This being the time of year for it, you’re probably thinking what form your New Year New You will take. You know — the reinvention that we’re all encouraged to go in for from 1 January. Well, I have a corker. It’s huge. It is nothing less than the programme created by Donald Trump’s spiritual mentor, and look where that got him. Before reading this formula for success, I did wonder how it was that Mr Trump got as far as the presidency; now the only wonder is that it took him this long.
The self-help book I have in mind is written by Mr Trump’s favourite pastor, Norman Vincent Peale: his well-known work The Power of Positive Thinking. Like so many self-help books, the key is in the title: you could save yourself nine quid by just taking it to heart. NVP, who died aged 95 in 1992, ministered at the Marble Collegiate Church of New York, where he conducted Mr Trump’s first marriage, to Ivana. But he was friendly with other presidents: Ronald Reagan for one. For those who seek to emulate Mr Trump on the worldly success front, this is the place to start, but it is only fair to say that the formula has as many critics as aficionados; a little like Mr Trump’s business school, then. Here is a ten-point plan culled from The Power of Positive Thinking: his book is littered with them.
1. Expect the best. Or, as one of Mr Peale’s exemplars put it: ‘I learned the magic of believing. I discovered that if you expect the worst you will get the worst and if you expect the best you will get the best.’ Raise your expectations. Or to put it the NVP way, ‘Change your mental habits to belief instead of disbelief.’ Or again: ‘Never think the worst. Drop it out of your mind; relegate it.’
2. How, exactly? Specifically, you must adopt the ‘I Don’t Believe in Defeat’ attitude. And what if you are ‘as far down as a human being can get’, as one of NVP’s despondent correspondents put it? Then cheer up. ‘The only direction you can take is up.’
3. Engage in the psychic equivalent of colonic irrigation. ‘Flush out your thoughts. Give yourself a clean mental engine. Eliminate little negatives.’ Three times a day, extract negative thoughts from your mind, replacing them with upbeat, positive thoughts.
4. Visualise success! When one of NVP’s evangelical magazines, Guideposts, was going through a tricky patch, one of his supporters exhorted the managing committee to visualise 100,000 subscribers. They did, and you know what? They got them.
5. Adopt the daily practice of silence. ‘Everyone should insist upon not less than a quarter of an hour of absolute quiet every 24 hours. Do not talk to anyone, Do not write. Do not read. Throw your mind into neutral.’ You do realise, don’t you, that clever NVP anticipated the current fashion for mindfulness by about 60 years?
6. Take God with you as a business partner. Effect a merger with God. This is not an approach the Archbishop of Canterbury would recommend, but we’re talking success here. Tell yourself: ‘I believe I will always take the right turn in the road. I believe I am always divinely guided.’And God, in the fashion of a celestial Amazon, will deliver.
7. Eliminate worry. ‘You are not born with the worry habit; you acquire it.’ To do away with cares, return to point 3: ‘Practise emptying the mind daily. It should be done preferably at night, for the last five minutes before sleep.’ Reduce the number of worry words in your vocabulary. How often do you hear Donald T use phrases beginning: ‘I’m afraid that…’? Quite. Instead, affirm: ‘I believe, I believe, I believe.’ It works!
8. Do not nurse grudges. ‘Apply grievance drainage to your mind.’ Physically act as if you’re not angry; take up a non-aggressive posture. This is a clever one. There are behavioural psychologists who think the mind follows cues from the body.
9. You think religion is about exalting the humble, taking a dim view of riches? Not so! ‘There was a time when I acquiesced in the silly notion that there is no relationship between faith and prosperity; that when one talked about religion one should never relate it to achievement; that it dealt only in ethics and morals and social values. But… such a viewpoint limits the power of God.’ Do not try this on Pope Francis.
10. Remember that ‘you can make just about anything of your life’. And ‘the reason a person fails to live a creative and successful life is, he thinks wrong’. Rather terrifyingly, NVP observes: ‘You can think your way to failure but you can also think your way to success.’ Or, as William James, his favourite philosopher, puts it: ‘Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.’
One of the disadvantages of this philosophy is, obviously, that if things don’t go according to plan, the unfortunate individual may end up blaming himself for his failure, rather than circumstances — they may feel they just haven’t tried hard enough.
But positive thinkers do not dwell on failure: see point 2 above. You are recommended, for instance, to begin the day with ‘a happiness philosophy’, a quote from the psalms, then, while shaving or dressing, making observations along the following lines: ‘I believe this is going to be a wonderful day. … I feel good, mentally, physically, emotionally. It is wonderful to be alive.’ All excellent sentiments, but I should be inclined, myself, not to say this sort of thing out loud.
Actually, I’m not sneering at the notion that you should pray for things. I’m all for praying for what you actually want. I just feel a certain diffidence about treating God like a manufacturer under an obligation to deliver after-sales service, which is precisely how some of NVP’s exemplars regarded him. I’m not quite sure that his philosophy of worldly success quite squares with the other stuff in the Bible, about, say, sending the rich away empty.
But you know, I’m not the President-elect of the United States of America. Donald Trump is. The Power of Positive Thinking worked for him… why not you!