A Cynic’s Guide To “The Secret”

Ask, believe, receive. This is my oldest sister Queenie’s new philosophy, taken from the pages of “The Secret”. If you’re not familiar with “The Secret” then you’ve obviously missed the millions of followers worldwide. “The Secret” is based on the “law of attraction” – a theory that like will attract like. So if you tell the universe that you want a million dollars, all you need to do is ask nicely, believe wholeheartedly that a cheque is flying your way, and hey presto! The universe will respond to your thought’s special frequency, and you will receive.

Does that sound like a bunch of garbage to you? Me too – but Queen credits “The Secret” with her getting to the top of a list for a breast reduction – something she had been told for years would never happen. Tired of my cynical harrumphs on the joys of “The Secret,” Queenie challenged me to try it out for myself before rejecting it out of hand. So this cynic set out a quest: to look at the research for and against “The Secret”, and to take it out for a test-drive.

The good

There’s actually pretty good evidence for a lot of “The Secret. “Believing that you are in control of events that happen to you has been shown to make you more happy, and less stressed and depressed. “The Secret” also requires that you sit down and really think about what you want from life – and setting realistic goals has been shown time and time again to increase people’s well-being.

The other positive of “The Secret” is that it is optimistic by nature; it requires people to really believe that good things are going to happen for them. Hope and happiness are good predictors for quality of life, giving people an edge when it comes to overcoming obstacles, and even for living longer. And by acting as if something great is going to come along, you are making it more likely that great things will happen, since your positive frame of mind will prime you to see opportunities that you might have otherwise missed, and your positive attitude will make others more likely to respond in kind.

The bad

I guffawed through the whole section on the “science” behind “The Secret“. Rhonda Byrne, the author, describes her absolute amazement that despite her having absolutely no education in physics, “The Secret” had bestowed upon her the power to understand difficult books on quantum physics (the mechanism supposedly behind the universe’s uncanny ability to deliver your every wish). I hate to break it to you Rhonda, but as someone who has studied physics, I can say with utter conviction that “The Secret” didn’t deliver you an understanding of quantum mechanics. Instead, it gave you the wonderful power of wishful thinking.

And you know how I said setting realistic goals is good for you? It should come as no surprise that setting unrealistic goals isn’t good for you. If you’re striving for something that is completely beyond your capabilities and resources (such as earning a million dollars in the year that you’re starting out up to your eyeballs in debt and on a government benefit), you’re likely to end up feeling demoralised, and let down.

The ugly

While there are some legit benefits to feeling like you’re the master of your own universe, the dark side of “The Secret” is that it requires you to take the blame for everything bad that befalls you, and to cast the blame on any other poor sucker who’s ever had something bad happen to them. Since imperfect thoughts are deemed to be the direct cause of humanity’s ills, “The Secret” states that natural disasters (like the earthquakes that recently ravaged my homeland) are not due to Mother Nature’s whims, but are actually the tragic consequence of people’s communal negative thinking. “The Secret” has also answered that pesky little poverty question too; according to “The Secret,” people aren’t poor because they lack education, access to resources, or are just unlucky in the circumstances they were born into.  No siree, they attracted that poverty by their imperfect thoughts. Victim-blaming at its finest.

Taking “The Secret” for a test drive

I’ll be honest here: I went into this experiment with a serious chip on my shoulder. Every time I came across something outrageous in the book, I’d gleefully text my sister with proof that “The Secret” is a load of twaddle. Me: Jesus was actually a millionaire, and the whole world could be millionaires if they wanted to be. REALLY? Queenie: Science.

But I’m a firm believer in the scientific method, so I decided to keep an open mind until I saw the results. The book said to start small, so my first manifestation, I focussed on the universe delivering me a coffee. I pictured my creamy soy latte of choice. I told myself that the universe was delivering it to me any second now. And lo and behold, someone offered to buy me a coffee.

Universe: 1, Bex: 0.

For my next manifestative feat, I thought that I’d try something slightly more complicated.  Manfriend and I have recently found out that our apartment has been sold, which has cast us onto the scary seas of flat-hunting, just at the time that all of the students in our town are also frantically searching for a place to live. But “The Secret” says that the asking process is “exactly like placing an order from a catalogue”, so I set my doubts aside, wrote a list of what we wanted from our Dream Flat, and I manifested with all my heart.

As I searched for Dream Flat, I followed the rules by acting as if it was already in the bag. “The Secret has got this sorted,” I lectured myself; “Dream Flat is just waiting for us”. I lay in bed at night, calmly telling my inner critic to reserve judgement, and I visualised Dream Flat. I pictured real estate agents seeing our application and falling in love with us. I imagined our things perfectly arranged in Dream Flat, and I visualised the ensuing domestic bliss that would no doubt result from our new abode. Dingy apartment after dingy apartment, I told myself that Dream Flat was ready and waiting for us, we just had to find it.

The verdict

Universe: 1, Bex: 1.

No dream flat us. Luckily, we found a place that ticked most of the boxes – but it’s by no means the Dream Flat that I put so much effort into manifesting.

So what do I think of “The Secret” now that I’ve tried it out for myself? Well, on the plus side, all that manifesting meant that I was optimistic throughout what would normally have spent me tail spinning into woe-is-me mode. My upbeat attitude meant that it was easy to establish rapport with real estate agents, and I could quickly spot all of the good things about the apartments we saw (A bath! Storage! Parking! Oh my). Focussing on the best case scenario  also made it very clear to me just how much I tend to catastrophize over the worst possible outcome – which if I’m honest, rarely happens. On the down side though, I did start wondering if I deserved my non-Dream House state. Had I accidently sent out negative thoughts? Did the universe somehow know that I wasn’t a true believer?

For Queenie, “The Secret” really has been transformative. There is no denying that it has been a force for good in her life, helping her to clarify her goals and feel positive about her future. I suspect that it works so well for her because she takes the good parts – believing she is responsible for the good things that happen to her – while discarding the victim-blaming side of it. And unlike her cynical sister here, Queenie doesn’t get all caught up in knots about how it works.

So what is this cynic taking away from it? I’m no convert, but I’m definitely going to take a leaf out of “The Secret’s” book and hope for the best a little more often.

Would you test drive “The Secret”? Let us know @LitDarling

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