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Be a Super Changer, Not a Super Attractor

Over-confidence and blind privilege are no substitute for real opportunity.

I picked up Gabrielle Bernstein’s Super Attractor a few days ago and quickly realized my mistake. In the tradition of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret , here was another motivational speaker convinced that every bad thing that happens to us is our own fault. Toxic boss at work? Have more fun in your workplace and new work opportunities will appear. Feeling down because you lost your job, your mother is ill, or you can’t conceive? Simply take a positive attitude towards life and the universe will reward you with love and hope.

To be fair, there is a small amount of truth to the super attractor concept. Our minds are powerful tools and both how we perceive the world, and how we attribute the causes of what we experience, will shape our emotional landscape and behavior. If I accurately assess my boss as a "winner-take-all" bully and take notice of who else around me is struggling in my toxic workplace, I’m much more likely to enjoy my coffee break with people who will support me when I complain. In other words, an accurate perception of injustice, and clear-minded assessments of what needs to change, are important to any successful career path.

But like any good medicine, too much of a good thing is not healthy. To be overly optimistic creates a paradox: We adapt to what is clearly a toxic environment, believing that if we keep being nice the universe’s love will show itself. Try telling that to people who experience sexual harassment and racism daily, and one quickly sees that overconfidence in our ability to change others is, at best, narcissism, and at worse, a path to years of unhappiness.

Our attribution style is part of this. Super attractors seem to believe that they are privileged with the love of the universe (which makes one wonder why that universal love doesn’t reach abused children or young immigrants who work hard but are still denied housing because of their race, ethnicity, or status). A healthy attribution style means understanding what we can control on our own, what we have little or no control over, and when we need to ask for help.

Like prosperity preachers who tell you that funding them will get you into heaven, when clearly your money would be better spent on your child’s education or retraining for a better job, the super attractor con is that it makes privilege seem attainable if we simply smile at people on the street (assuming, I guess, that they don’t mistakenly call the police to report us walking where we supposedly don’t belong) or believe that we can overcome cancer. But what about all the people who try and try, or donate dollar after dollar, and still don’t succeed? Their stories are missing because they don’t support the narrative that the universe is just waiting to love you. If these individuals have failed, or so the theory goes, it’s because they didn’t believe in the universe’s love with enough fervor. I believe that is called blaming the victim, a term I’m confident you’ll never find in Super Attractor .

I don’t mean to be a pessimist. The solution to success is actually one of balance. Let me give a nod to the one truth in Super Attractor : A positive attitude and hopefulness for a better future can elevate our mood and give us the energy to make changes in our lives. Optimists tend to have larger social networks and are more likely to access information when they need help making decisions. A positive life orientation, however, must be balanced by an accurate appraisal of the social and physical condition of the environment around us and the opportunities we realistically have for success. A toxic workplace isn’t going to change because you smile more. Your cancer isn’t going to go away because you show gratitude for the brief moments when you are pain-free.

Sustainable change happens when we are "super changers," with the motivation to change the world around us in ways that make resources easier to find. That smile in the workplace will be effective if it draws the attention of your fellow workers and you find the emotional and practical support to lodge a complaint with HR about your boss’ treatment of you. Your cancer is much more likely to be cured if you have health care or sign up for support so your medications are subsidized. Each of these solutions, of course, depends on rather mundane things like workplace safety legislation and health-care funding, topics absent from books about taking a syrupy view of life.

At a time when there is heightened sensitivity to issues of social justice, thinking that the universe loves us may be inspiring but it can also ignore what needs to change. Adapting to a bad situation is not the path to success unless it is a temporary stop on the road to social transformation.

References

Bernstein, G. (2019). Super attractor. New York: Hay House.

Byrne, R. (2018). The secret. New York: Atria.

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