Ahhhh, the Law of Attraction, that oh-so-lovely-sounding exhortation to focus on the positive. Believe and you can achieve! After all,
(Image from https://www.jackcanfield.com/blog/using-the-law-of-attraction/)
If you meditate, for example, saying an uplifting phrase in your mind and imagining yourself bathed in a sphere of light, then youʼll be like her:
(Image from https://www.jackcanfield.com/blog/using-the-law-of-attraction/)
She sure looks happy! Iʼll bet she attracts all sorts of good things into her life!
And if you want to stop feeling lonely and having love-troubles, then just focus on love, and youʼll be like this: (sunset not guaranteed, but the rest, is rock solid, just believe) —
(Image from https://www.jackcanfield.com/blog/using-the-law-of-attraction/)
They sure look in love! They even attracted glasses of wine too! I BELIEVE in wine!
I initially decided, in line with the Law of Attraction, that I wasnʼt going to explain it to you any further. I was just going to BELIEVE that you already understood it, and move on to trusting the universe to Manifest a Harley into my life. And some abs. Space travel. And gold!
But then I realized I must not understand the Law of Attraction perfectly. Because if you donʼt need to explain it to people, then all the Law of Attraction gurus wouldnʼt have written their books, made their videos and self-help programs, and set up businesses to convince people that the Law of Attraction is so awesome. Theyʼd just Manifest the things they needed.
….I wonder why donʼt manifest a better President than Drumpf? Or manifest a brand new healthy Great Barrier Reef? Or believe the Amazon will stop burning? Or believe we are not in the midst of a world-changing Mass Extinction? Manifesting THAT shit to stop would be great! (Although it would require thinking about negative things….hmmmm…more on that later….)
Why DO they spend so much of their time convincing people that the main things the Universe wants for us all are Money, Love, and Health? Does the universe REALLY care whether or not I have a Harley? Does it care whether Syrians have Harleys too?
Hmmm, I must need a deeper understanding. So, Iʼll BELIEVE in the gurus, and follow their example instead. Since I obviously havenʼt Manifested a deep enough understanding of this Wisdom for myself, I decided to let you, Dear Reader, get exposed to the wisdom of one of the Law of Attractionʼs most famous proponents — Jack Canfield.
Jack says: “Simply put, the Law of Attraction says that you will attract into your life whatever you focus on. Whatever you give your energy and attention to will come back to you.
So, if you stay focused on the good and positive things in your life, you will automatically attract more good and positive things into your life. If you are focused upon lack and negativity, then that is what will be attracted into your life. Hereʼs how it works:
Like attracts like. If you are feeling excited, enthusiastic, passionate, happy, joyful, appreciative, or abundant, then you are sending out positive energy.
On the other hand, if you are feeling bored, anxious, stressed out, angry, resentful, or sad, you are sending out negative energy.
The universe, through the Law of Attraction, will respond enthusiastically to both of these vibrations. It doesnʼt decide which one is better for you, it just responds to whatever energy you are creating, and it gives you more of the same. You get back exactly what you put out there.” https://www.jackcanfield.com/blog/using-the-law-of-attraction/
Wow! Thanks Jack! I am soooooo getting that Harley now!
This sounds like Magic!! Iʼve always wanted to believe in Magic!! Hey! Maybe all these years of me BELIEVING that someday Iʼd learn Magic is what led all these dudes to discover the Law of Attraction in the first place! YES!!!!! It was MEEEEEEEEE!!
I feel AMAZING! I feel like Iʼve discovered an Ancient Secret!!
This Secret is AMAZING!! Amazon Customer says so! =====================
Many people believe in the Law of Attraction. Itʼs practically a truism for many (not all, thank god) personal-growth devotees, spiritual practitioners, New Agey-types, go-getters and motivational coaches. Itʼs a truism for the people who write books and sell inspirational videos about….the Law of Attraction. They make tons of sweet, sweet cash off it. Thatʼs because they BELIEVE in it!
See? It works!
And even if it sounds a little flaky or whatever, donʼt be a pessimist! Donʼt be a Debbie Downer! The Law of Attraction is powerful medicine for people JUST LIKE YOU! If you suffer from Debbie Downerism, pessimism, low motivation-ism, sadness-ism, or any number of other psychological problemisms, then YOU need the Law of Attraction in YOUR life!!
Personal Anecdote that Proves the Law of Attraction
A middle-aged man said to me not long ago:
“A couple years ago, I was depressed, and struggling with various problems that knocked me on my butt. Then I met this really nice-seeming guy (Iʼll tell you more about him later). He was a Healer! He told me about the Law of Attraction, and how by using its power, He was able to do miraculous things! And I could too! He was going to help me. Even though we had just met a few minutes before, he KNEW that whatever issues were in my life, He could help me Heal Myself!
Being scientifically trained, I expressed a bit of skepticism. But no, no!! The Law of Attraction is based on Hard Science! You know, like Quantum Physics! The universe is nothing but overlapping, interpenetrating energy patterns, right? Even atoms arenʼt really “atoms”! Theyʼre mostly empty space, and electrons and protons and everything, are just Quantum Waves. And Everything Is Connected to Everything! It’s Quantum Entangelement! And stuff like that! Itʼs PHYSICS!!
Probably the reason I was struggling in life was because, even if you donʼt believe in the Law of Attraction, itʼs still working for you, except in a negative way! By not believing in Law of Attraction, and instead believing in Critical Thinking, I was attracting “criticism” into my life! And Criticism is a Negative Vibration (or a “lower vibration?”….sorry, my “physics” is a little shaky…). Anyway, thatʼs why I was depressed!
“So,” I said. “Let me get this straight — the Law of Attraction is like, a basic Law of Universal Functioning. And if I donʼt believe in it, bad things will happen. Like, this is probably why bad things have already happened?”
Speaking of non-sequiturs 😉 that reminds me of one of my all-time favourite Sesame Street jokes. Ernie explaining to Bert why he keeps a banana in his ear…. Because it keeps away the alligators!
No More Beating Around the Bush
Okay, Iʼll stop beating around the bush — the Law of Attraction is bullshit. And not merely the silly, woo kind of bullshit, but really nasty, smelly, makes-the-world-a- worse-place kind.
But itʼs not ENTIRELY bullshit. It does have a point. So letʼs not reject it outright. Letʼs first examine the wise, good stuff part. And THEN weʼll reject it outright. Ok?
The Wise, Good Stuff : Perceptions, Cognitions, Motivations, Emotions, Behaviours, and other Systems Comprising the Self
Research in Psychology can help us understand why the Law of Attraction DOES seem like it contains some wisdom. For example, thereʼs robust research on Optimism, on self-fulfilling prophecies, on top-down regulation of behavioural systems, on motivation, on associative networks in the brain….and stuff like that. In short, this research says that when you hold a certain BELIEF, like letʼs say, “Iʼm a loser! I suck at everything!”, then ooooh boy, youʼre gonna have a tough time getting off the couch and doing….anything. Especially anything challenging! Why bother? You’re just gonna fail anyway…right?
In contrast, letʼs say you hold a different belief, like “Iʼm great at stuff! I can DO things!” Then you will tend to pay more attention to things that are consistent with you-being-great. Positive, encouraging things will “pop” out of the landscape more readily. Youʼll see more opportunities than threats, notice more things-you-can-do, rather than things-you’ll-fail-at.
Furthermore, your interpretive tendencies will also be working in a “positive” direction. When you encounter ambiguous information and itʼs not straight-forwardly clear what it means, youʼll lean towards assuming that it means Good Things. Your default interpretations will shift towards the “positive.”
Further-furthermore, your emotional tendencies will veer towards the “positive.” Itʼll be way easier for you to feel enthusiastic than despairing, happy anticipation rather than anxiety, nostalgic savouring rather than regret. These positive emotions will give you more energy to do things; theyʼll make life seem better; theyʼll make you more creative, happy, healthy. Good Things!
And further-further-furthermore, your behavioural tendencies will veer towards approach, rather than avoidance, efficacy, rather than hopelessness, and “I think I can” rather than “Iʼm gonna fail.”
So, “think positive!” Right?
Right. I agree. Totally. This IS what psychologists mean when they talk about “self-fulfilling prophecies.”
For example, letʼs say you take a course in something. But you approach it with “This is gonna suck”, and so you donʼt pay much attention, you criticize in your mind everything the teacher says, you look for all the flaws in the information, and generally convince yourself how stupid it all is. End result — you learn diddly squat from the course.
But if you approach the course with enthusiasm, if you assume “the person teaching here has studied stuff for, like, years, and probably knows some cool things”, then youʼll be looking for those tidbits of knowledge and wisdom, youʼll be making connections between the material and your own personal experience, youʼll be more excited about the course, more likely to think about it after each lesson, more likely to talk to other people about something cool that you learned, and as a result of all this, youʼre almost certainly going to learn WAY more.
(NOTE: The general formulations of the Law of Attraction donʼt even include these effort-components. As a result, many people criticize the Law of Attraction for being mere “wishful thinking.” But its flaws go way, way deeper than that. You can include self-fulfilling prophecies and effort and all that, and it STILL is bullshit. And I intend to prove that to you. In fact, I WILL prove that to you! I BELIEVE and I will ACHIEVE!!)
But first, the Law of Attraction has one more AMAZING lesson to teach us:
Social Determinants of Awesomeness
We are social creatures. Much of our life outcomes are governed by the impressions we make on other people. If we make terrible impressions, doors close for us, and we end up on our couch in yesterdayʼs underwear, eating Rice Krispies out of a frying pan. If we make AMAZING impressions, then people want to be around us, want to hire us, want to share opportunities with us, and as a result, doors open. What we put out there into the social world is, by and large, gonna be what we get back out of it.
You can prove this to yourself in about 10 seconds, anytime youʼre out in public, like ordering a coffee or passing someone in the hallway at work, or maybe even walking down the sidewalk. In this situation, make eye contact, and smile. Now unless you have creepy-vibes, or you picked someone who is super-paranoid and likely to read creepy-vibes into everything, then I can almost guarantee you the person is going to smile back. Imagine if you approached EVERYBODY this way, not walking around grinning constantly like a fool (although….why not?), but just approaching people with friendliness, openness, humour, smiles. Imagine how much more pleasant daily life would be! (Shout-out to my mom here, who makes friends with every cashier she encounters…)
Imagine how much more fun it would be if you were at a party and didnʼt know anybody, but you just started saying “hi” to people and striking up conversations, rather than going and standing in a corner looking at the floor like you were praying to Hades to crack open the earth beneath your feet and swallow you whole. Strategy #1 is going to make you more friends than strategy #2.
Everybody knows this! Maybe the “Law of Attraction”, as an idea, almost like a brand-logo, helps people conceptualize the way that the world seems to work. So it’s “useful,” in a sense, because it helps people think about and, they hope, understand more deeply the critical role that we do play in determining the outcomes of our lives!
The truth is, life is governed by countless interactions over the course of our lives. And each “interaction” — each person we encounter — has their own unique circumstances happening, and the quality of these interactions spans the very very good to the very very bad. With such a huge number of interactions with unique people governing so much of the outcomes of our lives, then it totally does make sense to behave in a “Law of Attraction” kind of way.
But we don’t need the Law of Attraction to tell us this.
Just put your best foot forward. Believe in the good in people. Be kind, smile when you can. Itʼs gonna work out better that way most of the time.
(Note: If you attend Serial Killer Conventions, Iʼd say go with Strategy #2 instead.)
(Note: If you are attending Serial Killer Conventions, then…really? Serial Killer Conventions? They have those?)
To summarize — the Law of Attraction is great, in the sense of describing a feedback loop connecting belief, perception, cognitions, emotions, behaviour, social feedback, and success experiences. But personally, I donʼt call that the Law of Attraction. I call it “Psychology”. What the Law of Attraction adds on top of basic Psychology is…..absolutely nothing. So donʼt buy The Secret! Buy this book instead! (Full disclosure — I have an economically meaningful relationship with one of the authors of this book…) 😉
Now, you ready for the bullshit part? Before we get into that, please keep in mind all this other stuff I just said — all that feedback loop, Psychology stuff. Because whenever I start bashing the Law of Attraction, some people feel a strong need to point out how RIGHT it is and how WRONG I am, and generally speaking, they remind me of something like “Yeah, but if you think positively, or set goals and work towards them with enthusiasm, you WILL be more likely to succeed!”
So, we cool on this point? Thatʼs “Psychology,” not The Law of Attraction? Cool. Now, on to the —
The true danger of the Law of Attraction is that it is immiscible with and intolerant of suffering. If you believe that BELIEF —> REALITY, then if someoneʼs reality sucks, it must be because their beliefs suck, right?
So if a person fails, they have failure beliefs. If a person is in an abusive relationship, “some part of them” must “want” to be in abusive relationship. They must be attracting negative energies into their life. They need to raise their vibrational frequency by adopting “healthy relationship beliefs.”
If a person is in poverty, they have poverty beliefs. If a person is raped, they must “at some level,” have been attracting rape-y vibes into their life. If a person has cancer, they must have toxic beliefs.
Iʼm not making this up. This is not me being unfair to the Law of Attraction. And this is why, ultimately, I decided to write in such an aggressive-style. If you noticed, at the beginning of this essay, I was writing in an over-the-top, advertising-style kind of way. Hopefully it was funny too. And a little bombastic. This was intentional, to mimic the style of the Law of Attraction hucksters.
Now, different feelings are coming out. Because if you ONLY stay in that positive-glossy-happy-land way of thinking about the Law of Attraction, then it’s great! And who am I to go rain on their parade?
But I decided to write about this because I do think that it’s a socially dysfunctional way of thinking, in that it leads, the farther down the path you go, to negative consequences.
Letʼs see what some of its most popular (and whoʼve made the most $$$ off it) proponents have to say:
Often [people] recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event. By the law of attraction, they had to be on the same frequency as the event. It doesnʼt necessarily mean they thought of that exact event, but the frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event. If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances, those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. — Rhonda Byrne, The Secret
Thanks Rhonda! Now I FINALLY understand why genocides happen, why children live in cages along the southern border of the United States, why innocent people attending country music concerts, movies, shopping malls or school, get caught in mass shootings, why there are so many climate refugees whoʼve lost everything — itʼs their fault!! They were all “vibrating on the wrong frequency!” This explains everything!!
If you donʼt believe the Law of Attraction gets that insane and offensive, one of its most famous proponents made this crystal clear about a decade ago on live TV. Joe Vitale markets himself as “Dr. Joe Vitale” — although he is not actually a “doctor”. He received his “doctorate” in metaphysics from a unaccredited university, and he has a second “doctorate,” ordered online from another non-accredited university. In other words, he’s a fake doctor who calls himself “Dr.”
I know that’s not a very nice thing to say. But it’s not a very nice thing to tell everybody that you’re a Doctor of metaphysics, when you do not have a recognized Doctor of metaphysics degree. I wouldn’t want my cardiologist to have a fake cardiology degree that involved not-going to medical school.
In any case, non-Dr Joe Vitale made a now-infamous appearance on Larry Kingʼs show back in 2007. It happened to be at the same time as a little girlʼs body had been discovered in a shallow grave, and non-Dr Vitale was asked by Larry King — What about this girl? Did she somehow “attract” what happened to her?
Non-Dr Vitale responded — “We are attracting everything to ourselves. There is no exception. … No. We attract everything. But we’re doing it on an unconscious level, Larry. That’s what’s going on.”
Hereʼs a picture of the girl.
Her name is Jessica Lunsford, the girl whose death inspired the widespread adoption of “Jessicaʼs Law” across most of the United States. At age 9, she was kidnapped from her home by a man who was a repeat child-sex-offender. She was with him for three days, and then he buried her alive in a plastic bag.
This is what Larry King was asking non-Dr Vitale about. Jessica was “vibrating on the wrong frequency” and attracted negative energies into her life.
I feel anger arise in parts of writing this, because my mind can quickly conjure up many different scenarios in which people confront some kind of unjust situation, and are told that it’s because of their negative thinking.
This whole way of thinking reinforces victim-blaming, discredits the whole idea of Social Justice and suggests we turn our backs on the great visionaries who have worked, bled, and died fighting to change the world for the better. The soldiers who died for freedom. The indigenous activists who are still dying protecting their homes. Martin Luther King Jr. They were all just “unconsciously attracting death.”
Whatʼs the problem with slavery anyway? Or colonialism? Or racism? The people suffering must, “at some unconscious level” WANT TO BE THERE! Native people “BELIEVED” in genocide for their people, right? They “attracted” residential schools into their lives so their children would be raised in prisons.
We donʼt need social reform! We donʼt need to change the laws, or combat prejudice, or have social programs, or fund shelters, or help the homeless. The downtrodden just need to change their beliefs! They need to stop having a “victim mentality”. They need to focus on SUCCESS! And the universe will respond.
And WE, the privileged, shouldnʼt try to help THEM, the suffering. No! That negative shit only makes stuff worse! We should focus on creating Wealth, because making ourselves rich is the best way to help the poor.
Wallace Wattles, a giant in the Church of Bullshit that proselytizes the Law of Attraction, says it this way.
“Do not talk about poverty; do not investigate it, or concern yourself with it. Never mind what its causes are; you have nothing to do with them.
What concerns you is the cure. Do not spend your time in charitable work, or charity movements; all charity only tends to perpetuate the wretchedness it aims to eradicate.
… Get rich; that is the best way you can help the poor. And you cannot hold the mental image which is to make you rich if you fill your mind with pictures of poverty. Do not read books or papers which give circumstantial accounts of the wretchedness of the tenement dwellers, of the horrors of child labor, and so on. Do not read anything which fills your mind with gloomy images of want and suffering.
You cannot help the poor in the least by knowing about these things; and the wide-spread knowledge of them does not tend at all to do away with poverty. What tends to do away with poverty is not the getting of pictures of poverty into your mind, but getting pictures of wealth into the minds of the poor.”
Yep. You go spend your time Manifesting wealth for yourself, and then, TA- DAAA!!!! Your mansions and yachts will “get pictures of wealth into the minds of the poor.” Pretty soon theyʼll start manifesting massive piles of diamonds for themselves and theyʼll all join country clubs and take up golfing. Poverty eradicated! WOOOOOO!!!
Yeah, “woo” indeed.
RIP, Law of Attraction.
Instead, letʼs replace it with Psychology, and actually help people better themselves and the world. Letʼs ground this in actual science, create effective tools, scaffold people with the wise guidance so they can make real changes in their lives.
Improving things requires more than a magic spell. It takes hard work. And IF there are enough forces against you, “changing your beliefs” is like “thoughts and prayers!” to the next mass shooting victims. You can sit there and BELIEVE that things are going to get better until the cows come home. But as long as oppressive structures, systems of unjust laws, and a societal shift towards intolerance and violence remain intact. Your BELIEF ainʼt gonna do it. Sorry.
Instead of The Law of Attraction, letʼs have the Law of Self-fulfilling Prophecies. Plus the Law of Hard Work. Plus the Law of Standing Up For Whatʼs Right. Plus the Law of Confronting Harmful Bullshit. Plus the Law of Helping People Whoʼve Had Some Hard Knocks. Plus the Law of Realizing Life is Sometimes Hard and No One Is An Island, But Life is Also Beautiful and No One Is An Island.
Maybe we can step even further back, and replace this whole emphasis on “Laws” altogether and instead, talk about virtues, about courage and love and compassion and kindness and perseverance and helping your fellow-person and speaking the truth.
Thatʼs how things change.
The last thing I want to say (at this point in time…haha…who knows what the future holds), about the Law of Attraction, is that it is very easy to wield the Law of Attraction as a weapon. And it would be understandable that certain personality types would veer, more often than not, towards doing just that.
When I meet someone who starts going all Law of Attraction on me, my Spidey-Senses go BZZZZZZZT. Because, what IS the underlying, psychodynamic motivation that compels a person towards believing in what John Vervaeke would call “magical thinking?” How open is this person going to be, if you question them, or disagree? Or even criticize? In response, you will hear likely hear some version of “I donʼt want that kind of negative energy in my life,”
Let me give you an example. As I mentioned earlier, I once knew a quite intense Healer-type-person, who believed, truly believed, in the Law of Attraction. They have a habit of posting on social media all sorts of lovely, inspiring things, uplifting memes, and things like that. Lots of people post things like this in their way of making the world a little better. 🙂 But over time I started to notice a pattern in the posts — in which subtle guilt-trips would be placed on the Reader, and the posts seemed very self-consciously Good and Lovely and Wise, like they were trying too hard?
Usually, I ignore these posts. But one day, I decided, this is bullshit. And you know, this person IS influential. They have “followers,” people who look up to them and think of them as a source of wisdom. So…
The post I responded to was something about how wonderful it is to remember that people who are suffering from mental illness, really need others to reach out and lend them a hand. That we shouldnʼt forget about the people who might be suffering in silence.
What a lovely post!
But then, the kicker — it continued, talking about how most of this personʼs friends wonʼt take the few seconds it requires to forward this message and pass it on to others. Most people are too caught up in their own concerns to do even that tiny act. This person wondered who would be their special few friends, and “share” this message.
So I said something along the lines of how I appreciated that this person cares about people who are struggling with mental illness. But, I also thought that the exhortation for others to share the message sent the wrong impression. There are MANY REASONS why someone might not share a post that this person thinks they should share. Some people are uncomfortable with sharing posts from other people and prefer to use social media for fun times and memes and stuff. Or maybe they feel uncomfortable speaking out and risking judgement from others. Or maybe theyʼre struggling with mental illness themselves, and they would feel too vulnerable or exposed to share such a thing.
I said that this kind of post is something I find kind of manipulative, and implicitly shaming, because it sends the message that, if you DONʼT “share” the post, then you donʼt care about mental illness, and sadly, you arenʼt one of this personʼs “special friends.” I also noted that these kinds of posts cross social media feeds all the time, about all sorts of different issues. “99% of my friends wonʼt share this….will YOU be one of the few who cares?” Taken together, these posts are a constant flood of social-pressure to parrot other peopleʼs views, rather than feeling free to post your own thoughts.
It took about 40 seconds for my post to be removed.
Private message appears immediately — “I only want Positive Posts on my wall… I will not discuss this further.”
I responded with something to the effect of — “That was a positive post! I think that when a message is implicitly shaming and manipulative, itʼs a positive thing to point that out and help all those who may see this and be harmed by it. You have a lot of influence over people, and I know you really care about people. It is a positive thing to do, to try and point out how some of the things youʼre doing might be harmful, in ways that you likely didnʼt intend.”
(Granted, I could have sent my original critique as a private message myself. I had doubts that it would be effective.)
A minute later, a voice-recorded message shows up, telling me how disappointed and saddened they are by my negativity.
I type up as-thoughtful-a-response as I can. It takes a couple of minutes. But alas, Iʼve already been blocked and unfriended.
At first, I was hurt. For about…..1.4 seconds. Then I thought “Woo hoo! Iʼm freeeee! I donʼt need that kind of negativity in my life, anyway. Who knows what itʼll attract?”
P.S. For a well-grounded, rigorous (and shorter!), critique of the Law of Attraction, I highly recommend the work of Dr. Neil Farber — https:// www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-blame-game/201609/the-truth-about- the-law-attraction
P.S.S. In my next post, weʼll take a closer look at the so-called “toxic people” who are likely to use the Law of Attraction as a weapon, that is, if you are vibrating at too-low of a frequency and unconsciously attract them into your life…something something.