“Anybody can do just about anything with himself that he really wants to and makes up his mind to do. We are all capable of greater things than we realize.”
“Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow.”
Norman Vincent Peale was a minister and the author of the famous book The Power of Positive Thinking. That book and other works from Peale went on to sell tens of millions of copies. During the depression he, JC Penney and Thomas Watson – of IBM fame – spent time on philantrophy. Peale also had his own radio show for over half a decade.
Here are some of my favourite tips from Peale.
1. Focus on today.
“Don't take tomorrow to bed with you.”
Focusing on this day today and on tomorrow when it arrives can save you a lot of stress and improve your focus and performance. Of course, you may need to plan for tomorrow. But thinking about it compulsively will just shatter your focus and ensure that you won't be able to concentrate on what's in front of you today.
You can – over time – build a habit of spending more time in the present and less time in imagined future scenarios or old memories. You may do this through things like focusing on your breathing or on your inner body.
2. Don't walk around with the world on your shoulders.
“Drop the idea that you are Atlas carrying the world on your shoulders. The world would go on even without you. Don't take yourself so seriously.”
I won't spend much time on this point because I mentioned it just a few days ago and have written about many times before. It's important though and can really change how you see the world and your life. It makes most things lighter.
3. You may be surprised if you just step up and face your obstacles.
“Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven't half the strength you think they have.”
“The “how” thinker gets problems solved effectively because he wastes no time with futile “ifs” but goes right to work on the creative “how.”
It's very easy to spend your time thinking and imagining all the horrible things that may happen if you stand up and face your obstacles and troubles in life. But if you actually do that those negative images seldom come into life. They are just huge monsters that you build in your mind. Just like you did when you were a kid and imagined monsters in the closet or under your bed.
When you actually stand up and face your obstacles you may find that the experience isn't as bad as you imagined. Sometimes it's actually a bit anti-climatic. You think to yourself: “What?! Is this it?”.
So, after having done some thinking, research and planning on how you can accomplish something just stop thinking. Don't fall into the trap of overthinking and monster-building. Just go and do what you need to do instead.
4. Understand to overcome.
“Understanding can overcome any situation, however mysterious or insurmountable it may appear to be.”
Talk to people, do some research – in books, online, etc. – and the mist of anxiety and fear often vanishes. A situation may seem scary because it's not understood and undefined and so your mind projects your worst fears upon that scary looking mist. It can seem like just about anything may jump out of it and attack you. So understanding can be useful. Overthinking, as mentioned in the previous point, not so much.
5. Expect to get what you expect.
“Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you ever do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you are.”
“Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture… Do not build up obstacles in your imagination.”
“Believe it is possible to solve your problem. Tremendous things happen to the believer. So believe the answer will come. It will.”
What you focus your mind on you will see in reality. Your mind can only take in a small part of reality. And the attitude you take towards what you let in lets you see those things through different lenses.
Self-fulfilling prophecies can be very powerful. If you think that you will fail then you'll find “proof” that you will fail in your reality. If you think you will succeed your focus system in your mind – your Reticular Activation System – will help you find the opportunities for success in your reality. What would remain “in the background” when you focused on the negative will suddenly pop out of the background when you focus on the positive or succeeding.
Now, it may be common or “normal” to focus on the negative (perhaps with a sprinkle of positivity now and again). But it is also all it is. You are free to choose what to focus on all the time. So think about what you focus on because that is what you will see. And what you see is what you will act upon. And your actions do to a large degree determine your results.
6. Find the upsides of the problem.
“Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don't have any problems, you don't get any seeds.”
“Problems are to the mind what exercise is to the muscles, they toughen and make strong.”
Problems can provide insights and give lessons in how you can grow. So don't be totally discouraged when running into a problem. Realize that there are usually one or more opportunities in what you perceive as a problem. Doing that regularly makes it easier to not take your problems overly seriously because you aren't seeing them as totally negative experiences anymore.
So when facing a problem, ask yourself a question like: what's awesome about this situation? Or ask yourself: what can I learn from this situation?
7. Check your phraseology.
“Watch your manner of speech if you wish to develop a peaceful state of mind. Start each day by affirming peaceful, contented and happy attitudes and your days will tend to be pleasant and successful.”
“Never talk defeat. Use words like hope, belief, faith, victory.”
There is a good amount of power in what words you use. If you use negative words you tend to feel more negative and find more negativity in your world. If you use positive and uplifting words you tend to feel those emotions. This may sound a bit corny or silly, but when you get into the habit of actually using more positively charged words you find that it affects your mood and outlook on things.
8. Don't go too fast.
“To go fast, row slowly.”
It's tempting to go fast. But if you go too fast your boat may tip over. You may stumble unnecessarily and make mistakes that you wouldn't have done if you had just kept a slower pace. Or you may be tempted to grab on to the next big idea, the next “magic pill”, instead of steadily keep going on your current path. To actually get where you want to go a slower pace may be more useful and effective than a hurried and quick pace.
9. Develop the most useful habits of thinking.
“Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate. So practice happy thinking every day. Cultivate the merry heart, develop the happiness habit, and life will become a continual feast.”
“Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex.”
What you spend most of your time thinking about you tend to become. One problem may be that you don't know what you think about most of the time. Just keeping careful notes for a few days can be useful to find out how you spend your time and thoughts.
To install more of a positive attitude or positive thinking into your mind you need to have patience. It may not be easy and you'll probably fall back into old thought patterns a lot of the time. But I have discovered that over time – we're talking about months here – you can slowly spend more and more of your week with, for instance, positive thoughts rather then negative ones. And after a while positive thoughts tend to become more and more automatic. Just like when playing tennis you don't have to think so much about striking the ball after a while. It becomes an automatic reflex.
One helpful tip while installing new thought habits is to continually remind yourself about them by asking yourself questions that keeps you steadily on this new mental track. Or gets you back on track if you veer off it. You can use notes posted on your computer, fridge, and bathroom mirror to remind yourself to actually ask yourself the questions.
10. Learn not only from your mistakes.
“We've all heard that we have to learn from our mistakes, but I think it's more important to learn from successes. If you learn only from your mistakes, you are inclined to learn only errors.”
“Check what you did right and don't get lost in basking on your glory. It will make it easier to repeat whatever you did that created the success.”
I thought this was an interesting reminder. Our mistakes are interesting because they can often teach us something valuable if we just take a closer look at what happened. But, of course, the successes are really useful to analyze too.
It is here we can find perhaps a crucial detail or something that we did that we missed the other 10 times we tried. So, as Peale says, don't get totally lost in basking in your glory. Or make the mistake of seeing your success as just having a bit of luck for once. Take a close look at what happened and what you did right. Preferably sooner than later as memories can quickly become a quite fuzzy. And write down what you come up with to prevent that the conclusions become fuzzy.