This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What does Bible have to say about problem-solving? How can the simple act of faith help you reveal solutions to your earthly problems?
Problems are part of life—but with faith-based techniques, you can solve your problems in a manner that brings you the best outcome. According to pastor Norman Vincent Peale, God will solve all of your problems if you have the faith to put them in God’s hands.
In this article, we’ll explore some of Peale’s suggestions for how to tackle personal problems.
Put Your Problems in God’s Hands
Peale believes that putting your problems in God’s hands helps you solve them in the right way. Understand that the power to solve your problems is within you; having faith in God lets you find the clarity to work out solutions and create a plan of action.
|Counterpoint: Responsibility vs. Blame|
In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Manson says that it’s important to take responsibility for everything that happens in our lives. (Note that taking responsibility is not the same thing as taking blame—your current situation might not be your fault, but it’s still up to you to deal with it.) Manson would probably not agree with Peale’s suggestion that you leave everything in God’s hands.
However, personal responsibility and faith in God (or your Higher Power of choice) aren’t as incompatible as they seem. Even Peale says that faith is a way to find the clarity to figure out solutions—not that God will solve all of your problems without you having to lift a finger.
Have a Plan
While the power to solve problems is within you, Peale also says that it’s important to have a clearly defined plan to solve your problems when they arise. A good plan will allow you to make the best use of your inner powers, rather than waste your faith energy on ineffective solutions—or, worse, harmful solutions.
Remember: Peale says that positive thinking techniques can turn your thoughts into reality, but he warns that your subconscious can’t distinguish between helpful and harmful thoughts.
How to Make a Plan
Peale advises us to have clear and specific plans to harness our faith power, but he doesn’t give us any guidance on how to do that effectively.
Extreme Ownership, by former SEAL officers “Jocko” Willink and Leif Babin, agrees that planning is crucial for success. While their book is designed for a team leader, their steps for making a plan work equally well when dealing with personal problems.
- Define the mission. What, specifically, do you want to accomplish? In this case, what problem do you want to solve?
- Review your options. Take stock of your resources: time, assets, and people who can help you. Consider the most effective uses for each of those resources.
- Brainstorm. Come up with possible courses of action. If possible, ask others to come up with plans as well; ask them what they would do in your situation.
- Commit to a plan. Choose which plan of action you want to pursue—the simplest solution is often the best one. Once you’ve made a choice, commit to it 100%.
- Flesh out the plan. Hash out the details of your plan. Be as thorough and as specific as possible. Again, asking others for help will be useful, as they might think of things that you overlooked.
- Make contingency plans. Look for weaknesses in your plan, or problems that could cause it to fail. Do what you can to prevent those situations, and make backup plans in case they do arise.
- Constantly reassess. As you carry out your plan, stay on the lookout for changing circumstances and new information. Continually ask yourself whether you’re still pursuing the best possible course of action.
- Brief your team (if applicable). If others are helping you with your problem, explain the plan that you’ve come up with. Make sure that everyone understands not only the plan, but the reasoning behind it.
- Debrief. After carrying out your plan, make an honest assessment of how it went and what you can do better in the future. If you had a team helping you, include them in the debriefing process.
Imagine God as Your Partner
Another of Peale’s problem-solving techniques is to imagine God as your partner. Christianity teaches that God is always close by, available for us to talk to, lean on, and get help from. Many believe this in a general way, but when trying to get solutions to your problems, you have to see God as truly present—as real as your spouse or friend. This divine-human relationship creates great outcomes in sorting out practical problems.
To do this, Peale advises talking over your problems with God and believing that he hears you and is thinking about your problem. Know that you will receive the right ideas and insights to solve your problem. Know that you will be guided to the right actions, driven by truth.
|In essence, Peale is suggesting that you practice thinking out loud. Even if you don’t believe that you’re engaging with a Higher Power who will give you the answers you need, thinking out loud has some notable benefits.|
According to clinical psychologist Jessica Nicolosi, thinking out loud forces us to slow down and engage more deeply with our thoughts. Speaking also engages different areas of the brain, which may help when trying to come up with creative ideas.
Pray in a Small Group
Praying alone is powerful, but Peale says that praying or meditating with others can boost its effectiveness even further. Adding others’ thoughts and energy to your own can help keep you focused, guide you to answers that you may not have found on your own, and increase the amount of faith energy you can direct at a problem. Therefore, Peale suggests that you try praying with two or three close friends.
|Many spiritual traditions emphasize the importance of praying or meditating in groups. For example, in Judaism, certain blessings and rituals can’t be performed without a minyan: A group of 10 or more Jewish adults. |
While individuals can say their own prayers, a minyan is required in order to read from the Torah. Certain blessings like the Kaddish (the traditional prayer of mourning) also require a minyan in order to symbolize that the Jewish community is joining together in prayer.
Techniques for Solving a Problem
Peale offers the following strategies for overcoming a vexing problem:
- Know there is an answer for every problem.
- Stay calm; your brain doesn’t operate properly under stress.
- Keep a relaxed, open mind and don’t try to force an answer to your problem.
- Write down the facts to clarify your thinking.
- Pray about whatever is bothering you, knowing that God will offer insight.
- Trust in your intuition.
- Go to church; while worshipping, your subconscious can find creative solutions.
- After following these steps, the answer that comes to mind is the right answer.
|Notice that many of Peale’s steps here are about taking a break, walking away from the problem, and letting your mind work on its own. You’ve probably had the experience of solving a problem when you stop consciously thinking about it—indeed, sometimes we have our greatest insights when we’re focused on something unrelated to the problem. |
Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus, explains why this happens: Unfinished tasks tend to stick in your memory—the Zeigarnik Effect—and your subconscious mind keeps working on the problem even when you’re not actively trying to solve it. That means that you’re examining every new piece of information you come across and trying to connect it to the problem that you’ve “stopped working on.”
Because it’s not a conscious process, finding the right piece of information to make the right connection feels like a sudden flash of insight.
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- That there is no problem or obstacle you can’t overcome with faith, positive thinking, and prayer
- The practical techniques of applied Christianity
- How to take control of the events in your life rather than be directed by them