By Dusty Owens
When the assignment came to write on this subject, I was elated for I had intended to write on it “some day.” My interest in the Positive Mental Attitude concept (hereafter PMA) stems from my business, which is by nature a “people business.” I have been a student of PMA since 1966, having read well over a hundred books and magazines on the subject, while studying as many cassette tapes, and having held numerous seminars all over the North American Continent, teaching people its principles. PMA is not a passing hobby, I know it to be vital to the success of my business and important to living a Christian life.
I fell in love with the gospel of Christ in 1954 when I became a Christian, having studied my way out of Catholicism. I learned then, and know now, that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), and we don’t need to understand PMA to be saved. PMA is a system devised by men that can help us to be more effective with the gospel as we work in the kingdom of God.
The expression “Positive Mental Attitude” is no where found in the gospel, but many of the principles that comprise the concept are found there. The expression itself consists of three main thoughts: (1) one must be a “believing” person; (2) the mental process as the key to behavior is a matter of choice; and (3) “attitude” is formulated in the mental process which determines one’s personality and approach to life.
Before relating PMA to the gospel, it is helpful to understand what an “attitude” is. We hear a lot about it, but, what is it? The definition I have used for years is that an attitude is the way a person thinks, feels and acts toward people, things, places and ideas in any situation in his total environment.
Everyone has an attitude. You have certain feelings, opinions, and reactions to everything around you, i.e. people, work, school, government, God, Bible, church, etc. Your attitude shows constantly.
Mind: The Incubator Of Attitudes
Attitudes are “hatched” in the mind, which is located in the organ we call the brain. While psychologists and psychiatrists argue over how many compartments there are in the brain, we only need to be concerned with the mind containing two, the Conscious and the Subconscious, to understand how attitudes are formed.
The function of the Conscious mind basically is administrative. It works on the level of awareness as it gathers information from the environment and recalls other data from the Sub-conscious. It has a value system; it knows right from wrong. A protective mechanism allows it to rationalize and justify to its own end. It can only handle one thought at a time.
The primary function of the Sub-conscious mind is storage. It works much like a tape recorder or computer. It serves as memory or file system and sends information to the Conscious level at beck and call. It forms the attitudes that find expression outwardly, and all below the awareness of the individual. It controls many things that we do through automatic reflexation.
The five senses, sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste, are the “gates” through which the mind receives stimuli (input). Hundreds of bits of input are handled daily, and enter the Conscious portion of the mind before finally registering in the Sub-conscious. Usually, we have to experience something over and over (“spaced-repetition”) before we “learn” it, and recall it.
Out of all this intake, images, words, thoughts, traits, and attitudes are formulated. When we express these in some way, the way we look, talk, walk, sit, etc., the sum is called our personality. This is the person that cannot hide himself. You are the sum of all you have allowed to enter your Sub-consciousness. For the Christian this is very important in its application.
Personality is an outward expression of an inner attitude. That attitude may be “negative” or “positive.” There is no such thing as being negative sometimes and positive other times. We are either a negative or positive personality (sorry, there is no “neutral”). There are “degrees” of negativism and positivism, and one may be more positive (or negative) than another.
A negative personality shows up as a pessimist. He sees nothing but the bleak side of life and is a trumpeter of doom and gloom; he feels inferior to others and has a lowconfidence level; therefore, he is quick to say “it can’t be done.” Also, he tends to complain and to criticize everything and everybody ad nauseam, to the point that he finds himself isolated because people do not want to hear him grumble and complain. There is a “law of the universe” that says, “Negativism Repels and Destroys.”
A positive personality is known for his optimism. He sees the potential for good and for success in life and uses his God-given talents with confidence. He does not feel superior to others but knows he can contribute to their welfare by working conscientiously beside them, and encouraging them with the message, “we can do it.” The “law of the universe” says, “Positivism Attracts and Builds.”
Now, what does all of this mean? We become positive or negative persons gradually. What we allow to come through our “gates,” and to enter our minds, will determine “who we are”! Whether we will be optimistic or pessimistic in life will depend on what we watch on television, what kind of music we listen to, what we read in the newspapers, magazines and books, what we talk about and listen to in conversation with others, etc. These experiences mold our attitude and personality. There is no way that we can subject ourselves to the filth of our society through these mentioned media and be immune to their attitude-shaping influences!
PMA Compared To The Word Of God
We must not think that utilizing PMA is emphasizing just the positive aspects of the word of God to the neglect of the negative ones: “Behold the severity of God” (Rom. 11:22); “Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade man” (2 Cor. 5:11); “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Warnings (negatives) like these are accepted by the Christian in a positive way to formulate his optimism toward God, going to heaven, etc., knowing “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Heb. 12:5-13), and knowing “him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
The most basic tenet of PMA is becoming a person who can and will “believe.” There are countless numbers of people who have been inundated with negatives to the point that they are extremely suspicious, skeptical and sour in their outlook in life; among them are a great many professing to be Christians. Is it possible to have this disposition and be pleasing to God? Let us examine His word.
“Without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him” (Heb. 11:6) and “belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Jesus taught if we had enough faith we would “seek . . . first his kingdom, and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), and if that faith were as large as a mustard seed, we could “move mountains” (Matt. 17:19-21). Faith is the very foundation of the Christian’s experience which originated in the mind of God to effect our salvation (Heb. 11: 1; 1 Cor. 1:21; Acts 16:31).
The second most basic tenet of PMA is that the mental process is the key to behavior. When God created man in His own image, one of the distinctive qualities He gave him was his mind. This ability to think, reason, imagine, win, remember, etc. set him apart from all animals as a free moral agent. He has the apparatus to determine right from wrong and to make choices. Therein lies his great power: thepower to choose. He determines what shall enter through the “gates” into his Sub-consciousness; therefore, he controls the kind of attitude he will form. And remember, what comes out of the Sub-conscious is what determines who he is.
Solomon stated, though in a negative setting, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he” (Prov. 23:7), and “Keep (guard) thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus stated it this way, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Lk. 6:45; cf. Matt. 12:34; 15:18-19; Mk. 7:21). What is stored up in “abundance” in the Sub-conscious is the “treasure of the heart,” and it will come out! If what has been stored up (through the “gates”) is “good” (positive input based on the word of God), then what comes out in the behavioral pattern will be pleasing to God; but, if what has been stored up is “evil” (negative input from media, people, etc.), then what comes out will “defile the man.”
It is exciting to realize that through mind-programing we can become the person that God wants us to be. Both the PMA system and the word of God emphasize the importance of consciously laying up spiritual values in the mind. Blessed is the man that delights in the law of Jehovah and meditates in it day and night (Psa. 1: 1-2). “The law of his God is in his heart; None of his steps shall slide” (37:31). God said, “I will put my law into their mind, And on their heart also will I write them” (Heb. 8: 10-11). We can program our minds with God’s word if we will “think on these things” (Phil. 4:8), renew our minds (Eph. 4:23; Rom. 12:2), and set our minds on things above and not be so obsessed with things below (Col. 3:1-4).
The third most basic tenet of PMA is that one’s attitude determines his personality and approach to life. We have already seen that what is allowed to come through the “gates” formulates the attitudes of life. The Bible has much to say about proper attitudes. We must love God with our total being (Matt. 22:37); receive His word with meekness (Jas. 1:21) and with an open mind (Matt. 22:39), love our brethren (Jn. 13:34), our neighbors (Matt. 22:39), and even our enemies (5:44). In fact, our attitude must be permeated with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, lowliness, compassion, tenderheartedness, and a forgiving spirit (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12-14).
Far too many professing to be Christians have a negative attitude, and it is traceable to what they are inputting. Today’s saint (?) can readily give you the names of movie and TV personalities, when they were born, and how many times they have been married, but can’t even name the apostles or the books of the Bible; he can quote statistics and standings of any major sport’s figure and team, but can’t quote a single passage of Scripture; he can sit for two or three hours in bitter cold and sleeting rain to view some game, but gets “antsy” if the preacher goes over thirty minutes in a sermon; he can enjoy spending hours with companions who are not interested in spiritual matters, but he does not enjoy assembling with the children of God. There are too many more examples we could give.
Preachers are very susceptible to negative thinking. Many have the attitude that “nobody in the world is interested in being saved, but I’ll be doing my duty just preaching to the brethren year in and year out.” Brethren, that’s not work, that’s a joy! The real work is out on the battlefield of life, contending for the faith with the enemies of God, and sifting through the fields of harvest until you find someone to teach. Our job is not to decide who has “the honest and good heart,” but to sow the seed of the kingdom everywhere, optimistically. Let the power of God work!
There is a saying in the world of computer programming: what goes in, must come out; GIGO, garbage in, garbage out! This is how we get so negative. In many ways, we show that we are negative toward everybody and everything, and especially toward our brethren. Negative characteristics include anger, wrath, malice, shameful speaking, lying, bitterness, clamoring, railing, slandering and gossiping, strivings, jealousies, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, and a other works of the flesh (Col. 3:5-9; Eph. 5:25-31; Gal. 5:19-21). Some who profess to be Christians are among the most vicious people on earth. Paul had them in his day and warned, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:24).
What Is The Answer?
In terms of the gospel, we must all “put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man . . . and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:22-24). In terms of PMA, we must be re-programmed. To do that we must first choose the attitude we want. Do we want to follow God’s will, or do we want to do Satan’s bidding (Josh. 24:15; Rom. 6:16-17; 8:5-11)? If your answer is “God’s will,” then you must shut down the flow of negative input and increase the flow of positive input. Spend more time studying the Scriptures, meditating, praying, listening to sermons and hymns via tapes and records, conversing about God’s word, and by all means, involving yourself with the saints. You will soon find yourself becoming spiritually minded and interested in doing spiritual things, and God will be glorified!
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 9, pp. 259, 262, 278
May 2, 1985