that he’s moving past the borders of Christianity and into Eastern meditative theories. 

“Conceive of your mind as the surface of a body of water and see how nearly quiet you can make it, so that there is not a ripple,” he suggests, sounding as Buddhist as one can. “When you have attained a quiescent state,” Peale concludes, “then begin to listen for the deeper sounds of harmony and beauty and of God that are to be found in the essence of silence.”

Ah, that forgotten art of silence! 

Not easy when you start. Immensely beneficial when you master it.

Actualize your goals by praying

Every person is familiar with that adage: “Hard work pays off.” Indeed, almost everything is possible if you put the right amount of effort and energy.

That’s what an acquaintance of Peale did a while back in New York City: starting from an a-little-hole-in-the-wall, his one-employee business became a very successful company that made him a multimillionaire.

His method of business?

“To fill the little hole in the wall with optimistic prayers and thoughts.” In his experience, “hard work, positive thinking, fair dealing, right treatment of people, and the proper kind of praying” always get results.

About the last part of the equation (proper kind of praying), Peale informs us that this man invented a curious praying little  formula for solving his problems and overcoming his difficulties. It’s a three-step formula that Peale has since suggested to countless people:

1. Prayerize
Prayerize means creating “a daily system of creative power.” It means seeing God as a friend who is willing to spend all of his time in your vicinity and be your helping hand. Take the Biblical injunction “pray without ceasing” literally”: talk to him regularly and “prayerize” your daily life 24/7.

2. Picturize
According to Peale and his friend, the man that assumes success tends to already have success. Since the opposite is true as well, risk nothing: visualize what you want to become or  have and deliver this picture to God. 

3. Actualize
Continue to hold this picture firmly in your thoughts long enough, and you will be surprised with the strange ways in which the picturization happens. This is what “actualizing” means: that which you have “prayerized” and “picturized” actualizes.

As easy as one-two-three!

Gain the power to solve personal problems

According to Peale, there are various ways to solve a particular problem. At the end of the chapter that analyzes these ways, he offers a neat compendium, “ten simple suggestions as a concrete technique to use generally in solving your problems”:

1. Believe that there is a solution to every problem.

2. Keep calm since your brain cannot operate efficiently under stress. 

3. Never try to force an answer: the solution will open up and become clear if you keep your mind stress-free and relaxed.

4. Don’t be subjective: assemble all the facts “impartially, impersonally, and judicially.”

5. Once you have collected all the facts, list them on a piece of paper. This clarifies your thinking patterns and brings them into an orderly system. Now you’ve managed to move your problem from the realms of the subjective into a more objective region.

6. Pray – that way you’ll call upon God to help you further.

7. Seek God’s guidance by reciting a verse from the 73rd Psalm: “Your advice has been my guide.”

8. Trust in the faculty of insight and intuition.

9. Allow your subconscious mind to work when your conscious mind cannot find an answer. Go to church to find some inspiration. “Creative spiritual thinking has amazing power to give the right answers,” claims Peale.

10. The answer that develops in your mind after you’ve followed the steps from numbers one to nine faithfully is the right answer to your problem. Apply it. If it doesn’t work, maybe you should restate your problem. Or try again!

Final Notes

Seventy years after publication, “The Power of Positive Thinking” is a widely deemed classic on the subject and, based on the sheer number of people who claim that it has helped them, it is bound to continue in popularity in the future as well.

However, bear in mind that some of its health-related advices are unapproved by the medical community (that’s why we skipped them altogether) and that the book is openly and uncritically Christian.

So, if you are skeptical in terms of the “positive thinking” effect and/or don’t practice Christianity (or any other religion, for that matter) – you better look elsewhere.

12min Tip

Record yourself saying, “I can overcome all obstacles” and set it as your new wake-up alarm. There is nothing better than starting your day with a positive thought, is there?

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