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One year ago I wrote an article in Psychology Today called, Throw Away Your Vision Board. I suggested replacing your Vision Board with The Action Board. Almost 200,000 hits later, I am still getting emails ranging from requests for more information to hate mail from Vision Board proponents.
This article will focus on why a law of attraction is not a healthy concept and how even proponents of this so-called law act as if it weren’t perfect or universal.
Vision Boards (Dream Boards) are physical representations of your goals or desires. Made popular by the book and movie, The Secret; they are a collection of motivational sayings, photographs, and cut-outs from magazines. The principle behind most Vision Boards is a law of attraction, which states that “like attract like”. As it claims in The Secret, positivity always attracts positivity and negativity always attracts negativity.
So what does it really mean that like always attracts like? As Vision Board proponents have emphasized, it means that if you really want your goals to come true, you should not have any doubt about achieving them. To have doubts is negative. Therefore, visualize your goals as if they have already happened and live in a way that shows you’ve already achieved your goal.
What's wrong with a law of attraction?
1. No scientific proof: The law of attraction is based on debunked scientific theory and metaphysical pseudoscience – positive electrons, ether transmission, sound not being transmitted through air, oxygen levels getting higher with increasing altitude, more intense thinking leading to higher frequency vibrations, brain matter being composed of ether, brain waves being similar to radio waves, the Universe creating new supplies from the “formless stuff”, thoughts traveling around the world and entering other people’s brains to cause impulsive ideas, two brains can get together and think similar thoughts to create a 3rd mastermind, etc.
2. Less Motivation, Less Energy, Less Success: Several research studies show that when you have idealized positive fantasies, your motivation and energy to achieve goals dramatically decreases (Kappes & Oettingen: J Exp Soc Psych, 47: 2011). If you are truly able to convince yourself that you’ve already achieved your goal, physiologically and behaviorally you can now relax and celebrate the achievement. In contrast, realistic fantasies are associated with greater success and motivation. College graduates visualizing having their dream job are less likely to get that job than those who visualize how and where they are going to apply (Oettingen and Mayer; J Pers & Soc Psych, 2002). When women in a weight loss program have a picture of a skinny model on their weight loss diary, they actually gain weight as compared to having a picture of a neutral figure where they lose weight (Klesse A-K, et al. Int J Marketing Res. 29: 2012). Visualizing ideal positives often lead to negatives.
3. Poorer Relationships: Young adults with idealistic positive fantasies (perfect happiness) were less likely to form meaningful relationships than those with more realistic fantasies. (Oettingen and Mayer; J Pers & Soc Psych, 2002).
4. No Plans: While early authors of the thought movement (Wattles, Napoleon Hill, and Stone) wrote about the importance of making plans, Rhonda Byrne author of The Secret suggest that because there is a law of attraction, you should never make plans. Making plans shows that you have doubts that the Universe will give this to you – thus a negative. “How it will happen, how the Universe will bring it to you, is not your concern or job. Allow the Universe to do it for you. When you are trying to work out how it will happen, you are emitting a frequency that contains a lack of faith – that you don’t believe you have it already. The how is not your part in the Creative Process.” (Rhonda Byrne). In contrast, The Secret contributor, Jack Canfield’s website states, “…with Jack’s guidance, you’ll craft a plan for turning your goal into reality.” I agree that plans are critical, however, it is inconsistent with a belief in a law of attraction.
5. No Action: If you believe in a law of attraction, as it states in The Secret, you should not take action to make things happen. Taking action is a negative as it suggests that you doubt the Universe. Be positive that it already happened. Early authors of the power of thinking, Wattles, Hill, and Stone emphasized the importance of taking action to make things happen. While I agree with this sentiment, it is inconsistent with a law of attraction and a belief that you have already accomplished what you want. It is interesting that every contributor to The Secret has taken actions to achieve success. Not one of them played a passive role and achieved success through simply pretending that it had already occurred. Some indicate that inspired action is acceptable. However, why is there a need to take any action if you’ve already achieved your goal? Any suggestion of a need to take action is against a law of attraction because you are no longer living as if it already happened. Taking action, inspired or not, acknowledges that you know the goal has not been attained and that you need to play a role in making it happen – the Universe won’t do it alone.
6. No Date: If you believe that your goal has already been achieved, you can never set a completion date. Research studies have shown that setting timelines is motivating and keeps you goal-directed. (Taylor et al: Am Psychol. 1998).
7. No Challenges: As a law of attraction requires you to live as if your goals have been completed, you should never contemplate challenges. Challenges are considered negative. Early writers of the thought movement, viewed challenges as being beneficial. But how can you think about challenges if you’ve already achieved what you want? Even talking about challenges and obstacles is an admission of doubt in a law of attraction. Positive and social psychology research have identified many benefits to planning for and encountering challenges. A healthy attitude toward challenges is associated with increased resilience and greater success.
8. Mindlessness: Visualizing a possible future as if it has already occurred means that you are not living mindfully in the present. The positive power of mindfulness in lowering stress, depression, and enhancing life satisfaction – The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle) is mitigated when you are spending your time dreaming about the future. Multiple studies show how much more beneficial it is to visualize a process rather than visualizing the outcome. Being fully engaged in and appreciating the process is the road to mindfulness. If you’ve already achieved success you don’t need to concern yourself with the process. Professional athletes use visualization to become proficient (and even gain strength) in their sport. However, they do this by visualizing the process - how they will train. More than the outcome – standing with a medal.
9. No empathy or compassion: Since you don’t want to attract any negativity, do not give any money to the poor or help anyone in poverty. People are only poor because of their poor thoughts. A law of attraction would say that helping them only increases your chances of becoming poor. Law of attraction supporters also suggest that you don’t talk to anyone about their illnesses or health issues because it will bring sickness into your life. Thus, if you truly believe in a law of attraction, you would never become: a doctor, nurse, or any form of healthcare professional (or anyone who works in a hospital), clergy (or anyone who listens to people discuss their hardships), mental health practitioner (psychologist, social worker, coach), community service worker dealing with anyone who gets injured (eg. police, firefighter, or paramedic), or anyone helping those not doing well financially (eg. accountant, mortgage broker, banker). You would never volunteer for any charity or donate to a charity. If there is a law of attraction, we would predict that anyone in any of the above professions would be less healthy, less wealthy, and satisfied with life. It is interesting that contributors to the book, The Secret, in contradiction to a law of attraction, are indeed altruistic and have all contributed to charities; some even started their own organization to help the needy.
10. No support groups: As it states in The Secret, if you are trying to lose weight, avoid looking at or interacting with people who are overweight. This is correct; if you believe in a law of attraction, you should not join alcoholics anonymous, weight watchers, or any support group for a physical (diabetes, cardiac, stroke, etc) or psychological (OCD, phobia, divorce, PTSD, etc) condition. The law of attraction predicts that these support groups would worsen rather than alleviate any symptoms.
11. Blaming yourself: As Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret says, “The only reason why people do not have what they want is because they are thinking more about what they don’t want than what they want. The law is absolute and there are no mistakes. Like all the laws of nature, there is utter perfection in this law.” In addition she claims that, “Nothing can come into your experience unless you summon it through persistent thoughts.” If you are unsuccessful in attaining your goal, it is because you introduced some negativity or doubt. Thus, as Vision Board coaches have explained to me, if a Vision Board is not successful, it’s your fault. As a proponent of being accountable, I believe that we are each responsible for our thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions. However, as Dr. Stephen Covey stated, we are not responsible for the actions or thoughts of others. My thoughts do not control everyone else’s actions. This kind of thinking results in lowered self-esteem, excessive self-blame, and decreases the ability to problem-solve, learn from the lack of success, and move toward a better solution. Jack Canfield has successfully helped millions of people become more responsible for their lives. In The Secret, he writes, “Our job is not to figure out the how.” Not a statement of responsibility.
12. Blame the victim: Since like always attracts like, if someone has a disease or an accident, it must be their fault. Here is what Rhonda Byrne has written in The Secret about personal responsibility:
“…the condition of being overweight was created through your thought to it. To put it in the most basic terms, if someone is overweight, it came from thinking ‘fat thoughts,’ whether that person was aware of it or not. A person cannot think ‘thin thoughts’ and be fat. It completely defies the law of attraction. Whether people have been told they have a slow thyroid, a slow metabolism, or their body size is hereditary, these are all disguises for thinking ‘fat thoughts’. Think perfect thoughts and the result must be perfect weight. Food cannot cause you to put on weight, unless you think it can.”
Here are some additional quotes from believers in a law of attraction: “Disease cannot live in a body that’s in a healthy emotional state.” (Bob Proctor) “Illness cannot exist in a body that has harmonious thoughts. Imperfect thoughts are the cause of all humanity’s ills, including disease, poverty, and unhappiness.” (Rhonda Byrne).
It’s not hard to read between the lines to see BLAME, BLAME, BLAME. The victims of rape or assault have somehow brought this negativity upon themselves. If positive only attracts positive, then why do good/positive people get hurt? School shootings: were those kids and teachers all thinking negative thoughts? Victims of the Holocaust, Sept. 11 attacks, or any terrorist actions, victims of tornadoes, earthquakes, childhood diseases, and illnesses. Are all the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at my hospital there because of their imperfect thoughts? If you believe in a law of attraction, then your answer to these questions is “yes”.
I do not have a bias against Vision Boards. I do have a bias towards utilizing goal-setting techniques that have been shown to work and do not involve unhealthy blaming. The next article will describe how a Principle (not a Law) of Attraction, based on Positive Psychology, will enhance resilience, happiness, and success.
You can read more about the Principle of Attraction, other Key to Achieve Principles, and how to apply them to create The Action Board on the new website: www.TheKeytoAchieve.com.
Check out the new website www.NeilFarber.com