Rhonda Byrne's book The Secret is a follow-up to the phenomenally successful movie of the same name, both of which describe The Law of Attraction and how to make it work for you in your life. I am a strong believer in the Law of Attraction, even though I don't go along with much of the new-age mumbo-jumbo in the book and movie.
Attraction is a function of the way our brains work. The universe doesn't just magically provide whatever we focus on, nor do our thoughts broadcast or receive information, nor can we just sit back and wait for whatever thoughts we have to manifest themselves in our reality. Yet I still believe The Law of Attraction works when it comes to improving our experience of life; so let me explain why.
There's really nothing supernatural or extraordinary about what's going on behind The Secret; it all comes down to the way our minds work, and the powerful influence of our brains and central nervous system on the way we experience our lives. Consider our brains and central nervous system for a moment. They consist of a mass of neurons wired up to form a massive pattern-matching machine. Only a small proportion of this system is dedicated to conscious thought; the rest of it works on auto-pilot all the time without us even being aware of it. Most of us vastly underestimate the power of this unconscious system precisely because we aren't consciously aware of it.
The role of our central nervous system is to collect vast amounts of information about everything going on in and around us. But it has to limit the amount of information from our senses that reaches our consciousness, because otherwise we would be totally unable to concentrate for all the sensory information we would have to process. Sensory information gets screened at different levels in the hierarchy of our nervous system so that only the information deemed really important gets through to our consciousness.
Part of this screening occurs in our brains on the basis of our subconscious beliefs, prior experiences, and subconscious thought patterns. All of these are influenced by past events and the emotions attached to them deep down in our memories. And this is what gives rise to the power of The Secret. Our brains are constantly looking for information which matches some existing pattern of beliefs, and when it does, generating the associated emotion. On one level, our unconscious is constantly scanning for both danger and opportunity out in the world based on what we fear and on what we are seeking. On another, our unconscious is constantly looking for evidence to validate our existing beliefs, and rejecting evidence that contradicts those beliefs. And all of this is happening without us even being aware of it which is why we vastly underestimate its power.
Being consciously aware of something starts a process of training your unconscious to notice it too. This is why when you buy a red car, you start noticing red cars all over the place, whereas you didn't notice them before. They were still there, but since they represented neither a threat nor an opportunity, your unconscious was screening them out of your sensory information before it reached your conscious mind. When we set ourselves a goal, we raise our conscious awareness of it and start to influence our subconscious to begin looking for opportunities which are relevant to fulfilling that goal. We start noticing opportunities that we didn't notice before, and are now able to act to take advantage of them. Often even quite small changes in our actions can yield big results if they're in an area we haven't been aware of or prepared to act before; so the results can be amazing.
Another important factor in The Law of Attraction is the role of memory. We remember things on a similar basis to the way that we match patterns in the world around us. Human memory is much less reliable than we normally think. When we forget something, not only do we forget it, but we forget that we have forgotten it! On the other hand, we remember and learn things by repetition. Being reminded of a goal by noticing opportunities to fulfil it has the effect of strengthening the memory of that goal. Another goal for which we haven't noticed any opportunities, on the other hand, starts to get neglected by comparison. Each time a goal is fulfilled, provided we are consciously aware of it, it reinforces the idea that this goal was fulfilled by the law of attraction; whereas we forget about other times the goal wasn't fulfilled. The classic example in The Secret is the guy who believes that he can manifest a car parking space simply by visualising it. When one appears, he feels satisfied that he has made it happen, which also makes him feel powerful. This positive emotion is another important factor in reinforcing memory. He has validated his belief that he has the power to create car parking spaces at will, and this makes him feel good. On the occasions when there isn't a car parking space, he waits until someone else moves which is a good strategy for finding a car park in a busy area; so he's also acting in support of his goal. The universe isn't simply manifesting a car park for him the way he describes. Chances are someone will leave eventually, but if they don't and he simply can't find one, he's likely to forget about this because this experience doesn't validate his belief that he can find a car parking space just by visualising it. In the long term, he ends up estimating that he can create a car parking space using visualisation 95% of the time. But us humans are terrible at estimating probabilities. If an objective observer were to follow him in his car, I'd bet he'd find that the strategy doesn't work any better than just driving up without visualising a space there; but this is beside the point. His belief makes him feel powerful, and this makes him feel good; and we all like feeling good, right? He's happy about it. Who cares if he's kidding himself?
Another way to look at all this is simply from an optimism vs pessimism angle. If you are expecting good things to come your way because that's what you're focused on, you will be happier than if you are expecting bad things to come your way. Just this alone is enough to make the Law of Attraction worth pursuing; whether you actually get what you're focussing on or not is less important. The positive expectation that you have while focussing on good things will make you feel good while waiting for it to â€œmanifestâ€; while the negative feelings you'll generate when worrying about what you don't have or can't seem to get, will make you feel lousy.
Chance also plays a role here, but we routinely overestimate the role of chance in determining our destiny. If you think you are lucky, you will feel better than if you think you are unlucky, and feeling good gives us motivation and energy to pursue opportunities that come our way. Tapping into the factors that we didn't realise we had control over gives us enormous power. The net result is that lucky thoughts become reality. Again, nothing to do with the Universe working for us; it's simply us being more effective in our interaction with it.
One area where I think books like The Secret fall down is in the need for some way to deal with frustration when you're focussing and acting but still not getting the results you want. People for whom it works are likely to end up believing in it even more strongly, while those for whom it does not work are likely to dismiss it. It's a bit like religion in this respect. The people who go around telling their friends about it are likely to be in the former group, which is why it generated so much buzz. It's easy to be cynical about The Secret given the meta-physical nonsense the book spouts and the twisted references to quantum physics, but a point to note here is that cynicism about it all will stop it from working. You can hardly focus on attracting the positive things you want in your life if you think the whole process is completely bogus. Cynicism destroys faith and happiness, even when we think we're right: in fact we're just being self-righteously cynical.
I found the chapter on Relationships particularly poignant. It is very true that we can't expect anyone else to love us unless we love ourselves, and people tend to treat us in accordance with our existing beliefs about ourselves. We also tend to attract other like-minded people, and people who can't show love for themselves often have trouble showing love for others. Many of us were brought up to believe that we should sacrifice ourselves and put other people first, yet this ultimately limits our own ability to make a positive contribution to the world. I wasn't quite so thrilled with the chapter on Health and it's claims that all disease is attracted to us by our thoughts. The mind is incredibly powerful and has a strong role in curing disease but it's not the only factor involved and anecdotes about people surviving incurable diseases don't prove that everyone will end up doing the same. The book does recommend people get medical treatment in addition to using The Law of Attraction to manifest a cure. I suppose that even if the hope the book offers to people with an incurable disease turns out to be false, at least they'll have spent most of their illness in an optimistic frame of mind.
Ironically I believe that The Law of Attraction works, but not because of the way The Secret describes it. The net effect is that it appears to work if you believe in it, and there are good reasons to believe that it will improve your experience of life. Just gloss over the mumbo-jumbo and remember the mechanisms I've listed above for why it actually works. The way they have packaged the message is very slick, and worth a look.