Norman Vincent Peale, (1898-1993) author, minister, and founder of Guidepost Magazine was a champion of the power of positive thinking. He once said, “Believe you are defeated, believe it long enough, and it is likely to become a fact.” From this we got the expanded idea that if you keep telling yourself you won’t make it, chances are you won’t. While there are volumes that have been written on this subject, let’s examine some ideas that we can consider for the moment.
First of all, worrying about what will be and indulging in feelings of futility does NOT make one more effective, nor does it improve one’s lot in the least. On the contrary, it distracts one’s focus from the path that leads to success and disperses one’s power to progress along that path.
Furthermore, feeling insecure and discouraged about your circumstances is NOT a circumstantial problem; it is an emotional problem that permits circumstantial problems to fester. Feelings of discouragement and insecurity about one’s circumstances are often habitual. They express a negative mental-emotional habit that is self-defeating and it will continue to sabotage success until it is overcome. Recognizing that it’s just a habit is a major step in gaining freedom from it.
One way out of a low or anxious emotional state is to go within, to look at how you feel and at what you think, and to STOP projecting the cause of your negative feelings, mood or attitude outside of yourself. When you project the cause of your emotional state outside of yourself you presume that your circumstances have to change before you can feel better. But the fact is that your circumstances will NOT change until you change the way that you feel.
By making up your mind to live in a state of peaceful awareness in the now INSTEAD OF indulging in discouragement or insecurity, you achieve freedom from that negative internal state and freedom to constructively think about your goals and how to achieve them.
But becoming passive is not going to finish the job. The next step is to get engaged in constructive work aimed at accomplishing your most important objective. You will find it far more satisfying and profitable to take action aimed at achieving your goal than worrying about floundering and failing. Every moment you spend NOT indulging in a negative emotional state weakens the habit of indulging in it. Every action you take for what you want to accomplish builds up a momentum of actively working in line with your goal, making it easier for you to continue working and to work with increasing intensity of focus and power.
You can always do SOMETHING to direct your life. You can always take some form and degree of action in line with what you want to accomplish. Doing anything is better than doing nothing more than fretting your time and energy away. There is nothing and no one holding you down or holding you back but a habitual attitude that tells you that you cannot achieve what you desire.
To the extent that you feel down, disappointed, insecure or defeated you do NOT have a life problem you have an attitude problem: a habitual attitude that portrays you as a victim of an insurmountable obstacle. That habitual attitude is ALL that can prevent you from succeeding. When you realize that your attitude, and not your circumstances (or other people), is your problem you are 50% free of the problem.
But there is another side to this equation. Earl Nightingale (1921-1989) an American radio speaker and author, dealing mostly with the subjects of human character development, motivation, and meaningful existence, asked all of his listeners to “Picture yourself in your mind’s eye as having already achieved this goal. See yourself doing the things you’ll be doing when you’ve reached your goal.” This is a very proactive approach in getting out of the rut of declaring yourself a failure long enough to become a failure. Again, there are many books and articles written on this subject. But here are some suggestions we’ve found that will help a person taking a step in the right direction toward success.
First of all, ask yourself: Do I automatically think positively or negatively? Getting the answer to this question will help you get the results you are looking, it will help you see if you are approaching things with a negative or positive attitude. It can also help you identify other skills that can help you improve your happiness and well-being.
Then, strengthen your memory with positive information. Did you know that you may be able to increase your positivity just by memorizing a list of positive words? That’s right! It’s because when you force your brain to use positive words frequently, you make these words (and their basic meaning) more accessible, more connected, and more easily activated in your brain. So when you go to retrieve a word or idea from your memory, positive ones can come to the top more easily.
If you’re not sure which words are positive? Psychologists have painstakingly measured thousands of words to determine how positive and negative they are. For instance, there is the Positivity Workbook Series by the Berkeley Well-being Institute, and Stopping Words that Hurt by Dr. Michael D. Sedler. Also, The Power of Positive Words at positivethesaurus.com. If you’re struggling to think positive, try this strategy first. It can help develop your brain in ways that may make the other positive thinking strategies easier to implement.
Once your brain has built strong neural networks for positive words, try to extend these networks by asking your brain to use positive information in new ways. For example, you could memorize positive words and set an alarm that reminds you to recall these words, in reverse order, an hour later. Or, you could print out these words on cards, cut them into 2 pieces, shuffle them all together and then find each card’s match. For example, if you cut the word “laughter” would be cut into “laug” and “hter.” To match the word pieces, your brain has to search through lots of positive information to find what it’s looking for. This positive memory recall task may make it easier when you try to think positive.
Are you one of those people who notices the bad stuff first? For instance, when traffic is moving too slowly, instead of calculating the time you still need to arrive on time where you’re going, you automatically think there is someone up ahead who is causing all this backup? Then you’ve most likely trained your brain to focus on the negative, and your brain has gotten really good at it. It can be really challenging to undo this training. So instead, train your brain to be even better at focusing on the positive.
Another thing to do is routinely focus on positive information and direct your attention away from the negative. Need help paying attention to the positive? Did you know that you can condition yourself for positivity? If you’ve ever taken an intro to psychology course, you’ve probably heard about the study of Pavlov’s dog. If you haven’t, then Google it. This should help you to learn how you might train your brain to think positively rather than negatively when you hear or see something that offers you that choice.
This should help you to think more positive and only think negative when you need to. Of course, thinking positive has its benefits. But thinking positive isn’t always the best response. Negative thoughts sometimes have benefits too. When we are sad or grieving, thinking negative thoughts and showing the emotions that these thoughts create helps us communicate to others that we need their support and kindness. When we are treated unfairly and we get angry, our thoughts can help motivate us to take action, make changes in our lives, and change the world. Casually pushing these negative emotions aside without seriously considering their origins can have negative consequences. So when you focus on the negative, ask yourself, is this negative emotion resulting in action that improves your life? If so, then keep it. If not, then work on changing it.
These are only samples, there is a lot more available to check out if you take the time. But, as always, we must ask ourselves, what does the Bible have to say about this? King David wanted to be positive in his thinking because he wanted God to be pleased with what he was thinking and saying.1 One way to do that is to begin each day as being a gift from God for us to live and behave in such a way that He will be pleased. That should give us plenty of reason to be joyful for each new day.2
David’s son, Solomon, must have learned much from his father. He advises everyone that if they want to find favor with both God and man, and a reputation for good judgment and common sense, then trust the Lord to guide you, don’t just trust your own inclinations alone. In everything you do, put God first, and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success.3 Solomon said this will have an extra effect. Having a cheerful heart will be like good medicine. If you’re not feeling your best, it will help you to cheer up in facing your day positively.4 After all, what you say will have a great effect on how you feel. So it’s your choice to fill it with things that are negative or positive. Either way, you will be responsible for any consequences.5
Apparently, this wisdom was passed on to those who followed. The prophet Isaiah told the people of Israel that although they were being in danger of being invaded by a marauding army from the east, they should not forget who there were and whose they were. Did not God tell them that He would always be with them? So don’t be overcome with fear and lose hope, He has promised to help them and see that they are given a chance to win the victory.6
Later on, the prophet Nahum declared that when in trouble, the Lord is the best person to go to. He knows who you are and He knows those who are against you. Let Him figure it out and you are sure to come out on the winning end.7 So when Jesus came, He reinforced what the prophets had said. Only He pointed out more specifically what priorities a person should set. Give God first place in your life and He will help you live the way He wants you too.8 Of all the ones you might want to please with the way you behave and conduct yourself in life, there certainly is no one above God.
So how can this positive living be initiated and kept going? Jesus did not leave us in the dark. First He says, start looking for what you need in order to be more positive. Then once you find it, don’t stop until you are able to obtain it. And even though it may not be easy at first, insist on getting what you need and it will eventually be given to you.9
The Apostle Paul took this message with him as he went out to preach the power of positive thinking. He starts out by saying that no matter what happens to us, keep believing that it is for our good and that it fits into God’s plans for our lives. God knows those who really trust Him for guidance. In fact, those are the ones He chose to be His children. And once He chose us, He empowered us to think positively because we have the assurance that things between Him and us are on the right path. So, knowing that God is on our side, why should we let anyone let others discourage them with negative thinking?10
When Paul wrote the believers in Rome, he knew they were facing all kinds of discrimination and hardships because of their faith in Christ. But he told them, be happy because you have a future; don’t let the troubles of today rob you of the joys of tomorrow. Be patient, stay in contact with God and He will see you through.11
Apparently, the believers in Corinth were having some difficulties of their own, so Paul wrote them and told them that the little troubles we suffer now for a short time are making us ready for the great things God is going to give us forever. We do not look at the things that can be seen. We look at the things that cannot be seen. The things that can be seen will come to an end. But the things that cannot be seen will last forever.12 But Paul’s advice to the believers in Philippi says it all: “Do not worry. Learn to pray about everything. Give thanks to God as you ask Him for what you need. The peace of God is much greater than the human mind can understand. This peace will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”13
So why should anyone develop a mindset that will lead to failure and despair, when you can use the same faculties of mind and spirit to foster a way of thinking that leads upward and outward? If you keep looking at what’s following you, you’ll miss all the golden opportunities facing you. Turn your eyes toward the future, that’s your destiny, that’s where you want to go. As Earl Nightingale said so eloquently: “Picture yourself in your mind’s eye as having already achieved this goal. See yourself doing the things you’ll be doing when you’ve reached your goal.” – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Psalm 19:14
2 Ibid. 118:24
3 Proverbs 3:5-6
4 Ibid. 17:22
5 Ibid. 18:21
6 Isaiah 41:10
7 Nahum 1:7
8 Matthew 6:33
9 Ibid. 7:7
10 Romans 8:28-31
11 Ibid. 12:12
12 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
13 Philippians 4:6-7