The Not-So-Secret Law of Attraction — for Skeptics!
Many people in the skeptic or critical thinking community have heard about the Book “The Secret” or the New Age (or newage) concept of “The law of Attraction“. And so, a majority of us self-described critical thinkers can’t help but roll our eyes at yet another incarnation and commercial repackaging of magical thinking.
A quick read of the Wikipedia article on this issue will fairly describe this idea and illustrate most of the criticisms it has garnered over the years.
A few snippets from Wikipedia: Writing for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Mary Carmichael and Ben Radford wrote that “neither the film nor the book has any basis in scientific reality”,
And writing in the New York Times, Virginia Heffernan characterized The Secret as “a series of misquotations … and fraudulent maxims” that nonetheless “takes [her] to a happy place.”
However, the purpose of this article is not to offer more criticisms toward this particular brand of pseudoscience, nor to defend it, but to offer a practical alternative view based on psychology and neuroscience that we may find applicable in daily life.
What you see is what you get
Beliefs shape our expectations of the *world. Not to infer that beliefs literally create your own reality at the Newtonian scale, but that they shape and filter our internal model of what is actually happening around us. Everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of altered expectancy in everyday life: A good example is when you bought a new car, say, a Volkswagon Beetle, and although you hadn’t noticed many Beetles before, now it seems as though they’re everywhere. Of course they have always been common, but your Reticular Activating System, or RAS, has been altered by a change in expectation. (Specifically, the RAS is a filter in the lower brain that focuses attention on novel changes perceived in the environment)
Opportunity is a Gorilla suit
Perhaps many of you have watched a classic inattentional blindness video (Simons & Chabris, 1999) where people were instructed to count passes among basketball players: Only 58% of the subjects noticed a person wearing a gorilla suit in plain sight amid the players. When we go about our daily life, how many sensory signals do we ignore that may be an opportunity for success because of a lack of positive expectation?
Perhaps you know of someone that has quite a struggle with meeting a romantic partner, and he or she may hold the expectation that “all the good ones are taken”. What can a simple shift of expectation at an unconscious level do to improve the odds of recognizing partner opportunities, perhaps right under their nose?
When we consider this from Simons D. J. - “When people know to look for an unexpected event (eg, a gorilla in a basketball game), they tend to notice that event.”, What sort of deep belief changes could help us to acknowledge and act upon opportunity for success that we may have automatically screened out with our RAS.
This is all well and good, but all this positive thinking just isn’t working yet!
Our conscious decision to just “think positive” typically isn’t enough to shift our deeply held model of the world to the extent necessary to elicit a meaningful translation into positive outcomes (to get what we want) however, some tools we have available to us may:
This Model comes from NLP (which got it from someplace else?) and is neatly summarized here as:
S – Specific
A – Attainable/Assignable
R – Realistic/Rewarding
T – Timeable/Tangible
There are many sites on the internet that explain how to do this, such as
But the most important part of this process in relation to opening your minds expectations is to describe your goal in sensory-based language. (This is where the woo comes in, folks) by imagining the goal as already true or in an “as if” frame, this can cause the unconscious part of our minds to shift expectancy, or what we like to call “Future Pacing”, As described in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methods_of_neuro-linguistic_programming#Techniques
“The theory is that, having visualized positively, when the subject encounters the situation again in reality the visualized experience will serve as a model for how to behave, even though this experience was imagined. The mind cannot tell the difference between the visualization and reality so it accepts the visualization as reality and makes the change.”
Internal locusts of control
Another area of woo-woo is the idea that “you create your own objective reality”. Quantum newage physics aside, there is great value in the idea of an Internal locus of control, and being at cause. This is not to say that external reality does not influence our everyday experience; the recent tsunami in Japan was not caused by “negative thoughts” as far as I can tell, but how the Japanese people are dealing with this disaster is under their control, and the more we have under our control, the more effective we are in achieving our desired outcomes.