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Excerpts from

  Reaching Your Potential
by Norman Vincent Peale

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Book Description

You are greater than you think you are. No matter who you are or how old, once you begin to see yourself as an exceptional person, your potential begins to blossom. That's the truth - Our life is what we make it. Dare to be yourself - There has never been anyone quite like you. Imitation is suicide, wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous essay on self-reliance. Be the person you always wanted to be - It makes no difference how unfavourable your sitution, how little training, or money or status you have to begin with. The great question is what you do with the little you have.  Think constructively - Remember you can decide yourself into failure and unhappiness, or success and happiness. Unleash your potential - Five years from now you will be precisely what you think over the next five years. You will be a bigger person if you think big; you will be a smaller person if you think small.

Reaching Your Potential is quintessential Peale. He wrote it in the 20th century so some stories are a little dated, but overall the principles have not changed. If you're looking for an easy and inspirational read--here it is. Learn about the power of your thinking, your attitude. Learn to do what only you can do!


These days there seems to be a lot of confusion about whether there are any permanent truths to hang on to. So much is changing, and in the course of my life. I have certainly witnessed many profound changes in this world.

But I have discovered that some things do not change. Because of that, I can write this book based on enduring principles that I have built upon in my lifetime.

First, I have found that the spiritual help available is the same today as fifty years ago. If anything, the method of living I have called 'Positive Thinking' has gained greater acceptance throughout the years.

Second, the simple formulas for applying this spiritual guidance to everyday life are the same today as when I started to preach. As we worked on this book, I asked myself, would people in the future, trying the same methods, achieve the same results as someone I told about in 1970? It was exciting to answer that question with a resounding yes, because everywhere I travel today I hear similar stories of powerful results in the lives of people from many walks of life.

Third, the hurts and needs of people stay the same. Our clothes may change, or the ways we earn a living, or our method of travel. (I used to go everywhere by train and thereby met many interesting people.) But the basic human problems of inferiority, loneliness, worry, fear, tension, and doubt never change. I suppose they have not changed much since the beginning of time.

So, you are holding the result of those three discoveries. These concepts work when you work them; they are timeless; people still have the same needs that provoked the development of these ideas. My positive prayer for you is that you will find something for your life.

If I could get across just one concept, it would be this: You are someone special because you have divine potential within you just waiting to blossom.

Once you start with that idea, nothing can hold you back, because you will start to see yourself as God does: a person of wonder and beauty. You will find the source of positive attitudes that lead to belief, faith, hope, anticipation, enthusiasm — in a word, LIFE.

By now, I'm sure you have deduced that the germination of the material for this book came to me as I performed my function as a minister of the Christian Gospel. These days, there seems to be uncertainty about what preachers should preach and whether the teachings of Jesus are valid today.

To me, Jesus is simply the greatest personality who ever lived. He has the greatest thoughts of any philosopher. He has the greatest wisdom of any counselor. He has the deepest insight of any psychiatrist. But most of all, He has the greatest love possible for every man, woman, or child who was ever born.

Perhaps He summed it up best when He described His purpose in coming to this earth and walking among men. He knew that many negative forces would press upon mankind. He called these forces 'thieves' who set upon unsuspecting lambs:

'The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly' (see John 10:10).

<>Abundant life! What a wonderful concept. That life is open to you.    



Chapter 1 

A Positive Attitude Works Wonders

Any person, who needs a change within himself, or within his life, can have this take place by changing his mind. This, however, cannot be superficial mental change; it must be in-depth. Such a change can be extremely effective.

Are you, perhaps, facing a hard situation? Are you involved in some unsatisfactory personal relationship? Is there some other kind of trouble in your life? We could hardly enumerate all the problems a human being has to deal with. But there is a great answer to them all, and it is this: They can all be changed and you can be changed — everything for the better — through the magic of a positive mental attitude.

Now, a positive mental attitude, a phrase coined by my dear friend W. Clement Stone, is not just some cheery, blithe point of view. A truly positive attitude faces all the cold, hard realities of a situation and sees them straight. It does not desire to evade them — because it knows it can handle them. A positive mental attitude is positive thinking in-depth. It is vertical thinking: it rises to God, comes back to you, back to God, back to you; the power passes along a vertical line and, lest you think this is some kind of psychological dissertation, there is a text from the Bible that supports it, 'Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.' That means if you don't like the way you are now, you can change yourself by making a fundamental change in your mind.

Let us imagine a difficult situation. There does not seem to be any hope in it, any possibility, any potential. Now, let's bring two men with different points of view up against it. One has a negative attitude and the other a positive attitude. The man with the negative attitude will immediately, of course, be appalled by it. He will see no chance of light in the darkness. It is all impossible. It's hopeless. There is no chance of doing anything with it. So naturally, a series of unhappy circumstance develops from it. What else could he expect? His negative outlook emphasizes every destructive aspect of the situation. He is an expert at that.

Now, on the other hand, a man with a positive attitude, facing precisely the same situation, asks himself some questions. He is no Pollyanna. He knows the score; he sees the difficulties. But he asks himself, What is God trying to say to me through this tough situation? There is an answer here, and I mean to find it. I know that, with the help of God, I can handle this situation and turn it to happy results. Consequently, from the situation flow bright and happy potentials.

Isn't it strange — or is it? What makes the difference? It is how you think about something. It is whether you bring to a situation (personal, business, social, or whatever it may be) the magic of a positive mental attitude.

Never Say — You 'Can't'

I admire the industrialist Henry Kaiser. He was a great big man, physically, spiritually, and mentally. He came from humble beginnings, but he had been raised in a Christian home, with a positive spirit, and he believed that with the help of God you could accomplish anything. He had a principle that anything you can conceive, you can achieve. It was said of him that he never knew when something couldn't be done, which is a remarkable virtue to have.

There are so many people around today saying that society is going to pieces and the country is going down the drain. Let us hope these people never become the majority in our society — or we will be through. Fortunately, we still have people who believe that, out of all the tumult of this hour, we will build a greater world than ever before. With a positive attitude, the minds of all people can be transformed so they will see things from the standpoint of new and more profound justice and brotherhood than ever before. And these things will come to pass. A positive mental attitude — it's a magical thing!

I was reading the sports pages of the newspaper one day. These I enjoy even more than the front pages, because you know that there are pretty decent people on the sports pages. If you read the sports pages, you can stand the front pages. Anyway, I was reading about a football player named Tom Dempsey, who was then playing for the New Orleans Saints. He had just single-handedly won a game over the New York Giants. He was twenty-two years old and considered by some the greatest field-goal kicker in the game. With unerring accuracy, he would boot the ball right over the crossbar. He was a genius with the foot — because he was also a genius with the mind.

His foot was motivated by a positive attitude, for Tom Dempsey, big fine husky chap that he is, was born with a right hand without fingers and a half-formed right foot. He had to wear an orthopedic kicking shoe that cost him two hundred dollars. But with that half foot, he made incredible kicks. One sportswriter asked him, 'How do you do so well, being handicapped?'

Because he didn't know he couldn't...

During World War II, America had to have more ships and have them fast, and the shipbuilding companies couldn't produce enough. Their methods were too slow. Kaiser came forward and offered to build them. Now, he had never built a ship, but ships were needed, and he was an American, and he believed that God would help him do it. I was at the meeting where he told a whole ballroom full of leading industrialists how he was going to build what they called 'liberty ships'.

Some men sitting near me made the most uncomplimentary remarks about Mr. Kaiser: 'He's a fool. He knows nothing about ships. How can he build them?'

But Kaiser did build them, because he didn't know he couldn't!
'What's that you say?' he asked. 'I don't know the word. I never thought of myself as being handicapped. And, as for the word cant, it's not in my vocabulary.'

Now, how about you? Your difficulty, little or big — is it bigger than you? Or are you bigger than it? 'Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.' Know that, with faith, all things are possible, all things; and you will be the beneficiary of the magic of a positive mental attitude.

What is it that undergirds this positive attitude? It is nothing dreamy or Pollyannaish; it is a solid fact, a fact that should be brought again and again to the attention of us all. It is the fact of who you are. Who are you? You are a child of God. You are a being in time and eternity.

You have a physical body and this physical body is a marvelous instrument. We take it too much for granted. Only God could have thought of the physical body. Only God could have created it. Look, what it can do. Take, for example, a hand. It may seem ordinary. But look at the various positions and motions you can make with your fingers and your hands. You can turn it down and you can raise it up; you can reach behind and sideways. Think of the angles, the joints, the engineering that goes into that one small member of your body known as a hand! And that isn't all there is about you. There is the heart and the central nervous system. There is the blood vessel system and the bone structure. And this wonderful body isn't the greatest thing about you, either.

There is in you that indescribable thing called God's power. It is a power over yourself, a power over situations, a power over circumstances. If you exercise this power, amazing things can be done. It is through the use of a positive mental attitude that you have such power. Now, you must be humble about it. It isn't your power. It is God living within you. This is why we constantly urge people to come into a closer relationship with God. Why? He releases power, whereby anyone can manage himself and make a contribution through this inner thing called spiritual power.

One of the first stories ever published in Guideposts magazine was by aviator Eddie Rickenbacker, who was a great American and a sincere Christian. He titled the article 'I Believe in Prayer,' and he told how, in his adventurous life, power of prayer had enabled him to face death a dozen times, look it right in the eye, and live. He said this was one of the things that made him believe in a protective Providence and in life after death.

He related an experience he had while driving a racing car, many years ago, on a speedway. He had it going at the top of its power. He was leading the pack, driving skillfully. Suddenly he felt a faint tremor in the mechanism. Now, he knew that, if anything went wrong at that speed, it could mean disaster and possibly death. But instead of thinking disaster, he prayed in confidence and faith. He sent up the vertical thought to God. And suddenly, he said, he had one of the greatest experiences of his life. He knew exultantly that he had power over that machine that he could bring it in even if it deteriorated — he could bring it in, driving it not by his hands but by his mind. Rickenbacker said that if he had told other drivers of this, they would have thought he was crazy. He knew that there is built into a human being an enormous power, if he will but use it.

I once went with Rickenbacker to a hospital to speak to airmen who had been sent back from the fighting front, many of them broken in body and in spirit. I'll never forget him standing there, as he spoke to those airmen about the power God had put in them. He told them they mustn't give in to depression or defeat in the face of any problem. He closed his speech in this manner: 'Let me tell you guys something,' he said. (They all had their eyes riveted on him). 'If you haven't had an experience of God in your life, you get yourself one mighty quick, because with that you will have power over all your problems.'

'Well,' you say, 'Rickenbacker was an extraordinary person.' That is right. But so are you, if you will allow yourself to be. The trouble is that many people write themselves off as ordinary. But God never made an ordinary human being. Maybe you think you never could have power like this. But you really can, if you believe you can.

Discover Your Potential

I once made a speech to a chamber of commerce in a southern city, and it was recorded for a radio broadcast later on. When I went back to my hotel to get my bag, I heard a radio playing in the lobby, and I recognized my own voice. I saw there weren't many people in the lobby, so I sat down behind a pillar to listen to my own speech, just to see how it sounded. After listening for a little while, I decided to go upstairs to my room and get my bag.

Now, the girl running the elevator was leaning there, chewing gum. I got in the elevator, and presently she pulled herself together and got in to run it up for me. I asked her, 'Did you listen to that speech on the radio there in the lobby?'

'Yeah,' she answered, 'I listened to it.'

'What did you think of it?'

'Well,' she replied, 'that man sure does like to hear himself talk, doesn't he?'

'You don't know me, do you?' I asked. And she said no, she didn't for which I was profoundly grateful!

Well, I got my bag and, on the way down, I talked with this elevator operator again. She said, 'You know that speech by that man?'

'The one who likes to hear himself talk?'

'Yes, sir, that's the one.' She continued, 'You know, there was one little point that got to me. It was pretty good.'

'What was that?' I asked.

'Well,' she said, 'you know what he said? He said, "Everyone has something greater in him than he ever knew."'

'You think you've got that in you?'

'Yes, sir. I know I have, and someday I'm going to go places.'

Well, that was the last I ever saw of her. But from the look in her eyes and that sense of latent power she expressed, I have no doubt that the positive mental attitude, if cultivated, can give her power over her problems.

God has planted this potential in you and me, and it will never rest until it is realized — until you get yourself 'transformed by the renewing of your mind.' It is God who does it. The greatest thing that can happen to anyone is to accept Christ, to find Him, to have Him explode in your mind, to become identified with Him. He is not merely the head of a religious faith or someone whose picture is in stained-glass windows. He is a vital principle. And when this principle connects with a human being, a great transformation takes place. There is romance in the way people's lives can be changed through God. A man is weak, defeated, sinful, confused and everything suffers accordingly. All of a sudden, God comes into this man's mind and soul and works a transformation, a miracle, and the man is changed. He is no longer the same person. Everyone can become a changed person by the power of God and the magic of a positive mental attitude.

Some years ago, I was speaking in a church in New Jersey on a Sunday afternoon. Sitting in the pulpit before speaking, looking at the congregation, I noticed the face of a certain man. The minute my eye caught his eye, he smiled at me and I smiled at him. And I sat there thinking about him, for this man is a miracle of transformation. There was a time when he was really licked and had become a heavy drinker, for that was the only way he felt he could live with himself. Everything was at loose ends. He was mixed up, hopeless, and running low on money. It was one job after another and all that disorganized kind of living.

Well, one day he was slumped over a bar in Brooklyn, as he describes it, about half shot. There was a radio in the bar and it was tuned — get this — to one of my sermons.

And he was listening. Now, thousands of people listen to sermons and nothing happens. But once in a while something does. So here he was slumped over a bar. And something was said in that sermon about the immense possibilities of a human being who would accept God into his life to reorganize him.

The next Sunday, this man came to Marble Collegiate Church, and he was there every Sunday thereafter for a long time. He became a member of the young adult group. His life was completely changed. But, he said, it was not in the church or in the group that the change occurred. He was changed in that bar when an idea penetrated his consciousness and exploded in his mind. The explosion was from the sudden belief that God could change him. He experienced then there the magic of a positive mental attitude.

Now, however the change takes place, it is valid. If you live your days thinking on an elevated, positive level with God, everything, including yourself, will change. Problems that you couldn't handle. Situations that previously you couldn't endure, you now will be able to endure or even change. Accept this concept. Tell yourself, 'I will live with the magic of a positive mental attitude through the help of God.' You'll never be the same person again — you will be a new person.

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