You may have heard about the Law of Attraction through a book, or seen the film adaptation of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne on Netflix. With a title like that, it seems to promise a quick fix to get whatever you want- if only you know the one secret to success! The law of attraction states that by thinking about a potential outcome enough, it will eventually come to fruition. The thing about it, is that those who preach about it give explanations about brainwaves and the Universe. If you put a thought into the Universe, the Universe will answer back with reciprocation- a manifestation of that thought. The only problem is, if this metaphysical effect was scientifically proven, then it would be the equivalent to the Law of Gravity in its exposure and application worldwide. The Law of Attraction has unfortunately not been established in that way.
The gritty details…
So it hasn’t been proven to work like that. Is it a theory? Well, a theory must be able to be tested in order to be proven, and evidences must be given before a theory title is granted. Okay.
To my knowledge, most, if not all claims the “Law of Attraction,” its powers and how it works are anecdotal at best.
How would we test the Law of Attraction?
Let’s say I give you that- there are dozens of published stories about the person envisioning a detailed, bright future that eventually comes true. The only problem is these outcomes were not selected for, controlled, or tested in a reproducible environment. And herein lies the problem with not experimentally testing for evidence of outcomes produced from application of the “law of Attraction”:
- Lack of knowledge of dependent and independent variables
- Data collection is skewed by confirmation bias
First, when testing for the “Law of Attraction” a method should be set up to control all variables. For example, a legitimate experiment would introduce the “Law of Attraction” into a participant’s routine without any changes to other daily habits or goal pursuits. So far, there is no published, legitimate research that has tested this that I know of .
The other flaw to testing the legitimacy of the “law of Attraction” is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is defined through cognitive sciences as a type of memory bias with the tendency to seek out or interpret information that confirms what you already believe. Because the proponents of the “Law of Attraction” already believed that it worked , every bit of information that gave plausibility- to the “Law of Attraction” was soaked up, and other information that may have been oppositional or could have given a different reason for outcomes was ignored. This is the limitation of anecdotal evidence– it doesn’t always give the full story. It’s not that the storyteller is lying, it’s just that they’re ignorant of some very important details in the experience.
Traction to the Attraction. It works
Now, I’m sure someone who believes in the “Law of Attraction” and has used it to full effect and attained their own personal successes will be pretty angry if I were to leave it at that. I would be– especially if I’ve experienced it to great effect myself. This is why I will not stop by saying, ‘the “Law of Attraction” isn’t a law,’ (*which ist isn’t) and discredit any power it has, because it works. Yes, the “Law of Attraction” does have some traction- at least in application. Let’s look at the scientific reasons why it works.
The behaviors that make it work
Positive Thinking for stamina
Starting off, we know that the “Law of Attraction” states that if you think positively, positive things will happen, and if you think negatively, negative things will happen. Hey, having positive thoughts is great. Optimism can increase mental and emotional stamina when going through rough patches, so one who implements this technique will definitely gain the benefit of perseverance by looking through the right lens.
Directing attention with Confirmation Bias
On top of that, confirmation bias can be good. If you have a belief about the effectiveness of your efforts, you’ll selectively see the rewards to your efforts and brush over the negatives. This allows you to maintain focus and morale as well as helps you put in the effort to seek opportunities to prove your belief.
Actively visualizing a future where your goals are achieved and your dreams are a reality, when visualized in a vivid and detailed way, can rev up your motivational engine. Telling yourself a story of an achievable, positive future can cause you to persuade yourself to take action. You’ll be pumped on the ideas of these tangible possibilities and be more motivated to take action in them. When you’re motivated, you seek out more opportunities to achieve that goal, and you’re more likely to get back up after a failure.
Visualization has a few other effects. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen The Secret, but I do remember the people in the movie (and book) preaching that you have to go beyond thinking positively. They said you need to truly visualize yourself in that perfect future you want- down to the smallest details. One exercise has you imagine driving your dream car and visualizing it so vividly that you can feel it while you sit on your couch. This technique is often used by sport psychologists. Visualization can increase one’s performance in two different ways. One way visualization increases performance on tasks is that it sends neural signals to the parts of the body that should be doing that task, thus giving you actual practice in that task without even physically doing it.
The other way visualization helps in performance, is it allows you to subconsciously find a way to achieve the visualized outcome. In a study where participants were given a task to make basketball free throws, one group was made to practice free throws, one was made to visualize themselves making free throws, and the control group was not given any task. After the priming, the participants were put on a basketball court and told to shoot free throws, those who practiced visualizing the ball going into the hoop had almost as much success at making the free throws as those who practiced, and significantly more than those who didn’t practice or visualize at all, even if they had never touched a basketball in their life. (Start & Richardson, 1964) This experiment and results have been repeated over and over again. The brain is an amazing thing. If physical task outcomes can be affected by visualization techniques, then it’s not far off to assume that so can other types of achievable feats.
Being mindful is how you’re going to attract what you want.
Let’s say you’ve done your visualization and you’re motivated to start taking action to achieve your goals. Whenever an opportunity comes your way that will help you get closer to achieving that goal, you will be more aware of it, and thus you will take more opportunities. This is because you become more mindful of your own behaviors and opportunities, and you will actively put attention on them. If you do this enough, it will become habit, and eventually, that which you’ve only visualized will become reality without you even knowing how you got there. This is how the “Law of Attraction” works. There’s no mystic force of the universe or attractive forces being fueled by the human consciousness. It’s all a product of action. In a metaphorical way,your thoughts do become things, but not without effort, and I think this may be a lesson from “The Secret” itself that putting the mental work in can pay off.
Keep using it.
So the “Law of Attraction” is a bunch of bologna, but at its core it still works. Should we spend time trying to convince its preachers and practitioners that it’s not really a law and that science has some perfectly reasonable explanation as to why it works? In medical practice, it doesn’t matter if the doctor prescribes pharmaceutical agents or sugar pills to their patients, as long as it improves their well-being. The placebo effect can be powerful and effective. I’m not a doctor, but I know that both the method I discredit and the scientifically proven interventions and concepts work the way they’re supposed to. I’ll continue to search for the most accurate and effective truths to apply to Peak Performance and goal achievement my own way and the “Secret” users do their thing too.
Start, K. B., & Richardson, A. (1964). Imagery and mental practice. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 34(3), 280-284.