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Positive mental attitude has been touched upon since the concept of free will, but the concept was first developed and introduced in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in the book Think and Grow Rich. The book never actually uses the term, but develops the importance of positive thinking as a principle to success. He, along with W. Clement Stone, founder of Combined Insurance, later wrote Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude which defines positive mental attitude as "The right mental attitude... comprised of the 'plus' characteristics symbolized by such words as faith, integrity, hope, optimism, courage, initiative, generosity, tolerance, tact, kindliness and good common sense."
Positive mental attitude (PMA) is the philosophy that having an optimistic disposition in every situation in one's life attracts positive changes and increases achievement. It employs a state of mind that continues to seek, find and execute ways to win, or find a desirable outcome, regardless of the circumstances. It opposes negativity, defeatism and hopelessness. Optimism and hope are vital to the development of PMA.
PMA is under the umbrella of Positive Psychology. In positive psychology high self-efficacy can help someone to gain learned optimism which ultimately leads to PMA. PMA is considered an internal locus of control that influences external factors. Research has shown that through emotional intelligence training and positive psychology therapy one's attitudes and perceptions can be modified to improve their personal and professional life.
The self-help industry was pioneered by Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack and made popular by Napoleon Hill’s books as well as Dale Carnegie and his lectures and books. Now an entire industry of self-help books and motivational speakers such as Og Mandino and Tony Robbins are available. PMA is a main theme in most of the inspirational writings which have influenced the sales industry, especially in door-to-door sales and direct marketing businesses. Self-help material along with self-talk help employers to shape their employees to be more resilient to failure and become more positive and energetic salespeople.
A study of Major League Baseball players indicated that a key component that separates major league players from the minor leagues and all other levels is their ability to develop mental characteristics and mental skills. Among them were mental toughness, confidence, maintaining a positive attitude, dealing with failure, expectations, and positive self-talk.
Many studies have been done regarding PMA and its effects on health, specifically with people of serious illnesses such as cancer and kidney disease. Cancer specifically has received a lot of attention since Lance Armstrong, along with other survivors, have given their stories. People with PMA have a significantly higher chance of survival and recovery. A study comparing people with chronic kidney disease with people kidney disease free showed that there was a significant difference between the groups. The kidney disease free group rated much higher in PMA. There was no difference found in spirituality and females with chronic kidney disease were found to be significantly more superstitious. A study done with HIV-positive individuals found that a high health self-efficacy, a task-oriented coping style, and a positive mental attitude were strong predictors or a health-promoting lifestyle which has a significant affect on overall health (coping and surviving).
Critics of PMA argue that it is not the secret to success but a by-product of success. The “self-help” industry has been criticized as a scam for authors to make money due to its simplistic writing and principles. There is little evidence, however, that self-help books, life coaching, and motivational speaking are harmful.