Saturday, November 25, 2006

Positive Thinking

When I was a kid, I would often read, in my father’s papers and magazines, an advert from an outfit called The Pelman Institute. This worthy organisation was dedicated to curing those of us who suffered from what they referred to as “a grasshopper mind.” This, it seemed, was a propensity to lack concentration, to leap from topic to topic and thus fail to accomplish anything.

I was a worrying child, in many ways, I think, and this statement worried me no end. For I had taken a keen interest in grasshoppers and this seemed a slight upon them. In my experience, they would spend some considerable time pondering on whatever it is grasshoppers ponder on, before taking a leap, presumably to find another subject on which to ponder. Quite a thoughtful lot, I felt.

Then I got to thinking that perhaps the Pelman Institute was right. For my research had not concentrated on grasshoppers, but had included all sorts of insectivore life that flourished in our garden. Perhaps, to avoid having a grasshopper mind, I should have concentrated on earwigs, for instance. I envisaged the Pelman Building as a lofty edifice in Regent Street, crowded with dome headed professors, all striving to bring their students thoughts to the correct level of single-mindedness, and I wondered just what was the incidence of grasshopper minds. I looked around at my fellows in my class. There was Smith Minor, the little swot. He’d probably taken their course as he was always top of the form. And then there was young Irving, spending the day practising his Nazi salute, obviously another beneficiary of their efforts. My catholic approach to life was clearly all wrong, I thought.

But there seemed to be so many interesting things out there in the world that would be missed by such single-mindedness. Pelmanism, as they called it, was not for me.

Books and mind-bending courses such as these have been a fruitful source of revenue to their peddlers for many years. But, to me, they are snake-oil salesman in the market place. It was not until, later in life when I entered the advertising business, that I realised that there was no such thing as truth in advertising. And that the Pelman Institute building was merely a mailing address in Regent Street.

One highly successful exponent of the art of telling people how to run their life was Norman Vincent Peale whose “Power of Positive Thinking” is credited by many with their success. Quite why it was felt necessary to “think positively” I could never understand. You try telling your bank manager that you’re thinking positively about reducing your overdraft and watch the expression on his face. But I suppose he never read the book. An acquaintance of mine has achieved tremendous success in life after an extremely traumatic childhood. He attributes his success to Mr. Peale’s admonitions but I think he does himself an injustice. I believe he would have done equally as well by himself. And, looking at Mr. Peale’s own life, it seems most of his own success came from flogging his book and preaching about it.

Dale Carnegie wrote “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” which won a lot of readers, but which I can assure you is a complete untruth. My wife has read the book several times with absolutely no change in her attitude towards me.

These thoughts were all triggered by my inability to make up my mind what to write about this morning. There are so many affairs running through my mind and, grasshopper like, I keep leaping from one to the other.

Should it be the incidence of radiation in Sushi bars? Something that I have always suspected and thus avoided, who really enjoys eating bait? Or the fact that in British hospitals you are likely to be dumped, either on a trolley or, if you’re lucky, in a ward filled with the opposite sex or possibly a few transvestites.

Or should it be with concern for the direction Britain is taking as a nation? This was epitomised by Steve Harmison’s opening delivery in the Ashes test down under, which was fielded by second slip without the benefit of intervention by batsman, pad or glove, rather like most of the government's policies.(Readers in the United States can apply for an explanation of this by sending me a stamped, addressed envelope).

I can’t seem to make up my mind.

I wonder if The Pelman Institute is still in business?


Anonymous Edwin Veelo said...

"I wonder if The Pelman Institute is still in business?"

Funny you ask that. I'm fresh into my 30s, so I have no memories of the Pelman Institute at Regent Street. But I did complete a Pelman Training two years ago, in The Netherlands, from the Pelman Instituut...

And I can tell you it is nothing like you think of it. It has a magnifying effect on my life in all the good ways, it makes total sense and it is almost too simple to be true, but true it is.

Just before coming across your blog entry, I came across the original Pelmanism material, available for free, as a PDF:

The funny thing is, Pelmanism teaches--among many other things--that just writing down a question brings the anwer to you. I had told a friend this afternoon that I'd like to find the original Pelman course as a neat PDF, and found it within the hour. But even funnier, here I am bringing you the answer to if The Pelman Institute still exists :)


4:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the Pelman Institutes closed down or moved on to other correspondence courses. I know the one in Australia hasn't offered the Pelmanism course in years, but I have no idea what happened to the American one. Last I heard the one in London was still running in the 80s, although I couldn't tell you what became of it. All of those online versions of the Pelman Institute are just individuals reselling the old courses. I doubt they have any connection to the original Institutes.

The guy who invented Pelmanism, W.J. Ennever, died in 1947. Before that he'd been kicked off the board, so during the war the Institute went its own way. I've got some of their old ads from that time, including the wonderful "grasshopper mind" ads! There's some glorious wartime rhetoric in those things.

Interesting that you mention Dale Carnegie too. Word on the street has it that Carnegie nicked all his ideas from Ennever, although I doubt it's anything more than rumour.

9:47 am  
Blogger Andrea said...

Hi! I downloaded the book on pelmanism a few weeks ago from but the file is password-protected and I can't find the password...and the site seems to be down. Can anyone remember the password and is willing to share it?
Thanks a lot!

1:04 am  
Blogger Kathy said...

Password to open the Pelmanism PDF:
clever (all in lower case)

Just found the site today.

7:31 pm  
Blogger Andrea said...

Thank u Kathy!

3:17 am  
Blogger bennever said...

The histories of the Pelman Institute and Pelmanism at may be of interest.

My research suggests the demise of the Institute in the 1960s but would love to know if anyone has any evidence of later activity.


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