Believing in the law of attraction isn’t helpful

This post is a kind of short follow-on from my first post on the law of attraction, which examines what it is and whether or not it is plausible. You can find that post here. This post addresses the argument that goes along the lines of “well, even if it’s not that scientifically plausible, isn’t it a good thing to believe in?”


Apparently “Creative visualization is a cornerstone of using the Law of Attraction” [1]. Psychologists seem to vary on whether visualisation boards are a good thing or not [2]. They are commonly suggested by self-help books and even at school or college courses though the Law of Attraction site goes further by suggesting spending 10-15 minutes on this every day. While it can be a good thing to visualise where you want to get to, most psychologists seem to suggest that you do need to then plan concrete steps to get you to your goal such as enrolling on courses, joining a dating site, money management etc. [3].

Affirmations: not always a good thing

Affirmations (another major part of the Law of attraction) can also be a double-edged sword, as research has shown that uttering affirmations that we don’t truly believe can actually reduce our self-esteem [4]. As an aside, I will add that personally I’m a fan of affirmations but it does make sense to stick to things that either are true or that we can easily believe are true.

Using positive affirmations can actually worsen self-esteem, as can the belief that everything is within our control (when things don’t go as we wanted). Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash.

Being in full control of life: a good thing?

The Law of attraction suggests that “your entire future is yours to create” [5] . Well, how lovely. But being told life is entirely in our control can be crushing if things go wrong and we feel that it is all our fault; and even minor failings to achieve our ‘dream life’ are likely to weigh on us if we feel everything is in our control, as Alain de Botton points out here [6].

And how realistic is it that everything is in our control? What about earthquakes and wars, trains going off the rails and terrorist attacks?

The law of attraction tells us “Be happy, for the universe is always on our side!” Maintaining law of attraction beliefs in the face of rape, loss of your home etc. is going to require quite some mental gymnastics. And is it going to encourage us to speak up in the face of injustice or to try to reduce famine, war and abuse? Probably not, if we think that these things are happening “for a reason” or because of people thinking negatively.

“Treat The Universe Like Your Personal Supermarket”

This is one of the principles stated on the law of attraction website. Hmm. Even if it were plausible that a somewhat demented Santa figure is in charge of granting our wishes if we order them correctly, how beneficial is such a belief? Isn’t it rather self-centred? And why hasn’t anyone wished for world peace? Numerous psychologists and philosophers have pointed out that actually we are often at our happiest when serving others and when we lose the heavy sense of our personal weighty existence, be it when ‘in flow’ during a hobby, immersed in a vast landscape, star-gazing or volunteering and immersed in helping others [7].

While it may initially be appealing to imagine a Santa figure in control of the world, much of the law of attraction rhetoric is very self-centred, appealing to those who want to ‘order’ the ‘perfect job/partner/house’ etc. Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash.

What do you think? Comment below.




[3] e.g. Oettingen and Mayer; J Pers & Soc Psych, 2002. and







The Tampa Scale needs amendment

There is a questionnaire used to supposedly identify ‘fear of movement’ called the Tampa Scale. While I would certainly agree that it is worth identifying which patients have wrong beliefs about their condition and the effects of exercise, I also have serious concerns over some of the elements of this questionnaire. It just doesn’t seem like a rational questionnaire, and yet is very widely used and, it seems, rarely questioned.

I’m going to start with my suggested alternative, then go over the items on the original Tampa scale that I think are not going to help identify mistaken beliefs that could be causing a patient to avoid exercise and activity.

Suggested alternative to the Tampa Scale (for identifying mistaken beliefs − obviously some are true and some untrue as in the original):


1. I need to move as little as possible to avoid injury 1 2 3 4
2. Just because something aggravates my pain that usually does not mean it is dangerous 1 2 3 4
3. Sometimes it is a good idea to exercise even though it’s painful 1 2 3 4
4. When people with pain gradually increase their level of activity, they often don’t experience increased pain 1 2 3 4
5. Although my condition is painful, I would probably be healthier if I were more physically active 1 2 3 4
6. Even though something is causing me a bit of pain, I don’t think it’s actually dangerous 1 2 3 4
7. Some people with chronic pain find that exercise reduces their pain levels 1 2 3 4
8. If I exercise less, I’ll get weaker and am then likely to experience more pain 1 2 3 4
9. Worries about injury put me off exercising 1 2 3 4
10. Pain always means I have injured my body 1 2 3 4
11. Pain always means I have injured my body 1 2 3 4
12. Simply being careful that I do not make any unnecessary movements is the safest thing I can do to prevent my pain from worsening 1 2 3 4

Now for my analysis of the original

The ones that make sense (ish):

3. My body is telling me I have something dangerously wrong. (I suppose ‘dangerously’ suggests an element of dramatization if the problem is not life-threatening etc… though surely more a sign of ‘catastrophising’ than movement avoidance?)

Similar to: 11. I wouldn’t have this much pain if there weren’t something potentially dangerous going on in my body.


7. Pain always means I have injured my body.

(Probably the most useful one in my view, as this is definitely false and a harmful view.)


8. Just because something aggravates my pain does not mean it is dangerous. (Very similar to number 7. Patients need to be informed this is true, if they are not aware it is. Though I would suggest amending it to ‘Just because something aggravates my pain usually does not mean it is dangerous’ because sometimes pain is a sign of danger, obviously! Pain can warn us we are about to tear or break something.)


10. Simply being careful that I do not make any unnecessary movements is the safest thing I can do to prevent my pain from worsening. (Does sound a bit extreme, and shows lack of awareness that inactivity may increase pain long-term.)

Related to: 17. No one should have to exercise when he/she is in pain. (Quite moralistic but I suppose passible. ‘Sometimes it is a good idea to exercise even though it’s painful’ would be better.)


14. It’s really not safe for a person with a condition like mine to be physically active. (Probably a wrong belief in most cases where the questionnaire would be used, so fair enough.)

The ones that are problematic either in general or for some conditions (such as Ehlers Danlos):

2. If I were to try to overcome it, my pain would increase. (Sounds like an unhealthy battle that might well happen that way! Pacing and acceptance of pain are surely more accepted approaches? How about ‘Gradually increasing my level of activity often doesn’t lead to increased pain’?)


5. People aren’t taking my medical condition seriously enough. (No comment needed surely?! Whoever thought that was a sensible one?)


4. My pain would probably be relieved if I were to exercise. (For many people this won’t be true, so strongly disagreeing is the rational option.)

The same goes for: 12. Although my condition is painful, I would be better off if I were physically active. (What does ‘better off’ mean? Why not say ‘healthier’? That would be true in more cases. Being physically active – another subjective term  – might make some people less happy due to the increased pain and fatigue and so ‘better off’ might not feel appropriate to them.)


6. My accident has put my body at risk for the rest of my life. (Ambiguous. Surely accidents do create a greater risk of re-injury in many cases? Or does it mean at risk of death, which probably would be a wrong belief?)

See also: 1. I’m afraid that I might injure myself if I exercise. (In some cases this might be highly unlikely, in other cases quite likely e.g. if you have EDS and are prone to dislocations and sprains, even during very mild exercise).

The same applies to: 9. I am afraid that I might injure myself accidentally.

A related one is: 13. Pain lets me know when to stop exercising so that I don’t injure myself. (Again, is this really unreasonable in all cases? Since when was completely ignoring pain a good idea?)

And: 15. I can’t do all the things normal people do because it’s too easy for me to get injured. (People with EDS are generally advised to avoid contact sports, for example, so again this is not going to be unreasonable in all cases.)

Also: 16. Even though something is causing me a lot of pain, I don’t think it’s actually dangerous. (Are we really advocating that people do things that cause a lot of pain? I’ve generally not been advised to do that, and indeed if something does cause a lot of pain that could be a sign you are about to or have injured yourself.)


Are you a medical practitioner or patient? I’d love to hear your views!

Do also check out my post on re-examining the concept of kinesiophobia in chronic pain patients.

Do you think my scale is a better one for identifying when patients are being inactive due to wrong beliefs? Comment below! Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash.