The Law of Attraction: a Way to Success or Plain B.S.?

I’m currently reading Raymond Aaron’s Double Your Income Doing What You Love. I was drawn to the book by its title, assuming it would talk about how to turn your hobby into a productive source of income. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Aaron is a co-author of a couple of books from the Chicken Soup series, and a coach devoted to guide his clients “on a path that supports the Law of Atraction”. Uh-oh, the LofA word was being mentioned on the very first page of the book.

So what’s this Law of Atraction that I find so scary? According to Wikipedia, it “says people’s thoughts (both conscious and unconscious) dictate the reality of their lives, whether or not they’re aware of it. Essentially ‘if you really want something and truly believe it’s possible, you’ll get it’, but putting a lot of attention and thought onto something you don’t want means you’ll probably get that too”.

law of attraction

If you really want and believe in something, you'll get it.

The above definition encapsulates what I like least about the Law of Attraction: it says that you’re responsible for what you get in life, both good and bad things. So you’re wealthy and enjoying the life of your dreams? According to the Law of Attraction, you deserve it because that’s what you’ve been focusing your thoughts on. The flip side is the alarming one: You’re poor and sick, and have just been fired from your job? Well, according to the Law of Attraction that must be your fault, too. You may not have realized it, but these are the negative outcomes you’ve been subconsciously entertaining in your mind.

Now, I wouldn’t have anything to say against the Law of Attraction if there was any evidence that what it claims is true. If it were an adequate description of reality, I’d just have to put up with it and try my best not to harbor any negative thought. However, don’t be fooled by what the Law of Attraction’s proponents may tell you -Raymond Aaron goes as far as to say that this is a “proven method”-, there is not only not a piece of scientific evidence to support their claims, but there are plenty to refute it.

Let’s start with Julie Norem’s book, The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking. Dr. Norem, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College, draws on the results of her research [references below] to claim that whether you tend to have positive or negative thoughts is partly determined by your personality. While less anxious people are more likely to have an optimistic approach to life, many anxious types manage their anxiety through a strategy called Defensive Pessimism, whereby the knowledge that they’re prepared for the worst-case scenario allows them to approach threatening tasks without fear and do their best.

According to Dr. Norem, these pessimistic individuals not only “have harnessed the power of their negative thinking to increase their self-esteem and make significant progress toward their personal goals”, but, even more importantly, “many people perform more poorly when forced to think positive, since negative thinking is often an effective strategy for managing anxiety”.

There are particular cases in which the Law of Attraction can be particularly harmful. While concentrating on positive outcomes with the hope to attract wealth is a harmless activity -at most you’ll end disappointed if you fail to win the lottery-, what about those who believe their thoughts may be responsible for their illnesses? What about a person who feels understandably down after being diagnosed with cancer and is unable to shake the fear that, if only they could concentrate on positive thoughts, maybe their illness would be cured?

Plenty of scientific studies show positive thinking is at best useless in affecting cancer survival rates or disease progression [link to US News. More references below]. But every couple of weeks we hear stories in the media about people who supposedly were miraculously cured by the power of positive thinking -disregarding the effect this could have on patients who blame themselves for not being able to reach the mental state that will allow them to beat the illness.

In view of all this evidence, why can coaches on the Law of Attraction continue to defend the success of their methods? They claim to have many satisfied clients. Unfortunately for those who’re not so happy with the results, it’d be virtually impossible to prove the Law of Attraction wrong: whenever a client perceives an improvement in their life, this will be attributed to the success of the Law. Whenever they perceive no change, it’ll be their failure at mastering enough positive thoughts. It’s a win-win situation for those Law-of-attraction gurus!

I hope it’s clear by now how important it is to view the Law of Attraction in a critical light. It may be true that thinking of something we want takes us closer to it, but this will be due to our having clarified our goals and taken action, rather than to the whole universe conspiring to reward our positive thoughts.

At the same time, there are things in life that unfortunately lie beyond our control. Blaming bad thoughts for people’s lack of wealth, loss of jobs, illnesses, and every single negative event in their lives is, at best, simplistic -at worst, it can lead an individual to mental illness or despair.

So do keep striving for improvement, but also maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. Remember, the ultimate goal is not success at all costs, but success accompanied by a minimal level of sanity.


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Coine, James, and others (2007) Emotional well-being does not predict survival in head and neck cancer patients In: Cancer

Norem, Julie and Edward C. Chang (2002) The positive psychology of negative thinking In: Journal of Clinical Psychology

Rittenberg, Cynthia N. (1995) Positive thinking: An unfair burden for cancer patients? In: Supportive Care in Cancer