It's been seven years since the publication of the wildly popular self-help book The Secret, which was featured on Oprah twice and has sold almost 20 million copies (yes, in that order). The principle at the book's core—the Law of Attraction—still holds many under its Vulcan mind-meld grip, despite the take-downs, harsh criticism, and parodies. (On that note, please watch this interview with Barbara Ehrenreich on The Daily Show—it's so worth it.)
I can see why: Who wouldn't want to believe that all you have to do is think the right thoughts and the love (or car, or job, or money) of your dreams will find you?
The Secret, written by Rhonda Byrne and published in 2006, featured a cadre of "new thought" leaders (including James Ray, who not long after The Secret was published, was found guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of three people who participated in his insane sweat lodge exercise). Citing quantum physics and the ubiquitous Law of Attraction, these experts teach that like attracts like, and that your thoughts function as cosmic magnets that draw toward you whatever you project.
Think good thoughts, get good things. Think bad thoughts, get what you deserve.
But let's take a look at how key premises of the Law of Attraction can do you more harm than good in the search for love and partnership.
1. If you want to meet a man, make room for his imaginary car in your garage.
A woman featured in The Secret swears that the reason she hadn't met someone special yet was because she was taking up all the room in her garage and sleeping in the middle of the bed. Once she cleared up the garage to make room for her fantasy man's imaginary Honda Prius and started keeping to her side of the bed, what do you know? He appeared!
Correction: Make room in your life for someone special.
Look, if you like sleeping in the middle of your bed, by all means. My god. It's your bed. Sleep the way you want. As for the garage theory, sure, it is a good idea to make room in your life for another person. And while that may warrant a huge de-cluttering, it could just mean purging your ex's stuff. But that's just one aspect. You should also clear room in your schedule—to go on dates, to go out with friends, to accept invites to dinners rather than justifying another night in and wait for someone to stroll in and occupy the space you've cleared for him.
2. You make bad things happen by thinking them.
Rhonda Byrne says that your thoughts don't just control your life, but the world around you. You create the world with your thoughts.
Did you catch that? You can control the universe with your mind! This is also widely known as delusion.
And this is also where The Secret and I part ways. This is the ultimate sucker punch of the Law of Attraction, because it essentially shifts the blame of misfortune to you. Car accident? Your fault. Cancer? You manifested it, whether you like it or not.
According to the Law of Attraction, you are a powerful transmission tower, emitting frequencies out into the universe more powerfully than any manmade machine. It's as if every fearful or worried thought was a draft of an email in your mind that you never intended for anyone to see, but—surprise!—the Law of Attraction hit "send" and now it's out there!
Correction: Stop writing bad endings for yourself.
You don't control the world with your thoughts—but you do control your actions with them. And if you think, and thus act, as if nothing and no one good is coming your way, it can be hard to stay open to possibility. I don't think you're magically manifesting lousy boyfriends, but you may be saying "yes" to men with the expectation that they will suck, because you already know they do. And voila! You aren't psychic. But you are intuitive, and you're right.
Changing the way you approach people, situations, and pretty much every interaction you have with another human can and will affect the outcome. So rather than assume the worst, or blame your errant thoughts for creating karmic shifts, be aware of the thought patterns that keep you stuck. You don't have to avoid all negative thoughts (good luck with that), but you must look at them with curiosity and compassion so that you can begin to shift your behavior in the world—and the way people respond to you.
3. You're not manifesting hard enough.
Some women believe they're just 10 pounds shy of being able to meet the right guy. If I were just thinner, taller, smarter, funnier, they think, love would be mine. Of course, you and I know love is not a beauty pageant or a talent contest.
But even if you have come to terms with who you are and how you look (no small feat, to be sure), you can start to wonder, Well, if nothing’s 'wrong' with me, then why aren't I in love/coupled/married by now? That's when it's easy to fall prey to the lure of magical thinking—essentially, that it's your fault for not thinking hard enough or wanting it bad enough.
Let's get one thing straight: You are not alone/uncoupled/sans husband because you didn't visualize correctly or because you've acted as if you've already received the thing you want. Blaming yourself for not thinking the right thoughts compounds stress and self-doubt, and is no better than castigating yourself for not being the right weight.
Correction: Thoughts are nothing without action.
I knew a woman years ago who wanted a partner desperately. She spent a good chunk of time visualizing him: what he would look like, sound like, be like. She had a version of this perfect partner fully crafted in her mind, down to the fact that he loved Eggs Benedict, owned a cat and subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine.
Then one day, she met him. Or someone very similar (turns out he's allergic to eggs and subscribes to the New Yorker, but close enough). She fell instantly in love. She believes, in some ways, that those focused hours of thought created a psychic current that drew him directly to her.
No, they didn't. She put a profile on JDate.
In other words, you and I both know that thoughts devoid of action are nothing but whims. Your thoughts are the first step; ask any cognitive behavioral therapist. But while thoughts lay the groundwork, they cannot do the work for you. You have to go out and do a thing. That's a crucial part of the equation that many people who lean on The Law Of Attraction miss entirely.
This isn't about what the Universe wants. It's about what you want. Sorry, the world does not work by remote control. And those who tell you that all you need are positive thoughts are lazy and risk-averse. (Read my rant on how fate is not your friend.)
Here's where motivation guru Lisa Nichols makes good sense: "Your ability to generate feelings of love is unlimited...love everything you can. Love everyone you can. Focus only on things you love, feel love, and you will experience that love and joy coming back to you."
This I do believe in: That you must love to be loved. And love isn't a happy thought; it's an action, an effort. If you dream of love but act out of fear, you're not going to find what you want. Except you don't need a quantum physicist to tell you that.
What do you think of The Law Of Attraction? Sound off in the comments!
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