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“The law of floatation was not discovered by the contemplation of the sinking of things.”
Thomas Troward

A small story

Jack Jones was a frustrated man who had come to accept struggle as part and parcel of life. He believed that no matter what his goals, he must work hard and do everything possible to get there. But life had been difficult and success seemed to elude him in all areas. The more he tried, the more impossible it seemed. He was a chain smoker and had received warnings from his doctor to quit or else… but somehow he was unable to let go of this harmful habit. He had been struggling with his weight and his relationship with his wife was stressful. Over the past few years, his work too had left him feeling unfulfilled and unsuccessful. He was angry at his body, unhappy with his marriage and frustrated with his work; and yet all his attempts to change his life yielded no result. He wondered why his sincere efforts and resolve were not working.

Then one day, a friend introduced him to the law of attraction [LoA]. Jack suddenly found his answers. It seemed that LoA was the panacea he was waiting for—he was hooked. Over the next few months, Jack read every book he could on the subject. He attended workshops and seminars and was even beginning to see some positive results—which, unfortunately, didn’t last. A year later, Jack Jones was still struggling, feeling hopeless about his life, more frustrated than ever, and angry that LoA had failed him.

The law of attraction: is it a hoax?

“Thoughts become things,” said Mike Dooley, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant, in the 2006 hit docufilm The Secret. Such clever phrases, sprinkled throughout the film, played a big part in making law of attraction one of the biggest trends in the last decade or so. Millions excitedly jumped onto the bandwagon, only to be disappointed when they realised that it doesn’t work—at least not for them. Many [like Jack in the story above] excitedly embraced the law of attraction only to throw up their hands in disgust, and return to their old work-hard-to-make-money mindset. Because they could not produce consistent results with LoA, they felt that it was unreliable. There were those who, after their initial enthusiasm waned, allowed their rationalisation to take over and ended up attributing their successes to sheer coincidence. Then there were people who reported losing their sense of balance trying to control their incessant thoughts; these poor souls began to correlate everything that happened in their life with LoA in their attempts to ensure that they don’t inadvertently attract what they don’t want.

So is law of attraction a hoax? Is it a cunning ploy used by smart people to sell dreams to the vast majority of gullible people who are struggling to make their lives work?

In my experience, law of attraction is not a hoax; it is a sound concept that works for you always, but only if you really understand how it works. This article is my attempt to de-mystify law of attraction, so that it becomes accessible to everyone—including the sceptics. But before we understand how it works, let’s try and figure out what made the idea so alluring and how the ‘marketing’ of law of attraction took away from its real power.

The reason why law of attraction is so appealing

The law of attraction is a New Thought belief based on the notion that like attracts like. Positive thoughts attract positive situations and people; likewise, negative thoughts bring undesirable situations and people. In other words, our thoughts create our reality.

The Law of attraction is marketed like a Magic lamp
The Law of attraction has been likened to a genie; such metaphors have made the law appear mystical and have turned off many

The fact that our thoughts are responsible for our life situation is an idea that resonates with most people. It makes them feel empowered and in control of their life. With LoA, their needs, wants and desires can easily fructify—all they have to do is visualise the outcome they desire, think repeatedly about it, and maintain a joyous emotional disposition at all times.

For many people, the appeal of LoA has been in its miraculous quality. The Secret and many other subsequent films, books and articles have packaged it in a way that lead you to believe that all you need is to ‘think’ what you want and then wait for it to materialise. Simply visualise the outcome you desire, impress it upon your subconscious and the Universe makes it happen. LoA has even been likened to a genie that fulfils your every demand. And who can resist the idea of his own personal genie?

The flaw lies in the packaging

I think the biggest flaw that most law of attraction “experts” have been making is marketing it as a magic wand to attract goodies into our lives. Such an approach both mystifies and trivialises the phenomenon.

The underlying premise of the law of attraction is that everything is made up of energy including our thoughts; hence, our thoughts manifest our reality. Proponents of LoA use this logic to explain how the law works. Many of them try to lend it further credibility by throwing science into their explanations for good measure. For example, some mention legitimate quantum physics concepts like the observer effect.[1]

Demystifying the law of attraction: how does it actually work?

In its bare bones, the law states that whatever we focus upon expands. When we give our full attention to something—anything—its influence on our lives grows. As an example, if you have two saplings, and choose to water only one of them, guess which one will grow to become a fruit-bearing tree? Thoughts too are like saplings—those that you nourish are the only ones that flourish.

Seen from this perspective, Mike Dooley is right; thoughts do become things. In her classic book The Game of Life, Florence Scovel Shinn gives an example of this: A poor man was walking along a road when he met a traveller, who stopped him and said: “My good friend, I see you are poor. Take this gold nugget, sell it, and you will be rich all your days.” The man was overjoyed at his good fortune, and took the nugget home. He immediately found work and became so prosperous that he did not sell the nugget. Years passed, and he became a very rich man. One day he met a poor man on the road. He stopped him and said: “My good friend, I will give you this gold nugget, which, if you sell, will make you rich for life.” The mendicant took the nugget, had it valued, and found it was only brass. So we see, the first man became rich through feeling rich, thinking the nugget was gold.

“Every man has within himself a gold nugget; it is his consciousness of gold, of opulence, which brings riches into his life,” Shinn concludes.

The law of attraction paradigm that actually works

At its core, the law of attraction—which is always working whether we realise it or not—is really about how we react to our life situation. I like to think of it as a mindset, an attitude of always being for a solution instead of against your problem. Whether it is a self-defeating habit you wish to conquer, bring happiness into your relationships, get rid of debt or achieve professional success, your life will be more fulfilling if you cultivate an attitude of always being for what you want, instead of being against what you don’t want.

What’s the difference, you ask. The difference is that when we’re against something, we try to fight that instead of working towards what we desire. It is like trying to remove darkness—no matter how hard you try, you will not succeed. The only sensible option is to accept the reality of darkness, and then think of how you can light a candle.

You may think that we’re only indulging in some form of mental acrobatics and may doubt the efficacy of this subtle shift. You may even feel tempted to equate this with mere positive thinking. But ‘being for’ is more than that. Before I explain the difference, I must tell you about the missing piece, without which LoA is incomplete and ineffective.

Man thinking about a white bear | Law of attraction concept
When we attempt to suppress certain thoughts, they are the ones most likely to surface

Let’s do an experiment. Close your eyes for about 30 seconds. During this time, don’t think of a white bear. You can think of anything else except a white bear. Open your eyes only after 30 seconds.

What happened? It’s a good bet that no matter how hard you tried, you saw a white bear in your mind’s eye. This phenomenon is known as the ironic process theory in psychology whereby deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface in one’s thoughts.[2]

That’s the problem of being against something. It’s impossible to not think of what is. How can you be against reality—it’s compelling and forceful. But there’s something that can help you deal with this. This is the big piece of the LoA puzzle that most of its proponents seem to have missed. It’s called acceptance, and it enables you to take the law from theory to practice. Without acceptance, you cannot turn your attention away from what you don’t want to what you want, which—as the law states—is necessary in order to manifest your desires.

Let me explain this with the help of a simple example:

Let’s say I’m experiencing poverty; what I want is, of course, wealth. So, LoA states that I should stop thinking poverty-oriented thoughts and instead dwell on abundance. To do so, I start visualising wealth in different ways. I wake up in the morning and deliberately put my attention on attracting lots of money. I make affirmation cards, carry them in my wallet and read them often. I even create a vision board with beautiful pictures of the stuff that I am dreaming about. I express gratitude for the blessings in my life. In short, I do my best to imagine abundance. However, the fact is that till abundance actually begins manifesting for me, I will keep coming back to the present reality of my poverty. I can blank it out for a while, or if I am a really good daydreamer, even for extended periods of time. But no matter how much I escape to my fantasy world, sooner or later I will wake up from my dream world and notice that I am poor—and my attention will return to thoughts of poverty—something that I am against. So I am back to square one.

The fact is, it’s nearly impossible to take your focus off the present—after all, it’s right there, staring at you. That is why, no matter how hard we try, we still end up thinking about what we don’t want, and continue to resist and resent it.

Acceptance is the key

This is where acceptance comes in. You see, our only power is in the now. Regardless of how challenging our present, if we resist it, we give up our power. But when we accept our present reality, we make peace with it. In other words, we no longer argue with it, or resist it. But that doesn’t mean we start liking or wanting it. No, it simply means we stop being against it.

In the above example, if I make peace with reality i.e. my poverty, I stop resisting it. So now, though I still prefer abundance, noticing my poverty no longer produces unhappiness in me in the present. This means, I can daydream and visualise all I want and when I come back, I can face my present reality without any feelings of frustration. Acceptance has removed the sting from my poverty. Now I don’t use it as an excuse for resentment and anger. The energy I was using in opposing what is becomes available to me, and I begin doing whatever I can to attract abundance.

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle explains such acceptance with the help of an analogy. He says, “If you were stuck in the mud somewhere, you wouldn’t say: ‘Okay, I resign myself to being stuck in the mud.’ You don’t need to accept an undesirable or unpleasant life situation. Nor do you need to deceive yourself and say that there is nothing wrong with being stuck in the mud. No. You recognise fully that you want to get out of it. You then narrow your attention down to the present moment without mentally labelling it in any way. This means that there is no judgment of the Now. Therefore, there is no resistance, no emotional negativity. You accept the ‘isness’ of this moment. Then you take action and do all that you can to get out of the mud. Such action I call positive action. It is far more effective than negative action, which arises out of anger, despair, or frustration.”

To reiterate, acceptance is not a prescription for inaction. If anything, it frees up your energy and brings much greater clarity in the present that you no longer resist. From this non-resistant space you can manifest whatever you want.

Opening up to opportunities

Once you’ve made peace with your problem, ideas and opportunities begin to show up, or should we say, you begin to notice them. When we’re not spending our time cursing our luck and resisting our current circumstances, our intuitive abilities are at peak, guiding us to do whatever is necessary.

The law of attraction can open the door to heaven
The doors of opportunities will open for you once you make peace with your present reality

Many great scientists, artists, and businessmen have credited their intuition for solving many of their problems. These include Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Isaac Newton—they received their insights when they were relaxed. Many of them have shared how a solution came to them when they weren’t even thinking about the problem.

When we are against our problem, which is the reality, we too inadvertently become part of the problem. And nothing great can be achieved by being against reality—it’s futile. Is it any wonder then that we miss the opportunities that we could’ve noticed had we been looking for solutions?

Here’s how Mother Teresa demonstrated the ‘for not against’ paradigm. When an activist group asked her if she would join them in their march against the Vietnam War, Mother Teresa replied: “No, I won’t march against the war with you. But if you have a march for peace, I’ll be there.” Mother Teresa knew that being against anything means becoming part of the problem; she preferred to be part of the solution.

If you want to become more effective in attaining your goals, cultivate an attitude that Mother Teresa advocated and practised. It means the next time you find yourself ‘pitched’ against, say, illiteracy, accept the present situation as it is, and then shift your focus in favour of literacy. You will find that instead of blaming the society or the government or the education policy, you will look for ways to spread literacy in your own way—maybe you will sponsor a child’s education, volunteer to teach part-time or even donate money to charitable schools run by selfless NGOs.

You are always free to choose your attitude

Although apocryphal, the following story elucidates how accepting your circumstances, instead of being against them, frees you up to manifest your dreams.

Woman choosing between angel and devil
The devil and the angel come to us in the form of our own thoughts; when you are against, you are siding with the devil in you

A middle-aged man named Bill Fross lived in Chicago with his family. Bill was a drunkard, swindler, petty thief and wife-beater, who had been in and out of jail more times than he could remember. His wife died while giving birth to his twin sons, Peter and James. As the boys grew up, they suffered many terrible beatings and great poverty as their father’s alcoholism spiralled out of control.

They observed, with their impressionable eyes and minds, as their dad wasted his life, and finally died in prison during one of his numerous trips there, while the boys were in their teens.

Thirty years later, Peter was just like his dad—a drunkard, swindler, petty thief, and wife-beater, who served time in jail. James, on the other hand, became a respected US senator, happy husband and proud father of three. Peter and James grew up in the same domestic environment but their worlds couldn’t be further apart.

A psychologist who observed contrasting lives of the twins became curious: why would two kids, who were born on the same day, to the same parents, and growing up in the same set of circumstances, end up so differently? His curiosity got the better of him and he decided to get to the root of the matter by interviewing the two brothers separately—without one knowing the other would be interviewed.

He first approached Peter in prison and asked him why he ended up the way he did. Peter, not surprisingly, replied, “With a father like mine, what else did you expect?” The psychologist then travelled to Washington DC and asked the same question to Senator James, who, not having the slightest hint that his brother had been interviewed, said, “With a father like mine, what else did you expect?”

One son used his father as an excuse to fail in life, and the other son used the same father as a reason to succeed. Different interpretations of the same circumstances made all the difference. Unlike Peter, James chose to be for life, and not against the difficult circumstances he was born and brought up in.

In the classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl recounts the extremely torturous treatment he and his fellow inmates suffered at the hands of the Nazis, as prisoners in the concentration camps. An Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Frankl spent his time as a hostage studying human behaviour and concluded thus: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Adversities often become stepping stones for people who refuse to be victims of their circumstances. Blaming other people or situation/events for your miseries and misfortunes usually keeps you from transcending them. If you wish to bring about a positive change, stop thinking about what’s wrong or missing from your life. Accept your present life situation wholeheartedly and then think about what you want—without resistance to what is, you’ll find yourself acting in ways that bring your desires to you.

Summing up

The ‘be for, not against’ paradigm is not some unverifiable mumbo-jumbo; instead, it is rooted in sound logic. Therefore, even if you don’t believe in the supernatural quality of the popular idea of LoA, it will still work for you. The key, as we have learned, is to accept our problems with grace. May I suggest that you consider replacing the word ‘attraction’ with ‘acceptance’ in the phrase, and then see the difference? When you think of LoA as the Law of Acceptance, it will gently remind to make peace with your present reality—with all its problems and challenges. And once you accept you present reality, there will be nothing to resist—and you will be free to manifest your heart’s desire. The best part is that your journey from here to there will be joyous and fulfilling.

Bonus Content: Using the Law of Attraction for weight loss

Woman shocked to see her weight in a weighing scale machine
Being against your excess weight keeps you from losing it

Weight loss is a goal that drives millions of people around the world to sign up to gyms, health clubs and fitness programmes. Overweight individuals hate the surplus flab enveloping what they reckon to be their ‘lean and beautiful body’. They try everything—exercise routines, crash diet plans, gadgets and as-shown-on-TV quick-fixes that promise them the moon—but, what they get is miracles that don’t work. That slim and sexy figure stays illusive. Worse, even if they succeed in losing weight, most are unable to maintain it. According to studies, 85 to 90 per cent people regain any weight they’ve lost within three to five years.

Have you ever wondered why weight loss is such a difficult proposition for most people? Think about it, and you will realise that almost all weight-loss candidates are exclusively against their excess weight, instead of being in favour of a healthy, fitter self. In the process of trying to lose weight, they are dwelling constantly on what they don’t want [excess fat], and this is exactly what they get.

Man happy about her present weight
Once you accept your present weight, you turn your attention to becoming healthier and slimmer

Many years ago I had the opportunity to interview [Read here] singer-composer Adnan Sami. This was soon after he had lost a massive amount of weight—130 kg to be precise—in a span of one year. Before he started on his weight loss programme, he was morbidly obese and was given a few months to live by his doctors. During our conversation Adnan confessed to me that even after the doctor’s ultimatum he kept “hogging”—he believed there was no way out for him. Thanks largely to his father’s counsel, Adnan switched from being against his obesity to becoming for his life, lost enormous amounts of weight and, most importantly, survived to tell the tale.

Overweight individuals would do well to apply the Law of Attraction paradigm—by thinking and acting towards their healthier and fitter selves instead of being against their excess weight. Here is how it works: stop being against your current weight—make peace with the reality of it, then resolve to work towards being fitter and healthier with love and joy. When you demonstrate love instead of hatred for your body, you act in loving ways. Love provides you with all the energy you need. It also automatically motivates you to give up nutritionally empty foods, laziness, procrastination, and all the self-defeating habits that come in your way of becoming fitter and slimmer.

[1] The observer effect that states that the act of observing affects what is being observed

[2] It seems that many of us are drawn into what seems a simple task, to stop a thought, when we want to stop thinking of something because it is frightening, disgusting, odd, inconvenient, or just annoying. And when we succumb to that initial impulse to stop, the snowballing begins. We try and fail, and try again, and find that the thought is ever more insistent for all our trying. Many studies reveal that suppression may be the starting point for obsession, rather than the other way around. As a result, we end up thinking all too often about the doubts, worries, fears, and alarms that we have tried to erase from mind.
— Daniel M Wegner, author of White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts:Suppression, Obsession, and the Psychology of Mental Control.

A version of this article first appeared in the October 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine.