“Slow down”: You’ll be surprised what year these words were written

Rice fields Bali

“In the circumstances of modern life, with its acceleration of pace, the practice of silence is admittedly not so simple as it was in the days of our forefathers. A vast number of noise-producing gadgets exist that they did not know, and our daily program is more hectic. Space has been annihilated in the modern world, and apparently we are also attempting to annihilate the factor of time. It is only rarely possible for an individual to walk in deep woods or sit by the sea or meditate on a mountaintop or on the deck of a vessel in the midst of the ocean.”

The year is not 2014, or 2000, or even 1990. The year is 1952, and Norman Vincent Peale is writing The Power of Positive Thinking. He goes on:

“Over-stimulation produces toxic poisons in the body and creates emotional illness. It produces fatigue and a sense of frustration so that we fume and fret about everything from our personal troubles to the state of the nation and the world.”

Sound familiar? The hectic-ness of today – with smartphones and social networking – may take a different form, but it appears that the affliction of feeling hurried is universal. Some of us don’t know what to do with ourselves unless we are rushing.

But the answer is simple: slow down. “Muddied water let stand, will become clear,” said philosopher Lao Tzu.

I’ve always had a self-imposed sense of hurriedness. Even though I work remotely – which means my hours are flexible, especially now that I’m halfway across the globe – I still used to set exact hours for myself and feel antsy if lunch ran over or I started late. Lately, I’ve tried to remind myself that things (read: lines that I’m standing in) don’t always move as fast as I want. And the point is to enjoy life – not get everything done as fast as possible.

I love the concept of rhythm that Peale talks about. Everything has a rhythm, he says. Listen to nature, and you’ll hear its rhythm. A stove, a car, a job all have a rhythm. “To avoid tiredness and to have energy, feel your way into [their] essential rhythm,” he writes. I’m currently feeling my way into the essential rhythm of Bali, which operates on “island time” – in other words, meals take a while to make their way to your table.

Imagined that way, slowing down is like falling into pace with the things around you instead of feeling disjointed and blurry.

“Slow down, for whatever you really want will be there when you get there if you work toward it without stress, without pressing,” Peale writes. “Practice being peaceful . . . Then note the quiet power sense that wells up within you.”

And there is no secret in how to do this, he admits. “The only way to stop is stop.”

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Weekend inspiration: Find your fire, and never be tired again

flame

“That’s the secret. He was on fire for something. He was pouring himself out, and you never lose energy and vitality in so doing. You only lose energy when life becomes dull in your mind. Your mind gets bored and therefore tired doing nothing. You don’t have to be tired. Get interested in something. Get absolutely enthralled in something. Throw yourself into it with abandon. Get out of yourself. Be somebody. Do something. Don’t sit around moaning about things, reading the papers, and saying, ‘Why don’t they do something?’ The man who is out doing something isn’t tired.”

– Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking 

Photo by Flickr user Lunaticademente

Choose happiness

Happiness is a choice

Is it as simple as that?

When I was in college, I had a crush on someone with a girlfriend. I kept hoping he would come to his senses and start dating me. (He never did.) One night, realizing how much it was getting me down, I just decided to be happy. I wouldn’t let it bother me anymore. And it didn’t.

In The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale says something profoudly simple about happiness: choose it. Make happiness a habit. Think about that – some of our habits aren’t actions, they’re emotions. Sometimes our negativity is just a a reflex, not a real assessment of reality.

Many of the sayings about happiness talk about it like a choice. Accentuate the positive. Look on the bright side (not the dark side). Walk on the sunny side of the street. In other words, focus on the good things, and life will be good. Don’t deny the negatives – recognize them – but make the judgment that the combination is still positive.

Peale recommends the mantra: “Things are going nicely. Life is good. I choose happiness.”

Or: “I believe this is going to be a wonderful day. I believe I can successfully handle all problems that will arise today. I feel good physically, mentally, emotionally. It is wonderful to be alive. I am grateful for all that I have had, for all that I now have, and for all that I shall have. Things aren’t going to fall apart.”

But if we focus on the negative, we’re manufacturing our own unhappiness. We’ve started a Sad Factory, and it can take any raw materials and turn them into a Bad Day.  We use fancy equipment like pessimism, fear, and worry.

It’s a choice – it may be as simple as that. But it’s not just one choice: it’s many, many choices we make over and over every day, throughout the day, for our whole lives.

Photo by Flickr user The Daring Librarian

6 ways to be more peaceful

peaceful nature

Written in 1952, The Power of Positive Thinking emphasizes something that we’re only realizing the implications of today: stress is bad for your health. Nowadays, we might talk about overwork and economic crises. Back then, the example was fear of communism, which “undoubtedly affects digestion adversely,” Norman Vincent Peale wrote.

To combat negative thoughts, Peale recommends these six techniques for bringing more peace into your mind and life.

1. Every day, empty your mind at least twice of fears, regrets, insecurities, hate, and guilt. You might tell them to someone you trust, or make a ritual of it: write them down and then crumple up and throw out the paper.

2. Think peaceful thoughts. Conjure up beautiful images like nature or art, or slowly repeat words like “tranquility” and “serenity.” Memorize peaceful poetry or quotations.

3. Express peaceful ideas in your conversation, rather than complaints or stress. Talk positively. “Thoughts create words, for words are the vehicles of ideas. But words also affect thoughts and help to condition if not to create attitudes,” Peale writes.

4. Practice silence every day for at least 15 minutes. Surely Peale means meditation: “Conceive of your mind as the surface of a body of water and see how nearly quiet you can make it, so there is not a ripple. When you have attained a quiescent state, then begin to listen for the deeper sounds of harmony and beauty.”

5. Notice when you have a peaceful experience, and try to remember it so you can revisit it later.

6. Don’t be your own tormentor. Let go of guilt and fear.

6 ways to be more self-confident

self-confidence

I’ve come to realize that self-confidence is one of the components of positivity. To be optimistic about the future, you have to believe that you’ll be able to handle it.

So I wasn’t surprised to find rules for increasing self-confidence in Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Here are six of the secular ones:

  1. Imagine what success would look like. Your brain will automatically work to make it a reality.
  2. When you think a negative thought, counter it with a positive one. (It’s raining, but at least I get to use my new umbrella!)
  3. Don’t ignore your troubles, but don’t inflate them into huge obstacles, either.
  4. Be yourself: don’t try to imitate other people.
  5. If you feel inferior to others, figure out why. (Knowing thyself is so important.)
  6. Do an honest assessment of your abilities, then add 10 percent.

Photo by Flickr user glsims99

The power of negative thinking

negative thinkingIn The Power of Positive Thinking (originally published in 1952), Dr. Norman Vincent Peale talks about how focusing on your woes is bound to inflate them.

“If you or I or anybody think constantly of the forces that seem to be against us, we will build them up into a power far beyond that which is justified. They will assume a formidable strength which they do not actually possess.”

His example? A depressed man who said he had nothing left in his life. When questioned, it turned out that he had loving family and friends, integrity, and faith.

I’ve certainly experienced this – like most human beings. When I missed a flight recently, it felt like the worst day of my life. I forgot that I had an understanding family across the ocean in the States, and a kind fiancé who went on a futile mission to fetch my passport in time. There have also been instances when I feel overwhelmed by the huge weight of stress or fear, only to realize that the circumstances don’t warrant it.

It turns out that if we focus on something, our brain often distorts the perception of everything else. Inattentional blindness is when our eyes zero in on one thing and become blind to the rest of reality – a gorilla included. Under the availability heureistic, we judge probabilities based on how easily we can think of examples; because the media (and our attention) has focused on plane crashes rather than car crashes, we believe they’re more likely to happen to us.

For me, the solution is to pause and figure out the reasons I’m feeling down – and not just let the emotion grow into this big, unidentified, mysterious glob. For Peale, the solution is (unsurprisingly) positive thinking.

If “you mentally visualize and affirm and reaffirm your assets and keep your thoughts on them, emphasizing them to the fullest extent,” he writes, “you will rise out of any difficulty regardless of what it may be.”

Photo by Flickr user Sean MacEntee