One of the biggest bandwagons that has rolled through the self-help community in recent years is the so-called Law of Attraction (LoA). This claims that you attract into your life whatever you think about. Before I explain why I believe that this is not a law, not true, and not helpful, let me differentiate the LoA from some associated but different self-help concepts that actually do work.
1. Positive Thinking. There is considerable evidence that having a positive, optimistic, can-do frame of mind will lead to much better outcomes in many circumstances than having a negative, pessimistic or cynical approach. Studies show that positive thinkers generally do better, live longer, and are healthier and happier than negative thinkers.
2. Focus, Goal Setting and Planning. There are many benefits in having a clear focus on what you want to achieve, in setting goals, in measuring progress against those goals and in taking corrective actions when you fall short. Many successful people base their day on having an action plan that they work through.
3. Visualization. Visualising a successful action can assist you to achieve it. If you are nervous about making a speech then visualizing yourself giving a confident, dynamic performance will help you to do just that. Visualising a great golf swing or a good tennis backhand stroke can help supplement your training and practice.
4. Self-Belief. Most successful people have enormous self-belief. They know that they have something special to offer and that they can achieve great things. They use this self-belief as the basis on which to build the plans, improvements, learnings and actions that lead to success.
5. An Attitude of Gratitude. Most of us have a great deal to be thankful for. Counting our blessings and giving thanks help us to get our difficulties into perspective and engender a positive frame of mind.
So having listed those self-help mantras that actually work let us turn to the big idea that does not. The Law of Attraction as expounded by Bob Proctor, by Rhonda Byrne in her best-selling book, The Secret, and by her many followers claims that all you need to do is to think about the things that you want in your life and the ‘Universe’ will supply them in abundance – whether they are positive or negative. So if you think about money you will get money; if you focus on your debts you will stay in debt. If you think about being slim you will become slim whereas if you constantly worry about how fat you are you will stay fat. Unfortunately for the proponents of this ‘law’ there is no scientific evidence to support it. There are plenty of anecdotes from people who believe the law worked for them but for each of these stories there are many other possible explanations. No one has carried out a controlled experiment showing that the so-called law actually works.
Furthermore the law runs up against some very practical difficulties. What if several people all want the same promotion and think about it furiously? How can they all get the same post? The law implies that whatever difficulties you have in life are the result of you thinking the wrong thoughts. So it appears that an abused child, a rape victim or a prisoner in a concentration camp was somehow to blame because they thought negative thoughts. This is offensive to victims and flies in the face of common sense.
According to the LoA if I want to win the gold medal in the 100 metres in the next Olympic Games or become President of the USA or get Jennifer Lopez as my girlfriend then all I have to do is think about my goal and it will come to me. If we want a cure for cancer then we should stop spending money on research and just think about it instead.
The appeal of the LoA lies in its lazy proposition. You do not need hard work and discipline to lose weight or get rich – you can do it by thinking. Unfortunately this just is not true. The LoA is delusional. It is dangerous because it misleads people into believing that imagery alone will work without action. To succeed in life you need things like talent, diligence, persistence, skills, hard-work and maybe a little luck. You can achieve great things – but in order to do so you have to do a lot more than just think about them.