1. “The Secret” is a Dangerous Book
The Secret was originally published in 2006, and it’s been a phenomenal hit since then. To be more exact it took an epidemic scale, the world’s best selling book for a given year was neither the Bible nor the Koran. The profitable piece of literature is titled “The Secret,” written by Rhonda Byrne, who also produced a film under the same title. After it had been presented on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the brand exploded. According to Forbes magazine, up to 2009, both the film and the book, the “Secret” had generated more than $300 million in sales.
The book is a “classical” example of self-help books, a very popular category in recent years. A simple search on Amazon.com will show almost 145.000 results for self-help e-books alone.
“The Secret” is simply the “law of attraction.” Essentially, the law of attraction states that whatever consumes your thoughts is what you will eventually get in life. So, if you think of all the things you don’t want in your life, you’ll only get the things you don’t want. By contrast, if you only envision the things you want in your life, then you will get everything you want in life.
Whereas previous self-help authors have hardly even bothered trying to explain why the law of attraction works, Byrne unabashedly dives into some cosmological nonsense. She argues that the reason The Secret works is because The Universe is made up of energy (and, as Einstein taught us, matter can be converted to energy and vice versa) and all energy has a frequency. Your thoughts also emit a frequency, and like attracts like; therefore, the frequency of your thoughts, good or bad, will resonate with the frequency of other “energies,” good or bad, in The Universe.
The basic premise behind “The Secret” is that you are what you’ve attracted. That is to say; what comes to you is the result of your vibrational energy that you’re releasing. The idea that you can use energy for healing purposes is certainly nothing new and isn’t a secret. In fact, it’s the basic foundation of ancient Chinese medicine, called “Chi.”
The Secret takes this concept a few steps further though. Rather than making the film what I at first thought could be an educational piece of material towards alternative medicine, The Secret suggests that you can achieve all of your heart’s passions and desires through sheer thought, willpower, and positive thinking alone. Ironically enough, the film directs us on a low level energy materialistic plain that a part of my ethnicity would consider “bad medicine.”
Immediately, the film is contradicting their opening hypothesis. While such thinking on the short term may feel good; long term, you’re leading yourself astray down a path of envy, disappointment, and emptiness.
There exists no discussion in The Secret as to how a visionary can go about achieving his or her goals. In actuality, it’s just the opposite, goal setting and planning is considered unattractive to the philosophy of the Secret because they believe it will “limit you.”
The film and book also comes across as deceitful. One of the opening arguments is that there is a conspiracy amongst the wealthy and successful to keep “The Secret” hidden from the general public. The film then goes on to explain that for the first time in history, “The Secret” will be revealed to the public due to the virtuous psyche of the film producers. This demonstrated arrogance is blatantly false.
This again represents a contradiction; if the wealthy became successful due to their energetic vibrations and positive thinking, how could it be kept in secret? Wouldn’t they have to release this positive energy amongst the people and share such knowledge in order to benefit from it? How can they be attracting material through positive thinking if they keep the positive thinking amongst themselves? The theory is inconsistent.
If you only worry about debt and not having enough money and say to yourself over and over “I can’t afford that,” then The Universe will respond in kind and you will always be poor. If you believe that you are rich and wealthy and successful, The Universe will respond to these vibrations and soon provide you with the wealth and success you desire.
2. The Staggering Bullshit of ‘The Secret’
The Secret actually requires that you never doubt yourself, never consider negative repercussions, and never indulge in negative thoughts. This is the confirmation bias on steroids and it can be dangerous: taking on risky business ventures or investments, ignoring red flag behaviors from a romantic partner, denying personal problems or health issues, avoiding necessary confrontations, failing to weigh the possibility of failure in decision making, and so on. While this sort of “delusionally positive” thinking may make one feel better in some (or even many) situations, as a long-term life strategy, it is utterly disastrous.
But this prescription for “delusionally positive” thinking can have negative consequences for people as well. Psychological research shows that trying to suppress thoughts about something only makes those thoughts more likely to recur. In fact, rumination and obsession appear to operate in this manner, especially in people with chronic mental disorders like OCD, depression, and anxiety: the more you try to get rid of unwanted thoughts, the more these thoughts dominate your mental space. It’s like if I tell you, “Never think about a pink elephant!” the first thing that likely pops into your mind is a pink elephant. Thinking about the things you do not want can lead to more negative thinking and put you in a vicious cycle of negativity.
Research also shows that actively engaging in positive thinking, such as when you imagine getting a job, doing well on an exam, or even successfully recovering after surgery, can actually result in poorer outcomes. Psychologists think that this kind of delusional positive thinking can make us complacent and lazy, as though we already accomplished something we have yet to accomplish, causing us to put forth less effort and to feel less motivated.
Delusional positive thinking ironically generates greater closed-mindedness in people. They must always be vigilant and block out potentially negative feedback or criticism of their beliefs, even if that negative feedback is life-or-death important to their health and well-being.
3. THE PYRAMID SCHEME OF POSITIVE THINKING
It’s a psychological pyramid scheme of sorts. You take one person who decides to ignore reality in favor of feeling good all the time, this sort of self-absorption then turns off anybody who is content and rational, and instead attracts the most desperate and gullible. This person, delusionally positive to the brim, then ironically attracts and surrounds themselves with other delusionally positive followers. Years later, one of these delusionally positive followers then decides to “manifest” their dreams by spreading the law of attraction further to other desperate well-wishers.
And so it goes, on through the years and down through the generations. Byrne is just the latest manifestation. There will be others. Books like The Secret are like McDonald’s for the mind. They’re easy and make you feel good, but they also make you mentally fat and lazy, and emotionally, you die a much more painful death.
It is therefore, by definition, a painful process full of resistance and anxiety. You can’t grow muscle without challenging it with greater weight. You can’t build emotional resilience without forging through hardship and loss. And you can’t build a better mind without challenging your own beliefs and assumptions. Ultimately, the law of attraction states that if you just think about what you want, it will come to you—when taken to its logical extreme, it encourages you to always be wanting something, to never be content, and this can make us less happy in the long run.
follow Mark Manson is an author, blogger and entrepreneur who writes at markmanson.net