While sipping lattes in a cozy café in Cambridge Lonnie, a skilled yoga teacher, confided in me, “Mark, I don’t know what to do. I’ve been struggling for fifteen years to make a living as a yoga teacher and things just aren’t getting better. I’ve been following the Law of Attraction in “The Secret”, doing all my affirmations and visualizations regularly, but nothing has changed. What am I doing wrong?”
I asked her what seemed like an obvious question, “What have you been doing to put your dreams into action?” She looked at me with blank, wide eyes, like I had asked her a question in gibberish. “…umnn… what do you mean?” “Well, you have dreams and a vision for how you want your life to be. What are you doing to make that happen?”
Still the blank stare.
She had fallen prey to the bullshit of “The Secret.”
If you buy into “The Secret” you’ll believe that all you have to do to receive anything you want in life is practice the Law of Attraction: think positive thoughts; be a positive person; practice affirmations and visualize things coming to you.
As if by magic checks will start showing up in your mailbox, an attractive partner will appear out of nowhere and suddenly you’ll live in a mansion with a flashy car parked in the driveway. Plus you’ll have love everlasting and spiritual enlightenment.
Unfortunately this is not how the universe works.
The Science of Success
According to scientific research, many of the claims of “The Secret” are almost right, but unfortunately the authors give advice that will actually be detrimental. With a few tweaks, you can tap into the power of the ideas behind the secret in ways that will actually help you get what you want.
Doing it this way will be more work, but on the other hand, you’ll actually move towards getting what you want instead of sitting on a couch alone in the dark wondering why the universe isn’t providing you with what you visualized.
Sow Subconscious Seeds In Your Brain
Many studies have shown that we can sow subconscious seeds in our brains that will later influence our perceptions and behaviors. For example, people exposed subliminally to the word “rude” are more likely to be rude to other people than people who are subliminally exposed to the word “polite”. This process is called “priming” the brain, and the results of priming can be remarkable.
This research validates the idea that affirmations, visualization and hypnosis can be powerful tools to set our brain up to act in the ways we want. Indeed, research has shown that effectively priming your brain with a particular goal can increase your likelihood of noticing opportunities to achieve that goal by 50%.
As an example, think of the last time you bought a car. You put a lot of thought into your buying decision, gradually narrowing down your choices to focus on one particular make and model, and eventually committing to a specific color and year. Through this process you unconsciously primed your brain to be on the lookout for that particular car. What happened as soon as you drove out of the dealership in your new car? You suddenly started seeing the exact same car that you just bought everywhere! That’s the power of priming in action.
Now, here’s an essential factor, and the part that “The Secret” misses: Your brain will take what you prime it to do quite literally, so according to the old Aladdin parable, “Be careful what you wish for.”
minutes, it had a significant impact on the students’ behavior, causing them to study less and make lower grades on the exam. The exercise may have made them feel better about themselves, but it did not help them achieve their goals.
If you imagine, as “The Secret” suggests, things magically coming your way without you having to do anything, then guess what that is going to prime your brain to do. You’re going to sit home doing absolutely nothing, expecting things to be delivered to you without work.
This explains why, amongst people with a decent education and opportunities in life, some of the least successful people I’ve met are those who spend their lives focused on the Law of Attraction. They’re spending time priming their brains to sit on their butts doing nothing to make those dreams happen. And that’s exactly what they end up doing – nothing.
The Lesson: Use priming (visualization, affirmations and hypnosis) to focus your brain on achieving what you want, but make sure that your visualizations include taking an active role in creating the success you want.
One of the things that “The Secret” gets exactly right is that it’s important to be positive and think positive.
If you state your goals in the negative, for example “I want to get out of debt,” “I don’t want to be lonely,” or “I don’t want to be stressed.” then the words, images and feelings you are going to prime your brain with are “debt,” “lonely” and “stressed” and your brain is going to find ways to give you even more of those unwanted things.
The Lesson: State your goals and visualizations in the positive. Rather than focusing on eliminating what you don’t want, focus on creating what you do want.
Visualize Both Results and Actions
The biggie that will make your life worse if you believe it is that affirmations alone will get you more of what you want. They won’t. In fact, affirmations alone will reduce your success.
The Lesson: It takes hard work to create success. In addition to visualizing what you want, also visualize the process of what it’s going to take to get you there. Rather than hoping the Universe or other people will give you want you need, focus on what you can do to manifest the results you want.
Eliminate Self Sabotage
Research shows that we can only be hypnotized to do things that are consistent with our own self-identity and beliefs. The same goes for affirmations and other forms of priming.
If you believe you’re a loser, then no amount of positive self-talk is going to make you feel successful. If deep down inside you feel like you don’t deserve a promotion, then your brain is going to self-sabotage to prevent you from achieving that goal. If you learned from your family upbringing that you’re not worthy of being loved, then no amount of visualization, no number of dates and romantic encounters are actually going to give you the experience of being loved.
From my work with thousands of clients, I’ve discovered one surprising fact: most people have more issues with success than they do with failure. We’re comfortable with the failures we already have in as much as they’re consistent with our sense of ourselves and our history. Great new successes, in any area of life, would radically challenge our beliefs about ourselves in ways that are usually uncomfortable and often unacceptable at a subconscious level.
If you are already doing everything recommended in this article, and you’re still not creating the kind of life you want, then the chances are that some unconscious part of you is sabotaging your success. In that case, you’ll want to make deeper changes at a subconscious level to line up your subconscious mind with your conscious desires. For that purpose, I’d recommend The Body-Psyche Program. The program has proven to be successful re-designing your sub-conscious self-beliefs about worthiness, receiving and abundance from the ground up.
The Lesson: You can only achieve as much as your subconscious self-identity believes you deserve. Often you’ll need to make deeper changes to align your identity with your conscious goals before you can succeed.
The Real Secret To Creating Abundance
In conclusion, if you want abundance in your life, forget The Law of Attraction. Instead, focus on the Law of Manifestation. Visualize what you want and also visualize the concrete steps you will take to make those things real. It all starts in your mind, but in the end your actions in the real world are what make the difference.
If you’re a nerd and want to track down the research quoted in this article, you can find most of it in 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman and The New Unconscious, Oxford Series in Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience, edited by Ran R. Hassin. “59 Seconds” is an easy read and gives great science-based tips on personal development. “The New Unconscious” is a heavy-duty collection of articles on research in neuroscience, neuropsychology and neurophysiology. It’s fascinating stuff, but it’s designed for the neuroscience academic audience.