The Law of Attraction empowers people to think more positively, but at what cost? Explore the complexities of the Law of Attraction.
The concept of the Law of Attraction, which is often called “manifesting,” refers to the idea that we can create our realities and make our dreams and wishes come true through the power of thought. Imagine hard enough, the theory goes, and you can get whatever you want.
What Works About the Law of Attraction
Before I get into the serious problems with this idea, I’ll start with what works about it. There are some very real psychological benefits to setting intentions, hoping, and imagining. Having a goal and hope for a better future can help us push through difficult times. Imagining can shift our brains out of a depressive rut and into hope and possibility, which is wonderful.
Something called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon happens when we start seeing something everywhere that we never really noticed before. Also called the Frequency Illusion, it often appears when someone learns something new and then discovers that new thing all over the place. It’s a combination of selective attention, which means our brains tend to notice what we’re focused on, and confirmation bias, which means our brains look for evidence to prove what we already believe.
The Law of Attraction basically uses these cognitive phenomena to our benefit: When we’re focused on a goal, we’re more likely to see opportunities in alignment with that intention, act on them, and then feel connected and supported when we get closer to that goal. There’s nothing wrong with any of that.
What Doesn’t Work About the Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction emphasizes the power of positive thinking. Thinking positively has huge benefits, of course, but it can also come at the major expense of processing very real emotions. If our thoughts create our reality, it follows that negative thoughts create negative realities. We can start to fear any hint of sadness or anger, which are important emotions to process and work with for our general health and wellbeing. Even more insidious, the implication is that if we’re suffering or something bad happens to us, it’s our fault—we must have created that reality by having too many negative thoughts.
Processing our difficult emotions is a key aspect of health and wellness. All of our emotions have a reason and a purpose, and they must be attended to. When we don’t, they can creep up in subtler ways, such as through subtle self-sabotage or even long-term health issues. And when we think that having negative, scary, uncomfortable, or anxious thoughts is going to create those realities, it can cause even more anxiety and fear.
Again, from a psychological perspective, negative thoughts can be detrimental. If you’re sure you’re going to fail a test, you’re less likely to study and more likely to be under stress when you take the test which, yes, will make it harder to do well. Stereotype threat is a psychological phenomenon that’s been studied on many groups of people; it shows that when you’re told that the group you belong to tends to perform poorly on a given test, you’ll perform worse on that test. When those same groups are given the same test with neutral instructions that don’t mention the stereotype, the groups tend to fare about the same as any other group. On the other hand, thinking you don’t need to study because of the power of positive thinking will also likely cause you to fail.
Do Our Thoughts Create Our Reality?
We can’t control our thoughts. We can direct and redirect our attention, but we can’t prevent anxious thoughts or emotions, and ignoring them in the name of some spiritual principle is called spiritual bypassing, which prevents our emotional and spiritual growth.
We also can’t control the outcome of our actions. One of the most fundamental lessons of the Bhagavad Gita is that we must let go of the fruits of our actions, as we only have control over our intentions. The Hindu understanding of karma teaches that actions have consequences, but that those consequences are not always immediately obvious and can take lifetimes to show up. We have to understand that there are always factors beyond our control that play into what happens or doesn’t. We can’t control the outcome, but we can control our intentions and our actions, so it’s best to focus on that.
It’s incredibly valuable to set intentions and clarify what we want. Having difficult feelings as we move toward a goal is normal and okay. When we can be gentle with those feelings, listen to them, and adjust our behaviors when and if we need to, they can actually help us on our journey. But we must remember that a negative outcome isn’t a punishment. It’s not something we ever had total control over. When something doesn’t work out, we can consider what we might have done differently. Sometimes there’s learning there, and sometimes all we need to do is let it go.
Learn how hesitation can be a beneficial step in our spiritual learning process.