Friday, December 28, 2012

Wouldn't it be great if you could get everything you ever wanted, everything you ever dreamed of, simply by wishing for it really hard? According to Rhonda Byrne, you can.

In her bestselling book "The Secret", Ms. Byrne and a few similar-thinking people advise that the path to success is to visualize what you want. Rhonda asserts that our thoughts are energy and this energy is emitted out of our brains and across the universe. The "Secret" of the title is that "like attracts like". In other words, whatever you think about and wish for will come true, whether you think positive thoughts or negative thoughts. Our mind sends out impulses of energy and attracts back to us whatever we are thinking. If we think about our debt, for example, more bills will arrive in the mail; however, if we shift our thinking and visualize money coming in, checks will appear in our mailbox in place of those bills. The universe will simply read our thoughts and transform itself accordingly.

She compares the universe to the story of the magic genie that comes out of the magic lamp proclaiming "Your wish is my command". The universe, she insists, is much like this genie; ready to grant our every wish as long as we wish it hard enough. Byrne offers no explanation why this should occur and urges the reader not to question how, but instead focus on positive thoughts, which, she insists, are the powerful force that will change your life.

If I sound skeptical, it's not because I reject all of Ms. Byrne's ideas. I believe in the power of a positive mental attitude; I believe that the secret to happiness is the belief that we can change our life for the better; I believe that optimism can contribute to a healthy life; and I have observed that we tend to attack our goals more effectively when we are enthusiastic about them.

But I also have learned that positive thinking is generally not sufficient for success. We also need a plan to achieve our goals. And often we need to work hard to execute that plan. Plans and hard work are not part of Ms. Byrne's Secret. For her and her followers, it's all about visualizing that new car or an awesome life partner or a cure for your disease. Wish it really hard and you will mysteriously get it.

Byrne does not cite any studies or indeed provide any real evidence of her theories, but she does quote a lot of people with impressive titles like "Philosopher", "Metaphysicist", and "Visionary". She also provides a handful of anecdotes to support her ideas. However, most of the people in these anecdotes are either unnamed or are the same visionaries and philosophers who contributed to her book.

If you've already seen the film of the same name, you won't need to read the book - it's basically a transcript of the movie. The difference is that the book adds credibility because it is printed on paper the color of aged parchment and the movie provides credibility by allowing you to see that many of Ms. Byrne’s supporters look and act like television evangelists. Both the book and the movie have lots of calligraphy, so you know they are serious.

If you want to take the first step toward change, I recommend you include positive thinking as part of your strategy. But if you are serious about changing your life and achieving your goals, I suggest you look for a self-help book that is closer to the opposite edge of the fantasy-reality continuum.