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The Power of Wishful Thinking

For three weeks, Rebecca DiLiberto has been faithfully following the rules of The Secret, the Oprah-approved self-help phenomenon that's spent the last three months on the New York Times bestseller list. The Secret’s central idea is the "law of attraction," which teaches that your thoughts are magnets, pulling in your fortune. Dream for a Ferrari and your fantasies will deliver the latest model; fret about your dwindling bank account and it will shrink.

DiLiberto has thrown herself into a three-week regime of listless fantasizing. For the sake of this experiment, she has pretended to drive an imaginary car, affixed inspirational post-its to her bathroom furniture, and concentrated extremely hard on her empty mailbox. In return, the Law of Attraction has brought her a healthy tax refund and a table at New York’s most popular burger jointon a Friday night, no less.

So does the Secret work? Can it change your life? Below, DiLiberto wraps up her three-week exercise in positive thinking. If you haven’t been following her on her adventures, check out the posts from previous weeks at the bottom of the page.

The Secret is no secret.

Everyone—including my most intellectual, pop-culture-deprived friends submerged in academia—has heard of it. I think it's safe to say The Secret has reached its saturation point. Which makes me think, if the whole planet knows about it, it can't possibly work anymore. There isn't enough room in the world for everyone to build their dream house. The Secret is exhausting.

There are gratitude lists to write, vision boards to collage, imaginary checks to forge—not to mention the constant exertion of active self-delusion. Investing this much time and energy, The Secreter convinces herself that it works in order to preserve any remaining dignity. (My paycheck is here A DAY EARLY? Must be The Secret.) Not everyone thinks The Secret is dumb.

I spend my days consulting for an Internet company. When I told our CEO—a boy wunderkind Faith Popcorn-y sales genius—that I was blogging about The Secret, he said, "That's a great movie." Ironic smile? Not so much. In fact, an informal survey I've conducted has shown that most extremely successful people I know personally think living The Secret is a given—the way they've always conducted their lives (the ever-humble Oprah said this on her show). This leaves me wondering about the difference between me and them. Will I concede that certain tenets of The Secret can lead to success? Absolutely. Will I ever be able to practice the Law of Attraction sans irony or self-deprecation? Nope. It doesn't look like I'll be facilitating any Fortune 500 team-building retreats anytime soon.
The Secret gets boring.

It's been three weeks since The Secret came into my life, and while I was giddy from all the positive self-talk in Week One, my enthusiasm dropped off soon after. I stopped looking at the Vision Boards on the back of my front door, I ripped the 125 Post-It off the scale, I decided pretending my bills were checks was too stupid even for an experiment. I tried visualizing the opposite of what I wanted just to test the theory. And I got it. What does that prove again? The Secret doesn't go deep enough. Just ask Oprah.

The other day, Russell Simmons was on her show promoting his new self-help book, which is all about seeing yourself as connected to a higher power. His is the god of yoga, but yours can be whatever. It's a personal choice. Anyway Oprah really liked this metaphor he used—we are all cups drawn from the river that is God, I think ("Which means we are made of God!" she gleefully explained to the studio audience). Then she sort of dissed The Secret. (I know, how Benedict Arnold.) The problem with it, she said, is that it doesn't connect us to any higher power. Oprah and I agree on a lot of things and it just so happens that I also have this problem with The Secret. In fact, looking for books to expand my understanding of the philosophy a few weeks ago, I came upon a book called The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham. Eureka! I thought. Finally, a way to connect this Secret stuff to something concrete, sacred. I tried to guess the connection while I waited for the book to arrive. Abraham uses the Law of Attraction to father the people of Israel! He believes he's going to help God populate the world… and so he DOES! Abraham totally lived The Secret! When the book came I put down the X-Acto knife I was using to cut the head off a naked picture of Heidi Klum (I was going to replace it with my own—Vision Board) and tore into it. Well, um—it turns out this Abraham is not that Abraham. The Abraham husband and wife authors Esther and Jerry Hicks are talking about is a group of otherwordly beings, who collectively call themselves "Abraham" and speak through Esther. When she channels him, Esther / Abraham addresses skeptics with phrases such as ""We are not so much interested in that you believe in our existence, as we are interested in that you come to adore your own." So yeah, not the same Abraham as the one in the bible.

The Secret assumes you know what you want.

And there, my friends, lies the rub. I have a goal-setting problem, not a goal-getting problem. I’m complicated. I’m ambivalent. Some days I want to be a novelist, other days I want to be on staff at Ugly Betty. Sometimes I think, if money were not concern, I would like to specialize in bridal hairdressing. Fussing around with all that hairspray could be fun! And think of all the complicated braids I would learn! I feel guilty when I set ridiculous goals and meet them, because then I feel sorry for everyone who isn’t as successful as I am. I feel awful when I set ridiculous goals and fail to meet them, because then I feel sorry for myself. The Secret is brilliant. OK, let me clarify: deciding to film a bunch of life coaches blathering in front of a green screen and packaging the result as the key to the meaning of life is brilliant. Creating a philosophy that places all responsibility for happiness on the unhappy person is brilliant. Printing the transcript of this video and binding it and calling it a book is really brilliant. Come to think of it, why hasn’t anyone ever printed transcripts of other awesome videos and sold them as books? Like, those Red Asphalt movies they showed in Driver’s Ed in the eighties? They would be totally more effective than a DMV manual. Or the Alexey Vayner resume video? With full-color screenshots? What recent college grad wouldn't buy that manual of what not to do? Rhonda Byrne, creator of The Secret, would probably think I am jealous. And I am, sure—of her money and power. But when I ask myself, “Would I really want my name to be on that video?” the answer is no. The philosophy is too simplistic. Those espousing it seem delusional, not to mention uneducated. Most of all, though, it would be really embarrassing. And it could totally keep me from getting a job on Ugly Betty. Or a book contract. I’m not even sure it could be of much help in the bridal hair department.

* * *

Rebecca DiLiberto's previous Secret posts:

I’ve Got The Secret: Is our desire to be cool impeding our ability to be happy?

Vision Quest: The Secret brings satisfaction at least when it comes to dinner reservations.

Meet Secret Rebecca: There’s a better version of you out there somewhere.

The Check is in the Mail: Visualizing money can fill your bank account.

What's Your Secret Weight? To get thin, just ditch all your fat friends and relatives.

Shrinking the Secret: The popular form of therapy that sounds a lot like the Secret.

The Plate of Your Dreams: In San Francisco, a raw-food restaurant uses positive thinking as a recipe.

The Dark Side: After the tragedies of last week, can we really embrace a philosophy that blames the victims?

 

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