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?”

Visualisation

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.

kinga-cichewicz-despondent-woman
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].

caleb-woods-father-christmas
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.

References

[1] http://www.thelawofattraction.com

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201107/how-positive-thinking-and-vision-boards-set-you-fail

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-psychology-dress/201111/visualize-it

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-blame-game/201205/throw-away-your-vision-board-0

[3] e.g. Oettingen and Mayer; J Pers & Soc Psych, 2002. and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201107/how-positive-thinking-and-vision-boards-set-you-fail

[4] https://lifehacker.com/positive-self-affirmation-may-backfire-on-people-with-l-1593723648

[5] http://www.thelawofattraction.com/what-is-the-law-of-attraction

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtSE4rglxbY

[7] http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/getting-in-the-flow/; http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/caring/; http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160420-how-nature-is-good-for-our-health-and-happiness; http://dilja.co.uk/the-benefits-of-feeling-small/ http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/strengths-and-virtues

 

 

2 thoughts on “Believing in the law of attraction isn’t helpful”

  1. I have only just got around to reading your second part. It is very well thought out and I actually learned something that I did not know and that is that “uttering affirmations that we don’t truly believe can actually reduce our self-esteem” It was in looking for positive affirmations on youtube to play to myself, that first made me aware of the law of attraction and caused me to investigate it further from other sources, such as websites and books. It became very apparent very quickly, that youtube was not going to be the best source for affirmations, given every single video I found was just affirming law of attraction doctrine. I’m glad I only looked for non subliminal affirmations or else who knows what might have been programmed into my sub-conscious mind or does the sub-conscious disregard affirmations we don’t truly believe too? Actually not fair to ask you that, I should do my investigating.

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    1. Haha to be honest I would want to look into that before giving an answer! But I’d imagine the subconscious is less likely to absorb material we’re skeptical of than material that fits with our existing feelings about life. It’s a fascinating topic I think! It’s interesting to hear how you discovered the law of attraction as well, as I had been wondering (for me it was via people I met at meditation events initially).
      Yes, the affirmations data is interesting. It’s still a popular practice among many life coaches and such and I guess it can be helpful if you pitch them right, so that they’re things you genuinely believe, but tend to forget or overlook. I’ve used them myself but when I looked back at them after discovering the downsides of affirmations, I decided that most of them were things I more or less believed, on some level at least. You could have a go at just writing them or recording them yourself perhaps, if you’re still interested, instead of using someone else’s. Then you can tailor them carefully to the situation and aims.
      I’ve been thinking for a while about writing a post about unreliable information online, and you’ve definitely spurred me on! After being misled myself a few times, I’ve become a lot more careful.
      One thing I do like is the NHS website, which evaluates health claims made in the press and online, and provides (on the whole) more accurate information than some other sites. And their info is often getting ranked first in Google now, so that’s something (I’ve also heard Mayo Clinic isn’t bad). The NHS has started using YouTube as well, presumably recognising the problem of people getting a lot of inaccurate health information on there. It would be good to see the same applied to other areas of science.

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