I was introduced to Law of Attraction (LOA) through ‘The Secret’, a book written by Rhonda Byrne. This book was very famous in my late adolescent years, and it led me to read many other LOA books. Overall, law of attraction has been immensely important in my quest for self improvements. But when I recommended it to people (especially my intellectual friends), they often came back and told me they couldn’t even finish the book as it is full of bullshit and it advertises pseudoscience.
I agree that the law of attraction literature is full of bullshit from a scientific perspective, if the words in them are to be taken literally. I have degrees in both Physics and Neuroscience, so statements that contradict our tested knowledge in these disciplines tend to stick out like sore thumbs to my analytical self. But it is also undeniable that the law of attraction literature has helped me achieve many of my goals. Scientifically false but functionally true; how can this be reconciled?
The fact is, I think the book does have some good ideas that actually agree with science of goal achievements. In this post, I’m going to explain just the key lessons I learned from law of attraction and leave the BS behind.
Embrace Your Desire
When I grew up, I was stuck with the idea that ‘Having desires is wrong’. It is a whole set of beliefs such as ‘Money is evil’, ‘Wanting to be beautiful is shallow’, ‘Focusing on your desire is selfish’, ‘Materialism is pointless’, ‘Rich people are not happy, you gain happiness through helping other people’, ‘You should work hard and don’t ask for anything in return’.
At the time, I knew that hard work is expected from me, but I was not taught to enjoy the process or the outcome of hard work (this is very common for many Asian kids). So when I read The Secret and they said ‘Ask the universe for what you want’, it kind of blew my mind. It’s not about actually going ahead and praying to the universe for what you want (it probably doesn’t care). It is about becoming fully aware of our desires. It is about paying full attention to what we want, without limitations. LOA emphasizes the idea that everything is possible and whatever you can perceive you can achieve. LOA urges you to ask yourself “If you have infinite resources, what kind of life do you want to live?” Whether you believe everything is possible or not, I think it’s good exercise to free your mind from guilts, doubts, and social expectations; to fully indulge in considering your desires; to develop the courage to fully accept and fight for what you truly want.
When you are crystal clear about what you want, you allow your actions and thoughts to align with the things that truly drive your joy. And you allow yourself to make sure that you are rewarded for your actions, which encourage you to take more actions.
I knew so many people who didn’t embrace their desires and suffer from it. For example, I know people who choose college majors and jobs because their parents said so, or because the jobs pay well, when in retrospect they realize they really should’ve started with asking what they wanted out of life before choosing a career path. You don’t want to be working so hard just to find out that all this work gets you to a kind of life that you didn’t really want.
You are Responsible for Everything that Happens to You
Law of attraction theory believes that you co-create your world (with the universe). You attract everything to your life, both the good and the bad. Some go so far as saying that victims of murder and rape attract criminals to their life. I know that sounds terrible.
These statements are way too extreme, but there is a grain of truth in it in certain sense. Let me explain.
First of all, you create your own world. This I know is true. Your brain devotes a large amount of resources to create your version of the world. The neuroscience of perception has long understood that what you perceive to be the world is not really the world; instead your neurons work together to create a copy of world in your brain. So when you see a wall, it is not a wall that you are aware of, it’s your visual neurons’ reconstruction of the physical wall.
You perceive the world through your nervous system, which can be distorted and sometimes outright lying to you. Your brain embellishes the reality with its belief and assumptions all the time. For example, for a man who has a problem approaching women all his life, when he sees a woman smiles at him, he might think she’s of course not attracted to him, maybe he has a funny thing on his face? What’s the real reason the woman is smiling he will never know. But in his world, she’s not attracted to him. He constructed this reality that could be false based on life experiences.
So are you responsible for everything that happens to you? I think a more true statement is that your life outcomes are a combination of what you do and random events you cannot control (a.k.a luck). And what you do does have a heck lot of influence. Your habits and beliefs shape your identity.
This part of Law of Attraction has taught me to completely abandon ‘The Victim Mentality’. When I was battling with an eating disorder, it was easy for me to conclude that I am the victim of the disease; that maybe I have some combinations of genes and brain chemicals that make it impossible to lose weight and recover from the disorder. After reading The Secret, I chose to deliberately let go of victim-based theories and opted to believe that I am responsible for everything. That belief was functional in helping me to take all the actions I could to recover.
So “You create your world” and “You are responsible for everything” are the two beliefs that LOA instills to facilitate changes. It leads you to understand your power to change your internal world, and in turn, what kind of an influence that has on your external world.
Change Your Vibration to Match Your Desire
Let me just say I really dislike the word vibration. It’s so vague and pseudo-sciencey. Law of attraction taught people to ‘Act as if you have already achieved your goal’. This means that if you want a new car, and having a new car will make you feel safe, free, and uplifted. You should start pretending like you have it now, start feeling safe, free, and uplifted now. LOA also advocates visualization, which practically means that you close your eyes and day dream about your desires. So if you want a new car, you will visualize buying it, driving it, and enjoying it. These acts are designed to adjust your vibrations to match your desire.
The part of LOA most people don’t understand is that visualizing and pretending are not supposed to automatically attract you a new car. No laws of Physics prescribes that if your vibration matches the object of your desire, it will come to you. It is not true, period. But it doesn’t mean that what LOA preaches didn’t help.
In fact, ‘acting as if’ and visualization should lead you to change habits and belief to achieve what you want. They should prompt you to be emotionally ready to change your identity.
Suppose my current identity is of someone who does not have extra cash to afford a new car. To get a new car, I need to change my identity to be that of someone who has plenty excess money and can go acquire a car. Achieving a goal is about changing the identity, and this means changing my physical habits (such as reducing excess spending and actively looking for new income opportunities), mental habits (such as getting rid of the fear of rejection when asking people for money in exchange for my work), etc. If I change my habits to be similar to those people who can afford a car, then the outcome that I want, i.e. cash in my wallet, will reflect the new identity I have acquired.
‘Acting as if’ and visualization have helped me understand what it takes to achieve my goal. For example, when I was trying to lose weight, before bed I would imagine the life of a naturally thin person. I day dreamed what it would be like to have the body that I want without worrying about food and dieting. What healthy snack my thin self would enjoy eating and what physical activities I would enjoy doing. My brain was allowed to consider alternative possibilities, and it came up with possible sets of actions and beliefs required to live that alternative life. Although at first, it feels forced to pretend to be something you are not, it gets easier and more natural over time. When it becomes natural to me to constantly act and think like a thin person, the outcome of these actions is that my body gradually changes to match my identity.
I hope this post presents a new perspective on law of attraction for non-spiritual people. If you have something to add, please feel free to leave a comment below!