For most of my adult life, I have believed in “the law of attraction” as a voluntary behavioral modification technique. The law of attraction holds that what we think about determines what we attract into our lives. It may be encapsulated in the phrase, “thinking makes it so.” Or, a common catch phrase is “as you believe, so you will receive.”
A few years ago, the “law of attraction” caught fire when the movie, The Secret, came out and was featured on the Oprah Winfrey and Larry King’s shows. Both talk show hosts asked those who had appeared in the movie variations of these questions: “Can you really think your way to financial riches and success? What about people who have serious health issues? Can they really think them away? Are they to blame for their illnesses just because they aren’t positive enough?”
About six months after The Secret came out, a colleague and I bumped into each other and she began talking about how she was fighting discouragement since her career hadn’t taken off as she had hoped. “The law of attraction people say that all I have to do is think positive thoughts to attract into my life what I want,” she said. “What a joke!”
I looked at her face and winced inside, since I do believe in the law of attraction. But I also knew that it did take more than to just “think positive.” As a child, I was raised to believe that “thoughts are things,” so going from that belief to a general acceptance of the law of attraction was an easy step. Close friends knew about my beliefs, but I didn’t go public with them because of the woo-woo factor. I didn’t want to diminish my credibility as an academic scholar and behavioral scientist.
Yet I am also a curious researcher, so I don’t foreclose any possibility, including ideas that some people think might be out to lunch. The more I read about the law of attraction, particularly after The Secret came out, the more startled I was to find out that several of its major precepts were consistent with current behavioral science research about how to voluntarily modify your behavior to achieve your goals.
As criticisms of The Secret grew more widespread, I quietly began to compile a list of behavioral science theories that supported the law of attraction. At last count, I am up to about 20 such theories, all supported by empirical research. In other words, regardless of what you may have heard about the law of attraction, the core idea has firm grounding in research. I would go so far as to say it represents evidence-based practice (for those of you who care about this).
Recently, I read somewhere that both Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson, among others, had read and benefitted from Napoleon Hill’s original (1928) Law of Success. Many believe that this book spawned the whole industry of the law of attraction including The Secret. I grew curious and downloaded Hill’s Chapter 1 from an online source. It has blown me away with its sound portrayal of how people work. I have now gone through Chapters 1 and 2 and am eagerly looking forward to finishing the entire series of 16 l-o-n-g chapters.
In subsequent posts, I will summarize Hill’s principles as I understand them and tell how behavioral science research supports them. I won’t do this all at once. Rather, I will write about it over the coming weeks or months as inspiration strikes.
What the Law of Attraction Is Not
First, though, let me tell you what the law of attraction is not, despite all the hype about it. It is not:
- A belief that all you have to do is think a thing and make it immediately so
- A belief that if you smile a lot, all is well
- A claim for how to get rich overnight
- A victim-bashing belief system that blames people for their problems
So What IS the Law the Attraction?
Rather than describing the law of attraction as a cheap, easy way to claim your wildest dreams, Napoleon Hill places it at the center of his systematic approach to personal development so that you may achieve the life you want to have. His program requires commitment and rigorous practice in the principles. But so does any program or set of principles that require you to change the way you have always done things and adopt a new set of habits.
I’ll explain more in the next post.
Meanwhile, I’m more than interested in what you think about all of this:
- What do you think about the law of attraction?
- What about it turns you on or off?
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