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Law of attraction, positive thinking . . . how old is it?

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A long back story

I took out Goodbye Mr Chips from my local library thinking it would be nice to relax for a couple of hours with this gentle, slightly sentimental, very inspirational movie. For non-Brits, this is a classic pygmalion, teacher story with romance thrown in. Think To Sir With Love, History Boys and Freedom Writers. I think when Yanks write pygmalion stories they are typically about basketball coaches. Britain has teacher stories.

Goodbye Mr Chips is a double-pygmalion story. Mr Chipping is an awkward “Latin master” in a “public school”.  If you are non-Brit, read exclusive private school (or prep school in Americanese – a prep school here preps you to go to public school which takes you to the army academy or university).

Mr Chipping has two mentors. A charming relaxed fellow teacher and his wife. They are the catalysts in allowing Mr Chipping, or Chips as he comes to be called, to incorporate the softer side of his nature in his teaching style, reform the rugged-masculine-bullying culture of the school, and to encourage boy-after-boy, and their sons after them, to blend the feminine sides of their nature with the masculine demands of their school and obligations to country.

I thought I was borrowing the musical version with Peter O’Toole from the library.   When I got home, I discovered I a new version with Martin Clunes, the star of the TV show, Doc Martin. He makes a marvellous Mr Chips with the mixture of clumsiness and kindness that we also see in Doc Martin. (He doesn’t sing btw, and nor do we hear the boys singing which we did in the earlier version).

The story seems slightly different too – but so be it. After this long back story, this is the quote I wanted to give you.

“I found that when I stopped judging myself harshly, the world became kinder to me. Remember I told you once, go out, and look around the world. Do that now. Only this time, let the world look at you. And the difference, I assure you, the world will like what it sees.”

Positive psychology is more than positive thinking

This is the concept which takes positive psychology far beyond positive thinking. It has echoes of the pygmalion effect, popularized in the musical My Fair Lady in which a flower girl becomes a lady. It includes the Galatea effect, ably researched by Dov Eden, who also researches the pygmalion effect in work settings. Basically, the Pygmalion effect is the effect of other people’s expectations on us. So a teacher creates clever pupils by expecting more of them. A teacher creates dull pupils by expecting failure and subtly communicating doubts and restricting the resources and time we need to learn. The Galatea effect works the other way around. It is the effect of our own self-perception.  It is not that seeing is believing. But that, believing is seeing.

Is this new?

George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion 100 years ago. 150 years ago Goethe wrote:

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

The idea that we shape the future is so new to us in the west. The idea that the universe comes to us sounds a little new age.

Of course, we cannot do anything. We don’t want to do anything.

But there are some things, we want to do. And if we can imagine those things, if we believe in them deeply without effort, if they make sense, if they seem right in themselves, if we believe in them enough to take the first hesitant step,

if we believe in them enough to take the first hesitant step,

then the universe conspires to help us.


This is tautological, of course. It will work because it is right and it is right because it works.

Ask only whether what you want is right, and why you would want anything that doesn’t work!



  1. Practical reinforcment seems to help:)

  2. Positive thinking is old as civilization itself. Without positive thinking, the world would be a wretched place.

    For years, I was a negative thinking person. Now, I am positive thinking and the difference is noticable– better interactions with co-workers, friend and family members.

  3. scotchcart scotchcart

    Thanks Ned. What I’ve found interesting is the way a negative event can dominate one’s thinking.

    There is a new computer game called MindHabits that trains you, so it seems, to detect positive information (smiling faces) more quickly. I only tried it yesterday. My initial question would be whether one might get a little thick skinned? After all, negative information spreads like wild fire and it is necessary to detect what upsets other people and sort it out!

    If you use it, a tip: set up your profile properly because the game uses the information in the game.

  4. galbabright galbabright

    Well Jo:

    I am fascinated as to wheher these ideas are “new” It’s worth looking at Norman Vincent Peale’s ideas and how closely connected they are to Emotional Intelligence.

    A brief consideration of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich makes the point.

    When I consider “The Secret,” I come to the conclusion that it is an adaptation of Earl Nightingale’s audio classic: “The Strangest Secret in the World”

    If you and readers want to consider my argument in depth, you may enjoy the links that I’ve attached and, of course, I welcome everyone’s views.

  5. scotchcart scotchcart

    I need to follow your links Galba, but I doubt any of the positive movement is new in global terms. We are having fun with it though!

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