How to Overcome Personal Inadequacy: Appeal to Faith

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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Is something deep inside you holding you back? Where do you think this particular lack of self-confidence stems from?

No one is born with an inferiority complex. Our sense of personal inadequacy develops through life experience, especially our upbringing through childhood.

Here is how appealing to faith can help you cope with a sense of personal inadequacy.

Overcome an Inferiority Complex

According to Norman Vincent Peal, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, it’s possible to overcome an inferiority complex by appealing to faith in the Higher Power. Here’s his method:

  • Analyze the root cause of your inferiority complex. For instance, you may believe you’ll never amount to anything. Look at your life to find the root cause of this inferiority complex. 
    • Perhaps your older brother got straight A’s in school, but you only got C’s and felt like a disappointment to your family. Thus, you end up believing that you’re destined to get C’s for your whole life, and your brother is the one who will be a success.

(Shortform note: Many people find the root causes of their self-esteem issues in their childhood experiences, such as overly critical parents or poor performance in school. However, the same problems can come from an abusive partner, life events like divorce and unemployment, or ongoing medical issues, just to give a few examples.) 

  • Develop a deep faith in God. Peale argues that developing a deep faith in God will give you faith in yourself.
  • The key to acquiring faith is prayer. More detailed prayer techniques and formulas will be discussed in a later chapter, but for now, it’s important to note that the type of prayer is important—the bigger your problem, the bigger and more heartfelt your prayer should be.

(Shortform note: If you don’t want to use Peale’s concept of God (the Christian God), this would be an excellent time to decide what your Higher Power will be. It doesn’t even have to be a specific entity; some people use vague concepts like “energy” or “the universe” as their Higher Power.)

  • Fill your mind with “confidence concepts.” We build up our security or insecurity by how we think. When our thoughts are filled with fears of what might happen, the result is a feeling of constant insecurity. We can even create what we fear (a “self-fulfilling prophecy”). However, when our thoughts are filled with faith, courage, security, and confidence, all thoughts of doubt are expelled, and we allow our potential power to be set free. You can train yourself to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. This is called “thought-disciplining;” it re-educates the mind and boosts your power.
In The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma suggests a similar technique, which he calls opposition thinking: You recognize when you’re having a negative thought, and replace it with a positive thought.

For example, if you catch yourself thinking, “I messed up that presentation, that must mean I’m stupid and worthless,” you could replace it with the thought, “Everyone makes mistakes, and one presentation doesn’t define my career or my life.” 

Peale’s “confidence concepts” and Sharma’s “opposition thinking” both rely on the fact that you can only hold one thought at a time; therefore, by filling your mind with positive thoughts, you leave no room for negative ones. 
  • Develop a confident and optimistic attitude. A confident and optimistic attitude can help you overcome difficulties. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger said it best: “Attitudes are more important than facts.“ It doesn’t matter what awful thing you’re going through; your attitude about it can modify or even overcome the experience. 
    • To overcome a sense of personal inadequacy and develop a confident attitude, try making a list of all the things you see as positive about yourself—your assets. This helps you stop thinking about all the forces that are against you and steers your thoughts toward the forces working for you.
Dale Carnegie’s 1948 book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living suggests various methods for developing the sort of positive, confident attitude that Peale suggests here. A few examples are:

Recognize minor problems for what they are. If you take a step back and think about the situation, you’ll often find that you’re overreacting to something that’s really just an annoyance or an inconvenience. For example, if you’re getting angry because your flight was delayed, ask yourself whether that’s really going to ruin your entire vacation experience. 

Consider probability. If you’re worried about a particular event or outcome, ask yourself how likely it really is. For example, some people are afraid of flying, but dying while on an airplane is extremely unlikely. According to one study, the odds that you’ll die in a car crash are approximately 1 in 107, while the odds that you’ll die on an airplane are too low to calculate. 

Set limits. Ask yourself how much time and energy you’re really prepared to spend worrying about something, then stick to that decision. For example, if you have a friend who always shows up 30 minutes late, next time you make plans tell him or her that you’ll only wait for 10 minutes and then you’ll leave. Either your friend will get there in time, or you’ll have only lost 10 minutes instead of 30. 

Let go of the past. Remember that what’s done is done; no amount of worry or regret can change it. Learn from your past experiences, but don’t waste time and energy brooding on them. 
  • Know that God is with you and helping you. This is a simple, yet powerful belief that, when practiced, can boost your self-confidence. To do this, practice saying this affirmation: “God is with me; God is helping me; God is guiding me.” Repeat this affirmation, visualize God’s presence, and practice believing this affirmation.

(Shortform note: Scientific studies have shown that affirmations have positive effects on people’s confidence and sense of self-worth. If you aren’t using God as your Higher Power, you may find it helpful to replace Peale’s suggested affirmation with one of your own choosing.)

How to Overcome Personal Inadequacy: Appeal to Faith

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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

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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