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The Strategy Of Positive Thinking

A strand through American history is "positive thinking." From Ben Franklin's advice to the "health and wealth gospel" of the 19th century to bestselling books by Anthony Robbins, Americans of all ages have heard, practiced and used "positive thinking."

For a history of positive thinking, see:

One of the more influential purveyors of positive thinking was Norman Vincent Peale. The Washington Post says:

"At his peak, Peale reached millions through radio and television shows and a syndicated newspaper column. He wrote more than 40 books, including the ever-sunny “The Power of Positive Thinking,” published in 1952; it spent three years on the New York Times’ bestseller list. The minister’s advice included: 'Formulate and stamp indelibly in your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Never permit it to fade.'"

Peale was a friend of Presidents Nixon and Reagan and praised by Bill Clinton. Donald Trump attended Peale's church.

Powerful people followed Peale. People who understand strategy. People who used strategy to do things like win presidential races.

Which means there's a strategic reason to use positive thinking.

Positive thinking helps you with the first step of strategy: Imagining the future.

And positive thinking keeps you there. Positive thinking keeps you focused on a particular type of future: A Positive-Sum Game. A win-win game. Where you win and the people around you win, too.

If you're not focused on Positive-Sum Games, you're focused on Zero-Sum Games. On conflict. On competition. You're focused on win-lose games. You're focused on winning only what other people lose.

Zero-Sum Games are necessary and essential to a good strategy. But Zero-Sum Games usually aren't the primary focus of a strategy. If they are, it's a weak strategy.

As you'll see in A Spy’s Guide To Strategy, the most powerful strategies have a Positive-Sum Game as their Endgame. A win-win Endgame. An Endgame where everyone wins.

From that Endgame, you reason backward. To a Zero-Sum Game. To the conflicts, competitions and wars you need to fight for your Positive-Sum Game to exist.

Reasoning backward and acting forward, the sequence of types of games looks like this:

You fight conflicts for a reason. You fight for people, places and things. Because they are what make a Positive-Sum Game work. You fight Zero-Sum Games to get to a Positive-Sum Game. You fight conflicts to get to your Endgame.

Zero-Sum Games are just stepping stones. They're way points. Which means you don't need to play every Zero-Sum Game. Strategically, you can pick and choose. When you're reasoning backward, Zero-Sum Games are strategically less important than Positive-Sum Games. If you make a Zero-Sum Game the focus of your strategy, you can't pick and choose. You have to play it. Because it's your Endgame.

Which you don't want. You want your Endgame to be a Positive-Sum Game.

Which is what positive thinking tells you. Positive thinking keeps you focused on Positive-Sum Games. Positive thinking keeps Zero-Sum Games subordinated. Positive thinking helps you build a strong strategy.

There's a lot of strategic power in positive thinking. Which is why so many strategically astute people use it.

Positive thinking keeps your strategy focused on the Endgame.


In A Spy's Guide To Strategy, you'll see more of this framework. Because it's the fundamental framework for understanding others' strategies. And for building your own.

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