Whenever they are given the opportunity, celebrities like Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Susan Lynn Orman, Jack Canfield and many others emphasise how the law of attraction has changed their lives. Not long ago, Oprah Winfrey dedicated an entire episode of her show to this phenomenon, claiming that it can be of real benefit to people.
Proponents of the theory say that if you really want something, it will be yours if the thoughts you have are positive thoughts. Like a magnet, positive thinking will bring anyone’s dreams to life.
Belief in the power of persuasion has become a particularly attractive message ever since the early twentieth century, when famous authors of the New Thought movement talked about the success that positive thinking can bring to people. But the popularity and media coverage of this topic observed today are mainly due to the thunderous success of Rhonda Byrne’s book “The Secret”, published in 2006. The author assures her readers that as they learn the “secret”, they will come to know who they really are and how they can be whatever they want to be and achieve whatever they want to achieve.
The law of attraction, which is at the basis of the “secret” proposed by Rhonda Byrne, dates back to the nineteenth century and is very simple: we attract everything we think, whether it is positive or negative.
In other words, it is enough for a person to truly believe in what they want and to focus all their attention on that something so that the object of their desire or their goal becomes achievable.
In 2008, another book dedicated to the law of attraction appeared. “Money and the Law of Attraction,” by authors Esther and Jerry Hicks, was considered the revelation of the 21st century. The book addresses finance, physical health and interpersonal relationships, seeking to initiate the reader into what would be called creative-conscious control of every aspect of life.
A magnet-like mind
To demonstrate that we are the only people responsible for what we attract and what we become in life, Esther and Jerry Hicks present some postulates of personal development that, they assure us, will be of real use in order to change every aspect of our lives in the desired sense. Here are some of these postulates:
1. We attract good or bad experiences through the thoughts we have: “The one who speaks most about illness has illness. The one who speaks about prosperity has prosperity, You attract all of it. By focusing on something, you make it happen.” In other words, certain things happen because we think about them. The law of attraction makes a thought, no matter how small, become more and more powerful. Consequently, thoughts must be positive, because fears lead to negative experiences.
2. To make a change, you have to see things the way you want them to be, not the way they actually are. In order to change your experience into a positive one, more attention must be paid to the way you would prefer things to be.
3. The power to attract positive experiences is acquired by concentrating thinking on the objectives to be achieved. The chance of success in achieving goals is improved by taking 15 minutes daily to concentrate our thoughts on our goals.
4. Success is not a finite resource and anyone can have access to it. The success of others does not limit our own success or vice versa.
5. Don’t be disappointed. Disappointment leads to a generalised negative state. The focus should be on what can be done to achieve what is desired, not on things that cannot be achieved.
6. Dysfunctional relationships with others are due to one’s own person. Giving attention to negative thoughts negatively influences your personal life. Understanding this helps to remove unsatisfactory relationships with family and relatives.
7. Dreams can provide an overview of the psyche. In other words, we can find solutions to our problems in our dreams.
In summary, the above postulates can be grouped around the following aspects: 1. We are what we think (postulate 1); 2. The role of visualisation in fulfilling the established objectives (postulates 2, 3); 3. Success as an infinite resource (postulate 4); 4. Negative emotions and attracting one’s own experiences (postulates 5, 6); 5. Dreams and problem solving (postulate 7).
I want it. So…will I get it?
The fact that good things are only a thought away is undoubtedly an attractive premise. Improving one’s life by changing the way of thinking, increasing happiness by cultivating positive thoughts or enhancing success by visualising plans or dreams (“think like a millionaire and you will become one”) sounds like a good idea.
In reality, these postulates do not prove to be entirely effective in the sense presented in the theory. They actually raise pertinent questions, stemming from the comparison of theory to objective reality, when it comes to the potential for success offered by the law of attraction. For example, deriving from the law of attraction, we would formulate conclusions like: abused children go through this trauma because at a certain moment they thought something negative in this sense; people who want to reconcile with their life partner and fail to do so, do not, in fact, wholeheartedly want to reconcile. And the examples can go on.
Every myth can be debunked
1. “Talking is easy, action is difficult”. The thoughts that arise when we choose to do one thing or another neither prevent nor determine the achievement of our goals, as one of the postulates of the law of attraction argues. Events unfold depending on the choices we make and the actions we take. Positive thinking is useful, but it is not enough. Otherwise, everyone would just think positively and wait to reap the rewards, without making the slightest effort to fulfill their dreams.
Success and failure are the result of the quality of the actions we take, of the decisions we make at different moments, of the correct evaluation of the situation we are going through, and by no means are they merely the result of positive or negative thoughts that appear at certain moments in life.
2. You are not responsible for everything that happens. People who break up do not think about this and do not attract such an experience just by observing that the same thing happens to others, as the law of attraction states.
When one partner in a couple is happier than the other, the relationship suffers. There is a direct link between the discrepancy in the levels of happiness the partners experience and the increased probability of them separating within the next year, regardless how many years into the relationship have passed before the difference is identified. This is the conclusion of researchers Cahit Guven, Claudia Senik and Holger Stichnoth.
3. What about visualising success? Although motivational authors argue that visualising with the mind’s eye what we want helps to achieve it, researchers at the University of California have shown that this practice, on the contrary, demotivates. Students asked to spend a few minutes a day visualising how they get a grade of 10 on a future exam studied less and scored lower, according to a study by Lien Pham, a researcher at the University of California.
Likewise, students who thought about what it would be like getting the much-desired job eventually received fewer job offers and lower salaries, according to a study by Gabriele Oettingen, psychologist at New York University.
The reason for these results? People may not be prepared for the obstacles they face or simply may not make the effort to achieve their goals. In any case, the message of the studies is clear: visualising the desired things is not enough to achieve them, as the law of attraction states.
4. What is a positive attitude good for? A positive attitude is welcome and seems to ensure a behavioural change in relation to the achievement of set goals. There are studies which showed that an attitude of motivation is manifested, among other things, by tension in certain muscle groups (muscles of the face, hands, biceps). Based on this aspect, researchers tested whether a reverse behaviour, namely muscle tension, is enough for people to become motivated in relation to the goals set. The volunteers in the study had to try to resist the temptation of buying sweets at the cafe they were at. One group was asked to clench their fists or contract their biceps, a position that had been found in people motivated not to buy those products, while the second group was told only to avoid buying the sweets. The researchers observed that the first group, which was asked to adopt a motivating position, was more inclined to refrain from buying, compared to the second group. Moreover, in the case of the first group, there was an increased probability of buying healthy foods, according to researcher Iris Hung from the National University of Singapore.
The same thing was highlighted in the case of self-confidence. Studies have shown that it is better to start with the “what would it be like” principle, by which people are urged to adjust their behaviour in order to change something in their lives. When subjects asked to adopt a power posture—sitting at a desk with their feet up, their eyes fixed on the ceiling and their hands folded behind their heads—their blood testosterone levels were monitored and it was observed that adopting a power position changes the chemical levels of certain substances in the body, as opposed to the situation in which the subjects were asked to sit looking down, with their feet on the ground and their hands on their knees.
5. Nothing’s better than a good night’s sleep. The quality of sleep goes a long way to ensuring a solution to the problems we face. According to a study on 77 subjects, entering the REM state during sleep improved the creative ability to solve problems by 40%, said Sara Mednick and colleagues in a study conducted at the University of California San Diego. Researchers believe that REM sleep helps the brain form new neural pathways that are not disturbed by the thoughts that arise when we are awake.
The law of attraction is actually the law of action
Diana Scharf Hunt, author of “Studying Smart”, said that goals are dreams with a deadline. From this perspective, the organisation of success is very important. Every dream involves making a list of ways to accomplish what we want. Any item on the list that involves a passive action, waiting for someone else to act on our behalf, must be removed. If the goals cannot be achieved without the help of others, we must choose those people who are able to help us. If a point on the list cannot be met, no one is to be blamed. There must be an alternative plan. Moving to another item on the list should only be done when the previous one has been accomplished.
Positive thinking, positive attitude and the existence of goals are necessary, but not enough for success. Guaranteed success is not limited to the permanent maintenance of a positive mood, nor to the effortless emergence of amazing results. The positive state must be doubled by an action plan. Firm and consistent action is essential for the fulfillment of the proposed dreams.