Author: Norman Vincent Peale
Title: The Power of Positive Thinking
Plot: A collection of inspiring stories where men and women made the effort to shed negativity and in so doing changed their lives
Note: I gave this book 5 stars, he surprised me with his attention to detail
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Hey, welcome back!
Today I will be reviewing the Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.
The audience for this book is anyone struggling with life. Particularly anyone who has tried every pill to no avail. The book is 221 pages and 17 chapters and my copy had tiny print. At 12 words per line and 42 lines per page this is basically a 500 page book.
<Norman Vincent Peale was a pastor>
I feel like this book is a victim of its excellent title. What I mean by that is for many years my mom suggested I read it and subconsciously I thought, “Why? The title tells me everything I need to know.” Think positive. The glass is half full. I know this stuff.
However, being the book review podcaster that I am, the time finally came when I felt compelled to read it.
I give the book five stars because it not only bears a remarkable title, but excellent content. There were things in this book I never expected to learn. And by the third chapter I was convinced it was worth every penny.
I liked his style in that everything was a story about someone he knew or met and he opened with their problem, followed by the prescription that he gave them and a summary of the result.
Of course the overall message of the book is to think positively and to weed out negative thought patterns. As you would expect. And so it of course addresses the sorts of concepts we would expect. For example, during a cruise he told his students to do a symbolic action. Whenever they had a negative thought they were to pinch it with their fingers as if removing thought worms out of their skull and then cast them into the sea.
And as we would expect the feedback from those who tried it was that they were shocked that it worked so well. And this of course was followed by the obligatory recommendation that they then replace the void left by the removal of the (negative) thought with a positive thought and a visualization.
That was exactly the sort of content one would expect when you read a book like this and so he didn’t disappoint.
But there was so much more than that!
Having been a student of positive thinking for most of my life I thought I eliminated all of my negativity completely before even cracking the book. However, Norman’s book revealed some lingering negativity that escaped my awareness.
The first chapter was entitled Believe in Yourself and that’s an important topic for Christians in particular because I think one of the biggest problems created by our churches is this belief that there is no difference between confidence and pride. And that’s a toxic view that must be confronted.
God created us in his image and so we should have unparalleled confidence, but since we are his craftsmanship we should be grateful and not prideful. Those are my words not his, but I believe that's consistent with his message.
He quoted popular Scriptures that supported his methods like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “Nothing is impossible for those who believe” “If God be for us, who can be against us.” And he even quoted from secular sources like Basil King once said, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid!”
Chapter 2 was entitled A peaceful Mind Generates Power. And then he gave examples of that.
Ironically, this book being one hundred years old, or more... he spent a great deal of time on the impact that noises have on us. I’m a big believer in silencing noises. My phone is on silent, I work from home, and anything that beeps or buzzes in my presence gets turned off or thrown across the room. I can tolerate noises with the best of them, but I recognize the capacity that they have to erode my peace and so I don't stand for it.
I traveled across country by train while I was reading this book and I smiled because it would seem that I read his book on the train, that he was writing on the train.
And if you've never taken a train ride across the country. Especially, you need the sleeper car. That's the only way to go. It's completely rejuvinating it's a wonderful experience. But, I digress...
At one point, in the train station, I sat down on a row of connected chairs and not much later a restless woman came and sat near me. She kept shifting her weight causing the whole row to bounce every time she moved, making me shift with her.
A man then sat down in the row behind me who was sniffing due to his cold. As a result, I went to the vending machine, purchased a soda and found a seat somewhere else. On the opposite side of the room in fact. In my wisdom and experience I have learned that lingering near someone with a cold has the capacity to make me sick. And enduring an irregular pattern of constant random movements are a distraction that I just don’t want or need.
After taking my new seat I was amused to read that he then addressed the exact same scenario that I was battling in the train station. Subliminal noises and distractions erode our comfort. It impacts our focus and our energy and if it persists it's unhealthy. Exactly like the ones I just described.
Once upon a time, I would have just stayed in that spot enduring the constant disruptions both audible and physical and later being plagued by a cold that lasted a couple weeks. And so in my case his advice was confirmation. Yet he articulated the importance in such a way that I was proud of my reaction. I noticed I was the only one who walked away.
In chapter 3, titled how to have constant energy, he goes deeper. He talks about the aggregate total of all of these things on our energy levels.
He gave a great illustration of a man who was riddled by fear and guilt. He was a man of good reputation and he fell into sleeping with a married woman. He tried to end the relationship, but she threatened to tell her husband and destroy his reputation. And this sucked the energy from the man until he became frazzled and tortured by it. His psychiatrist sent him to Norman Vincent Peale for counseling because he recognized that drugs weren’t the solution, the man needed healing. And this called out an association that apparently once existed that doesn't seem to exist anymore between psychiatrists and pastors and doctors. He spoke of that arrangement like it was normal and commonplace. People would go to the one and get referred to the other as a regular course of doing business.
Norman Vincent Peale after hearing the man’s dilemma commented that it was no wonder he had no energy. He likely couldn’t sleep at night being tortured by his bedfellows.
“What Bedfellows?” the man asked.
“Fear and Guilt. How can you get any sleep between two bedfellows who are ripping you apart?”
The man recoiled and eventually consented to doing the right thing no matter the cost. Because he was already experiencing the pain of discovery by anticipating it constantly. It was a slow motion death that was worse than confronting his demons and getting it over with. Of course, after ending the relationship, his energy immediately returned because he was once again able to live with himself and sleep at night.
Norman Vincent Peale quoted Tomas Karlyle who once said, “Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves.”
And so if you aren’t policing your surroundings the way I did when two intruders disrupted my peace simply just by sitting near me and being themselves, then you are a victim of your circumstances instead of the captain of your ship.
I think of the stray cat I once took in. She was obviously pregnant and though I hate cats, the little slut was lovable. And she was a slut (in my defense). She was obviously hungry and definitely pregnant. And she kept killing mice and leaving them on my front porch. As nasty as that was, I couldn’t help but be moved by the fact that because she liked mice, she figured everyone must.
And so when you’re out shopping this holiday season, and you need ideas...
Anyway, I took in the stray cat and kept her and her kittens until they were three months old at the advice of the local vet. And having always hated cats, I observed some behaviors that blew my mind. These cats would form a cheerleader pyramid whenever they napped. And invariably the ones on the bottom would eventually feel crushed and so they’d climb out from under the pile and walk over the others searching for a new comfortable place at the top of the pile. And with seven kittens this happened every couple a minutes.
What they viewed as normal I viewed as torture. If every couple minutes somebody walked on me while I was sleeping, I’d introduce them to the front bumper of my car. And I’d probably backup and run over 'em a few times.
Meaning you don’t know why peace is so valuable until after you have it and someone takes it away or disturbs it. The issue is these little nuisances multiply if we aren’t policing them. Your fridge makes a noise. Clocks make noises, your computer fan, the time flashing on your microwave or DVD player, the phone ringing, a text message, a car passing by, somebody mowing the lawn, a knock at the door, a cry for help. All this stuff escapes our conscious mind, but it takes a toll on our body. After we silence it, we discover how annoying it was. And when we come to complete silence it's extremely restful.
Every time that woman shifted her weight my muscles clenched, part of it was surprise and another part was because she was making me angry. As I remained in that seat, emotions started to bubble up. It was resentment. I didn’t respect myself for not rebuking her, but a rebuke was at odds with my Christianity. And the combination of all of these distractions and my subsequent emotion made it difficult to focus on my book. Particularly when I imagined the germs hovering around me from the sneezer in the back row.
And the remedy was so simple. I just walked over to the soda machine, bought a drink and sat somewhere else. And I was the only one who moved. Everyone else sat there and endured it for the two hours until the next train. And when they go home and get sick they're gonna remember what they did to themselves. And the resentment that lasted only a few minutes for me, will last until their colds heal.
What really stands out in this book is Norman Vincent Peale’s attention to detail. I’ll give you a couple of examples: He mentioned that grandfather clocks and how they have a long slow tick about them, but modern clocks have a fast one. And believe it or not the pace of the tick has the capacity to create anxiety. You may recall the opening scene in the movie Back to the Future. Richard Zemekis created anxiety in his movie simply by filming a room full of clocks. The message was clear: time moves fast and it’s precious. But whether your recognize it or not, it built anticipation. It created a disturbance. One that he built on a few minutes later when Michael J Fox walked in the room and plugged in the amplifier.
Though Norman Vincent Peale didn’t say it, I was reminded that when we are babies in the womb we can hear our mother’s heartbeat. If it beats quickly, that implies danger and when it beats slowly it portends safety. Therefore a slow rhythm is pacifying while a fast one is worrisome.
So the subliminal impact of a clock that has a rapid tick is that you experience anxiety simply because you’re in its presence. I’ve been known to remove the batteries from clocks while staying at my friend's homes. Because I can hear the tick and I hate it. I haven’t always been this way, first I had to remove myself from the situation before I realized how much it bothered me.
And so again I call attention to his attention to detail. He commented that in a conversation with a construction foreman the man said that his best workers understood the rhythm of their machines and matched it. They paced themsevles by it. Those men worked, harder, faster more efficiently and ended their shifts with an abundance of energy and a better attitude. While those who fought the rhythm of their machines were exhausted by the end of the day. Because they'd been fighting it all day long. And you can imagine that right? Particularly with a crane. Whatever is being lifted will sway and you either move with it or you fight it.
I understand that teenagers won’t understand all of this. They believe they can handle all of these disruptions because they have lots of energy. But imagine how much more you could accomplish when you, if with all of that energy, you put an end to these disruptive forces, and came into a sense of harmony.
I’ve hired quite a few teenagers to do construction for me and despite all of their energy, I work them under the table regularly inside of an hour or two. And I know why this happens and I’ve explained it to them.
They take advantage of the opportunity to build their muscles and show their strength. So in every movement they put the full weight of anything they’re carrying on their flexed muscles; their biceps and forearms. And when I see that I warn them: you're gonna burn out really fast. They should use the natural carrying capacity of their bones and relax their muscles. And they inevitably don’t listen for the first week or two until they’re so humiliated by my capacity to outwork them, that they come to respect their limitations and work with them.
It’s fine to burn out in the weight room, that's the place for it, but burning out in the first hour or two on the job is humiliating and it makes the last six daunting.
Guild and fear sap energy. But throwing yourself into something your passionate about creates energy even as you work.
In chapter 4 he talks about prayer power and he makes an excellent recommendation. If you’ve been praying for a while with no results, then change something about your prayer. Get two or three others to agree with you in prayer, fast. Pray longer or harder; attack the problem from every angle until you defeat it. But focus on belief. That's my advice to you.
The book is worth your time. I loved the entire book with one exception.
It was all Biblical until the second to the last chapter where he talked about the dead. The Bible is clear we should never consult the dead about the living and there are some hefty penalties for doing so. Demons and fallen angels masquerade as our loved ones.
And I understand he was merely trying to give hope to those who have lost loved ones, which is admirable, but that gets dicey.
I worry about the impact this thinking could have on someone who is in a fragile state wishing to talk to a loved one and then trying to do so. People have spent their fortunes on psychics who claim to relay messages from the dead with disastrous consequences. Oftentimes these psychics being complete charletons and toying with the emotions of their customers to prolong and deepen the extortion that they're running. Sometimes giving them instructions that bring tremendous harm to them and bring them to shame. So I would ignore the chapter entitled prescription for heartache. And I would instead skip to the one that comes after it. The last one.
I can’t fault someone for getting one detail wrong, even if it is a big one.
Otherwise the book has tremendous value. I like everything about it, every other chapter. I would suggest you buy the book, read the book and do what the book says. It's a great book.
And that’s all folks! Have a brilliant week! And y'all come back now! Ya hear?
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