The Bullshit that is The Secret
It’s not based on science, and it’s important that we say that.
If you believe this video, please leave now.
There are few things in the world that piss me off more than uneducated, pseudo-scientific bullshit like that.
Let me say that again, in case you missed it.
“The Secret” is a load of hogwash, pseudo-scientific, BULLSHIT.
There, I said it.
Please feel free to flame me if you disagree. I stand behind this sentence.
There is absolutely no scientific basis for the premises behind the Secret.
Let’s be clear.
Do I believe thoughts can change the course of your life?
Hell yeah, I do. Mindfulness meditation is about directing your thoughts, and it’s been provably demonstrated to have an impact on our lives and change our brain structure.
Do I believe that visualizations have the power to change lives?
Sure, when used wisely as part of a system of self-improvement and deliberate practice. It’s been consistently shown that top athletes routinely visualize their success and that can have significant impact.
Guess what else top athletes do.
What about millionaires? Did they visualize their wealth before they got rich?
Well, maybe. But they also went out into the world and did useful things to make money.
Visualizations can guide you in taking the right actions, can change your intuitive sense of what you want out of life, and do a million other things.
But just visualizing something and wishing it will NOT make it so.
Otherwise smart people…
I know several people, otherwise very smart and educated individuals, who believe in this superstitious blah-blah.
I’ve found that this type of thinking often gains credulity around multi-level-marketing and “get rich quick” schemes.
I had a friend who believed so much in the Secret, that when she rolled the dice in a board game, she would think in her head of the number she wanted to come out — sincerely believing that her thoughts would influence the roll of a random die.
Are you fucking kidding me?
(And of course, occasionally she would actually roll that number, making her believe all the more. In case you haven’t heard, this is called confirmation bias.)
Do no harm?
Shiri, take a chill pill, you might say. So people believe in something that’s not true. They also believe that if a black cat crosses the street, they’ll experience bad luck. Why do you care? What’s the big deal?
Actually, it’s a HUGE deal.
Pseudo-scientific theories like The Secret are a problem not only because they spread “magical thinking”, but also because of the negative impact on how we see ourselves.
The dark side of the Secret
It’s been said before, but the dark underbelly of the laws of attraction is also that, if something bad happens to you, it’s your fault.
Because you didn’t attract positive thoughts into your life, and you dwelled on the negative, you got negative outcomes. This is a classic blame-the-victim mentality.
But wait, it gets worse.
It turns out, that setting non-realistic goals can be seriously harmful.
And using affirmations that you don’t actually believe in can do more harm than good — especially for the people who need them most.
Worst of all, “The Secret” absolves us from the responsibility of actually taking ownership of our life experiences, and our role in them — acknowledging what portions of them we actually can control; while at the same time telling us that whatever we do, if we just think through what we want, that in itself will be enough.
I call B.S. … and I’m not the only one.
Skeptics and scientists around the world have denounced the Secret and the Laws of Attraction as being unfalsifiable, and basically a load of crock.
Stop using magical thinking to solve your problems.
I believe sincerely in the power of thoughts to change our lives.
In fact, my entire life changed with one thought, after my friend Ayal died:
I could have not thought that thought.
I could have thought it, but not given it room.
I could’ve pushed it away and focused on my day-to-day existence, but I didn’t.
I held that thought, and I gave it room, and I thought about the implications, and I started taking action.
I didn’t know what a better life would look like, but I knew I wanted it.
Yet, I didn’t magically expect a better life to materialize out of thin air.
I went out and created a better life for myself.
I defined my own happiness, my own success.
And the closer I got to it, the more I understood about what I wanted it to look like.
What are you going to do about it?
If you want to be rich, that’s great! Healthy? Wonderful. What are you going to do about it?
Here are a few starting points.
Want to be rich, or simply get out of debt?
Go read Ramit Sethi, and actually do what he tells you to.
Want to be healthier?
Want to be more productive?
Go implement David Allen’s GTD system (which was originally developed through his consulting practice, but which is based on many sound scientific principles).
Want to be more in tune with yourself?
But don’t just sit there, and tell yourself that if you just close your eyes and visualize your perfect lifestyle, it will jump out of your head, fully formed, like Athena leaping from the head of Zeus.
Here’s a dirty little secret of my own.
It takes work to become the best version of yourself. A LOT of hard work.
And it’s totally, totally worth it.
Shiri Dori-Hacohen is a Computer Science PhD Candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; her research focuses on building computational models of controversy. Outside of work, she writes about self-development from a scientific perspective. To hear more about her upcoming book, “B. The Best You: The Art and Science of Becoming a Better Version of Yourself”, sign up for her mailing list. If you like this post, please scroll down and recommend it to others.