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My uninformed impression of the law of attraction was that what you put out into the world is what you get back. On the surface this seems like it could be appealing, and support the notion that the world is a fair place.
Then I watched the film The Secret, based on the book of the same name, and learned that the law of attraction is much more specific than the general idea that I had of it. The Secret presents a lot of ideas that sound like science, except they aren't. According to the film, thoughts each have unique frequencies, and produce magnetic signals that draw things of the same frequency back to you. One person who spoke in the film stated, "It has been proven now scientifically that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought," despite the fact that science has not demonstrated any such thing. Multiple scientific researchers have challenged the accuracy of The Secret's representation of brain activity. A New York Times review dismissed The Secret as pseudoscience masquerading as knowledge.
The Secret is very literal about this magnetic attraction of thoughts to things that are equivalent to them. It argues that often we are thinking too much about what we don't want, and those thoughts continue to draw those unwanted things to us. It claims that you need to focus on what you do want, imagining yourself having it and pouring your emotions into that idea of having it. The universe will then respond to the magnetic power of the frequency of the thoughts and deliver to you what you want, without you having to take actions to get it. "The law of attraction will give you want you want every time." The film emphasizes that you don't need to worry about how this will happen; the universe has got it figured out.
The film offers the example of being in debt and getting lots of bills into the mail. It explains that the problem is you're thinking too much about lack of money, and as a result the bills keep coming. The film suggests that you focus your thoughts on emotions on getting a check, and boom, it will end up arriving in the mail. This example seemed particularly absurd, as it seems likely that your credit card company is going to just write off the debt you owe, and the tooth fairy is going to write you a big fat check, stick a stamp on it, and pop it in the mail.
One of the people featured in the film was Bob Proctor, who was described as a philosopher, although I couldn't find any evidence that he has an educational background in that area. He stated, "Everything that's coming into your life, you're attracting to your life." This is not only absurd, but highly offensive. Some horrific things happen in this world, genocides being a prime example. For someone to suggest that victims of violence attracted that violence because of their patterns of thinking is not only ignorant but profoundly cruel. To give a less extreme example, let's consider physical or mental illness. Is someone magnetically attracting cancer into their life? How about psychosis?
There is definitely something to be said for positive psychology and the power of positive thinking to create a new framework through which we can view the world around us. However, positive psychology type of approaches aren't based in pseudoscience ideas of vibrational frequencies, magnetism of thoughts, and the universe giving you what you're asking for. These approaches look for ways that you can shift your mindset to promote the behaviours that will help you achieve your goals. There is a term for believing something will happen just because you're thinking about it—magical thinking.
When people talk about believing in the law of attraction, I think it's important to be clear exactly what we're talking about. The law of attraction as described by The Secret is fundamentally based on the notion that thoughts vibrate at certain frequencies that magnetically attract things of the same frequency. Believing in the power of positive thinking is not the same thing as The Secret's description of the law of attraction, and I think it's important to recognize that those ideas are actually quite different despite surface-level similarities.
'The Secret' (Book)
In case you're interested in checking out The Secret, here is a link to the book.
'The Secret' (Video)
Here is a link to the film version of The Secret.