5 Reasons 'The Secret' and Positive Thinking are Not Crap
A reasonable examination of why positive thinking and affirmations are not total hogwash.
When I was younger, I was full on new age. I paid very close attention to my horoscope (a personalized one, not the sort in a newspaper). I learned to map out the stars believing they were predicting my present and future. I obsessively used Tarot and other types of fortune telling to ease my anxieties about day to day life. As I got older, I grew more skeptical about the unseen. This skepticism also leeched its way into my life, and I started to question my own abilities and validity. Let’s just say mistakes were made. As I transitioned from “magical thinking” back into my rut, I realized my life was becoming total crap. My boss was basically a micromanaging robot, my co-workers were dropping like flies, and I began to question my self-worth and abilities. I navigated my world with a skeptical mind. I landed a new job, in a new city. This time my supervisor was lovely, but my coworkers (whom I spent most of my time) were micromanaging robots whom used me to raise their own self-esteem despite the fact my experience and education were either on par or exceeding their own. This is the Segway into our first reason “The Secret & Positive Thinking” in general aren’t total crap
I have heard so much criticism from skeptics about The Secret; they describe it as “thinking you want a million dollars and it simply appearing like magic if you think positive enough.” If you have ever read any self-help book, the very first truth it serves you is: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN DAMN LIFE. In other words, its not my boss’s fault my job sucks, it’s not [insert person I dislike’s name] fault I don’t feel good about myself. This is 100% on me. Believe it or not, the way people treat us is directly related to what they can get away with, and what the reward or result of this behavior is. As an adult, we are responsible for accepting and facilitating what behavior is inflicted upon us. I have seen snarky, mean-spirited adults thwarted by a very stern, but even kind “please don’t talk to me like that.” Boom, responsibility. This is but a single example of taking responsibility. Your home, your job, your spouse, your outfit – these are all things you chose. So sometimes life boils down into being confident and making better decisions. Which brings us to number two…
2. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t have it.
Another criticism of the self-help world if the idea that visualization = crap. Or at the very least is lying to yourself. Let us examine a scene from the movie, The Secret. I think it was Jack Canfield who uses the example of a man who wants a really fancy car, and Jack encourages the man to “visualize” it. He basically encourages this man to role play driving the car. Close your eyes, feel the stick shift in your hand, the clutch on your feet, see yourself driving the car and feel how amazing it is. Skeptics see a grown-man, playing make-belief about driving a car, say “that’s stupid” and then moving on with their lives. Fun fact: If you can’t actually imagine yourself doing something, you will never do it, have it, be it, whatever. If I started out my academic journey with “I can’t even imagine actually graduating from university” why would I even bother paying the enrolment fee? Let me tell you, skeptics existed; “how is she ever going to do that when she had so much difficulty attending high school?” And if any of those people reading this now, Hey! How’s it going? Yeah, I have my degree and a job and stuff. Hope you’re well. Skeptics hate faith because it is based on the unseen, or something they call “nothing.” But the very fact you are a human being means you come from a long line of other human beings who tried something, and even if they failed they got somewhere. Think about it, early humans started out in Africa and WALKED to all the places people are today. I’m sure there were skeptics who didn’t want to walk and though the whole thing was stupid. Guess what, the tribe ditched them and moved on to discover the world, and the skeptics probably crawled in a hole and died. Which brings me to a fun side note, and our number three…
3. Crabs in a bucket.
I used to work for this really great guy at a non-for-profit in a small community. He would always say “its like crabs in a bucket, just when you’re getting out they pull you back in.” It took a while before I understood what the hell he was talking about. Basically, some people don’t want to see you succeed, overcome, achieve. They would rather everyone just rot in the same pile of bleakness. So, while not a direct piece from The Secret or Positive Thinking, I offer you this: Your will to succeed will make some people feel self-conscious. Similarly, people may want to down play your success. Here is a really lame, yet very Canadian example. My partner and I drove home to visit our families in early February. The weather was very wintery, the roads icy, the snow blowing sideways. We had our route planned, took the car with new winter tires, and decided on taking it easy. Better late than dead. I couldn’t tell you how many texts and calls we got from certain people: “Are the roads bad? Are you okay? I heard its really bad out there! I heard the highway (which we weren’t even on) is closed! Are you okay?” A bit of concern shows caring, but a smother of “support” tells me you think we are incompetent, and think it’s probably an act of god we haven’t died in a ditch from reckless driving. However, this hype had nothing to do with us and our driving, and everything to do with their own insecurity and fear.
Additional side note:
Asking “are you struggling?” is NOT supportive. Just ask “how are you doing?” or even better, “what’s going well?”
So basically, some people don’t want you to succeed because it reminds them their lives suck. The fact you are taking a risk or believing in yourself is just a huge slap in their face cause they don’t take risks, and they don’t believe in themselves.
I am from the world of social work, and we like to borrow things from psychology because its evidence based, clinical trials and what not. If you are familiar with psychology or social work, you are likely aware of concepts such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. A big piece of CBT & DBT are rooted in the practice of mindfulness, something both The Secret and other Positive Thinking guides include. This is where airy fairy concepts such as “meditation” and “grounding” come in. And let me tell you, science doesn’t think these things are airy fairy, because they are used clinically in both inpatient an outpatient treatment programs. The use of mindfulness techniques are used by professionals to avoid and manage symptoms of burnout. Because it works. Basically your feelings, thoughts, and ego aren’t always in line with a reality. That’s where anxiety and self-doubt, or doubt in general come from. Basically, you are what you dwell on. So yeah… from here this basically turns back into 1. Responsibility. Moving on…
5. You’re gonna die, so you may as well try.
I made it rhyme so it wouldn’t sound so sad, but its true. In the words of my favourite YouTuber, Kaitlin Doughty, “Remember, you WILL die.” If you have something you want to do, or be, or try, are you really going to live the rest of your life not even trying? I took a class on Death & Dying, and one of the things we discussed is what terminally ill people regret most. And it’s really sad. In fact, here is a list from Greatist.com they compiled about this very topic.
The 5 Most Common Regrets of the Dying
• I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me…
• I wish I hadn't worked so hard. ...
• I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. ...
• I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. ...
• I wish that I had let myself be happier.
So I guess this last point is saying, if you’re going to be alive, why not feel alive? The person who tried and got a life of experience and the person who ate plain toast their whole life all end up in the same. Dead. So live your life like your life depended on it. Because it does.
Moore, S. (2016, February 16). The 5 Biggest Regrets People Have Before They Die. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from https://greatist.com/live/most-common-regrets
Byrne, R., & Byrne, R. (2006). The secret. New York: Atria Books.