I want to make it clear from the start that many people may not agree with what I am about to say. Nonetheless, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and so, this is my honest opinion (based on my own research and beliefs) on a very controversial, yet growing topic in the self-help industry. I strongly believe in the truth that the human being and the way that it thinks and works is far more complex than any 'secret.'
You've probably figured out what I am going to talk about. Yep, you got it - 'The Secret.'
Before you think it, let me say it. Yes, I am in the self-development world and I strongly support the ideas surrounding the growth of both individuals and collectives, but this has had me thinking for a long time, and I hate the whole idea.
In 1936, a man by the name of Napoleon Hill ignited the spark with his book Think and Grow Rich, in which he 'claimed' to have learnt certain 'secrets' from the wealthy and successful likes of Andrew Carnegie. Let's put aside the fact that deep studies have shown that the two never even met, and the poor guy died about 17 years before.
It's after this that the dominos started to topple. 20 years later, Norman Vincent Peale published The Power of Positive Thinking, in the '90s Tony Robbins' Awaken the Giant Within came along, and then finally the greatest of all, Rhonda Byrne's The Secret swept through the market with a short but grabbing read on the "Law of Attraction."
Let me summarise all these books, that I now (un)proudly can say I have read. More or less, they all say this: watch your thoughts, stay positive and focused on what you want to achieve, ignore self-doubt and criticism from others, visualise and concentrate on what it is you want, and eventually it will be yours.
I would also like to highlight the fact that each of these books grew in popularity, or were released, during changing times. Napoleon Hill's book launched right after The Great Depression, literally three years later, in which he focuses on how one can make money and become rich. I mean, of course, hope needs to be sold right? Norman Vincent Peale's work was published a few years after World War II, highlighting how we can remain calm and happy in domestic life and maintain good relationships. Tony Robbins' book came out during the mid-life crises in the '90s, focusing on living up to one's potential and introducing the concept of self-actualisation to the world.
Then comes the (in)famous Rhonda Byrne, launching her book in the middle of the smartphone age, feasting on the individual, fuelling the ego, and building upon the "I am the focal point of this universe" idea as per the previous works. Setting the record straight, the work of Hill, Peale and Robbins all have some very interesting and useful advice that can be applied in life, but The Secret, oh no. This is a playbook to give rise to the ego and introduce entitlement and self-absorption. I have looked into this work a number of times, I've recently watched the film by the same name too, and I am shocked. I think that if anyone reads or watches this and even tries to implement the advice it preaches, the repercussions can be devastating in the long run.
Many people that are part of my community wanted to hear my thoughts on this topic, so here it is. I will summarise the main points that The Secret presents, and then I will go on to show 'why' the advice may 'work' for some people. I will then go on to show the negative effects I believe it can have in the long run, leaving individuals worse off. Finally, I will conclude on what I believe is the correct workaround for this. You may not agree with me, but again I don't have any expectations from you to do so. These are my views and my views only.
Essentially it is 'the law of attraction.' This 'law' states that whatever consumes your thoughts is eventually what you will get in life. If you think of all the things you don't want in life, you'll only get the things that you don't want. On the other hand, if you only envision the things that you want in life, then you will get everything you want in life. Basically, what you think is what you get.
Previous self-help writers like Hill or Peale never set out to explain why the law of attraction works. But Byrne... well she seems to dive into some rubbish about cosmological background, quoting a famous Einstein quote, that isn't even in the right context. She argues that the reason The Secret works is because the Universe is made up of energy (and, as Einstein said, matter can be converted to energy and vice versa) and all energy has a frequency. Your thoughts also emit a frequency, and like attracts like; therefore, the frequency of your thoughts – good or bad – will resonate with the frequency of other 'energies' – good or bad – in the Universe.
Let me throw some examples your way. If you are struggling with money and don't have enough of it, you may continuously say "I can't afford this," or, "I can't afford that," and then the Universe will respond in the same way and will keep you poor. By contrast, if you believe that you are rich, wealthy and successful, the Universe will respond to these 'vibrations' and will sooner or later provide you with the wealth and success that you desire.
This same idea is said to apply to our physical appearance and all that too.
The (Real) Law of Attraction
It is actually just a sugarcoated version of an old psychological concept known as the 'confirmation bias.' The confirmation bias is a well-studied idea (among the other biases) and it has been known to researchers for decades. I truly think that it makes a lot more sense than the 'my thoughts are vibrations' idea.
See, as human beings, we have a limited amount of attention and focus for everything that goes on around us. This is becoming even more limited with the amount of information that consumes us (you can read about this in my Focus blogs). But, because of this limited amount of attention, regardless of whether we realise it or not (most the time we don't), we always consciously or subconsciously choose what we pay attention to. The confirmation bias is our monkey mind's tendency to notice and pay more attention to experiences and objects that match the preexisting thoughts and beliefs it harbours. It's not wrong in doing so either. The monkey has to pay attention on its road ahead, not where other monkeys may be going. It is biologically efficient for both the Tesla and the Monkey.
Every single day you experience the confirmation bias, but you probably don't realise this. Let's stick with cars to explain this. We spend years without noticing what kind of car people drive. But then when the time comes where you start thinking about which car you would like, you suddenly begin to notice makes and models everywhere you look. You then start to make decisions about the styles and features that fit your thoughts and beliefs. You begin to notice the details because, for the first time, they align with your thoughts and desires, whereas before they didn't.
The Secret is essentially an attempt to leverage the confirmation bias to one's advantage. That's it. The notion is simply that, if you're constantly thinking positive thoughts about yourself, you begin to notice small things in your experiences that confirm these beliefs, and so, they become true. In comparison, if you constantly think negative thoughts and feelings about yourself (or others for that matter), the negative feedback in your environment (both internal and external) will stand out and you will face it, thus making you feel much worse.
The Secret wants you to assume the identity of what you wish to become – rich, famous, skinny, healthy, or the perfect partner. It essentially tells you to become delusional (and yes, I will use that word), to think positively about yourself for a prolonged period of time, that your natural confirmation bias kicks in and you only attend to that which matches your new-found beliefs.
At first you might think, "What's the harm?" But believe me, it can lead to people feeling delusional, lost and negative about themselves. Changing the way that you see things may help (for some time), but then..?
The Monkey's Jungle
By following The Secret you are required to never doubt yourself, never consider the negative repercussions of your thoughts and actions, and to never indulge in negative thoughts (I admit that this last one I am still skeptical about. Maybe I will talk about this more in my next book). But please, don't teach the monkey what the confirmation bias is; it'll ruin the whole journey. Would you really take on a risky investment simply because you believe it to be yours (entitlement)? Would you really deny personal problems or health issues (this actually happened and ruined someone's life)? Would you really want to avoid necessary confrontations and critical feedback to improve as a human being? I think you get the picture.
Hear me out, positive thinking is needed. I am in self-help, so that's a given. But, delusional positive thinking can have negative consequences too. There's a method and way to positively 'think.' Psychological studies show that by trying to suppress your thoughts about something only makes those thoughts more likely to recur. In fact, this type of rumination and obsession has been directly linked to cases of OCD, depression, and anxiety.
The more you try to get rid of unwanted thoughts, the more they will dominate your mental space.
If I tell you, “Don't think of the crazy monkey!” then the first thing that will probably pop up in your head is the crazy monkey. Thinking about the things you don't want can lead to more negative thinking, putting you in a vicious cycle of negativity.
Research also shows that by actively engaging in positive thinking, such as imagining yourself getting a job, passing an exam, or even successfully recovering after major surgery, can actually result in poorer outcomes. Psychologists believe that this type delusional positive thinking can make us both complacent and lazy. By believing that we have already accomplished something that we yet have to accomplish, causes us to put forth less effort and to feel less motivated.
Add on the fact there will always be things that you cannot simply wish for. One individual decided to give The Secret a try and follow the advice for a couple of months. Inspired by how Byrne claimed that she restored her eyesight after three days by only thinking about it, this skeptic wished for the Universe to diminish her pollen allergies. So, she stopped taking her medication, and ended up with a sinus infection. During this time, she was also in need of a new desk. To get it 'The Secret Way' (lol, no I'm joking. It's not a 'way'), she let go of her search and instead expressed her gratitude to the Universe for it to simply arrive. But lo-and-behold, no desk appeared after six weeks of intense visualising. You cannot think things into existence. C'mon, we live in the modern world. To believe otherwise is nothing short of delusion.
It's been shown that people who indulge in delusional positive thinking (funnily enough) become angry when someone tries to contradict their fairy-tale thoughts. Yes, self-affirmations have a dark side to them too. The truth about their situation just becomes that much more painful to them. Do you see the contradiction here?
Delusional positive thinking produces greater closed-mindedness in people. They inevitably have to become more vigilant and block out potentially negative feedback or criticism of their beliefs, even if that negative feedback is life-or-death dependent to their health and well-being. Again, there is a process to thinking positively.
I also want to point out the fact that we as human beings are intrinsically bad at predicting what will make us happy or miserably. By using the law of attraction, we may spend all our time and energy building a 'empire' that isn’t what we want at all (we must remember our friend, Alexander).
Ultimately, the law of attraction states that by simply thinking about what you want, it will come to you. But this, when taken to its logical extreme, encourages you to always be wanting something, to never feel content, and if you see where I am going with this you will realise you will always remain dissatisfied in the long run. At some point, every individual must come to terms with the struggles and failures that are inherent with all life and existence (the nature of māyā). Anticipate problems by all means, work towards eliminating those problems, but please don't hide them or lock them in that box in your head.
No More Anesthesia
Look, if you still want to stick to your beliefs, I am not going to judge you. But I'm just going to wrap up now. I feel that if you’re desperate enough to feel better about yourself by adopting a philosophy of delusional positivity, that very philosophy will appeal to others around you who are also desperate to feel better about themselves. By adopting a delusional positivity, you attract and surround yourself with others who are also thinking with delusional positivity (welcome to The Secret). This sort of self-absorption then turns off anybody who is content and rational, and instead attracts the most desperate and gullible. It's probably why it's been so successful at drawing people in. This chain of 'positivity' carries on through the years and through generations, where each author, blogger, or (so-called) leader speaks meticulously of ways to manifest one’s purpose, or simply believing oneself to states of happiness and bliss, or listening to the Universe.
I am worried that this will do nothing but generate a new population of delusional positive thinkers who will then go on and do the same thing all over again. We are growing weaker and weaker as society. I don't want to scare you, but just look into the facts. This virus of delusional positive thinking is infecting a growing amount of the self-help industry.
In my most honest opinion, this whole belief system is misguided. It’s a form of anesthesia to temporarily numb one’s pain, but by no means is it a cure. Stuff like The Secret may make you feel good, but they can also make you mentally strained and lost.
You might call me crazy or biased, but I believe with certainty that changing and improving your life requires the analysis of the negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are inherent in our 'being' and replacing them with newer, better ones.
You cannot simply 'wish' for yourself to become better without action.
You can’t grow muscle without challenging it with greater weight.
You can’t build emotional resilience without striding through hardship and loss.
You can’t mould a better mindset without challenging your own monkey.
Every activity and experience in life is, by definition, difficult and stressful. I really can't begin to fathom how one can even do things relying on the 'hope' of delusional positive beliefs. Agreed, things like The Secret may support or give a 'step-up' to people who are in a dark and miserable abyss, in which they feel as though they’re constantly drowning or falling. But the aim is to stay afloat, to rise above, to get yourself to a place of safety...