Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Secret--inspiration or bunk?

The Secret is a trend spreading so fast it's hard to keep up with. I'd watched the DVD about a month ago, and now that Oprah has featured it twice, the book, DVD, and CDs are tops at Amazon.com. I was preparing this blog posting today, when in my mailbox The Secret showed up as a feature in Newsweek. Despite this massive media exposure, I still feel like I have something to add to the conversation.

My initial reaction to watching The Secret was that it was complete bunk. The secret is "the law of attraction" which the authors state means that "everything that's coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it's attracted to you by the virtue of the images you're holding in your mind. It's what you're thinking. Whatever is going on in your mind you are attracting to you."

So if you change your thoughts, you will change your life. The positive and negative implications of this idea are as obvious as they are troubling. It's great to think you can "attract" a million dollars to yourself. But awful to think that you could "attract" cancer.

As a teacher myself, I was disappointed to see the ideas in the DVD presented in rapid-fire soundbites with a lot of distracting background animation. Just as a speaker was getting around to saying something interesting, you'd be on to a new person. (By the way, if you saw The Secret segments on Oprah, you don't need to buy the book or DVD. There really isn't more to it than was discussed on these TV segments.)

As a former scientist, I am always frustrated that people glom onto science only when it seems to benefit them. Readers suddenly care about "a magnetic signal that is drawing the parallel back to you" because they think it can make them rich. When The Secret's authors say, "Quantum physicists tell us that the entire universe emerged from thought!" I really want to know what that is supposed to mean.

I think there is a core of a wonderful idea in The Secret that is presented in this DVD and book merely as candy-coated, imaginary thinking that perfectly suits American tastes. It is interesting that producer Rhonda Byrne is Australian, and yet she chose twenty-four Americans to serve as teachers in The Secret. The "teachers" are notable for their impeccable marketing credentials rather than logical heirs to the intellectual tradition of luminaries such as Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Newton, Emerson, or Jesus, all of whom are referenced as historical bearers of The Secret.

So why did I decide to keep the DVD rather than selling it on eBay? I sensed a promising kernel of truth to be explored. I realized that I had applied many of these principles in my life. After all, I had envisioned Mojo Mom from scratch, as a new concept. I created my website, manifested my ideas in physical form (as a published book), gave a lot of talks, and shared my ideas with the world. I have found that anyone who likes my book enough to contact me is generally someone I should know! I was very deliberately broadcasting my ideas to the world and paying attention to who responded. In some sense this agrees with what the "law of attraction" is all about.

My problem is with the oversimplification of this idea. I didn't just wish Mojo Mom into being. I dedicated myself to working hard for years to bring it to life, and I continue to work on it every day. Fortunately, there are teachers who tap into the same vein as The Secret but provide more substance and depth.

Great faith traditions are one place to look, but if you are interested in a more secular and specific course, I would like to point you toward Napoleon Hill's Keys to Success: The 17 Principles of Personal Achievement. Hill's work was recommended by Donald Mitchell in his Amazon.com review of The Secret, so I can say that I learned something as a result of The Secret that I wouldn't have known otherwise (thanks to Mitchell, that is; as far as I can tell, Napoleon Hill is not referenced in The Secret itself).

To boil Hill's story down, in the early 20th century he was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie to spend decades interviewing luminaries such as Thomas Edison, Charles Schwab, and Theodore Roosevelt in order to develop a "Philosophy of Achievement." Hill's "Keys to Success" include elements such as having a burning desire to reach a "definite major purpose." Then he tells readers to develop their minds, act with complete integrity, stay focused, over-deliver to their clients, and be of useful service to others. He does emphasize having a positive mental attitude, visualizing goals in a manner that is similar to The Secret, but there is so much more to his ideas. It reminds me of when I took a cooking class and the teacher emphasized the quality of the ingredients as much as proper technique. The cooking school embraced the idea of "with ingredients like that, the product has to be great!" and that's what Hill's philosophy embodies to me.

Hill's work has a definite 20th century, white male capitalistic emphasis, but that's to be expected given that he published his most popular book, Think and Grow Rich in 1937. I encourage you to read his work and mine his wisdom. Hill had the marketing savvy to call his book Think and Grow Rich, but what he means is applying your passion and hard work to achieve your goal, which takes an awful lot more than just wishing. Hill's namesake foundation carries out his work to this day, and they are even releasing a new DVD in March. I'll be very interested to see how it competes with The Secret.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially any reactions to Napoleon Hill's work.

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Anonymous Karen said...

Here's my reaction: Of course we ARE what we think, but what do we spend all of our time,energy and will thinking about? How insufficient we are! How we wish we were richer, younger, more beautiful, with a better lover and a faster car. And all of human history, every single life story has proved over and over that none of that brings happiness. The Secret is nothing but the timeless recipe for eternal dissatisfaction.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Zeldman said...

First let me say, I am NOT a "Secret" Fanatic. I think it's good and useful information, but I already have one religion and believe me -- that's enough!

That said, I feel it necessary to point out that it is only from the "marketing" and "soundbite" perspective that The Secret promises you that you can attract everything you've ever dreamed of by just thinking in a certain way.

They did say, both on Oprah and in the movie that you do have to take action steps toward your dream. To me the "secret" is a way of "training your brain" for the success that you want to cultivate before you even experience it. By training your brain with gratitude and visualization and positive emotion, you train yourself to think creatively about how to achieve what you want and notice opportunities to achieve your goals that you may not have noticed if you were busy grumbling about how lousy your life is. Some call this "attracting" the opportunity to you. I think of it more like improving your mental filter -- looking at the world through a lens of potential success.

As I said, both on Oprah and in the movie, they DID try to emphasize that you MUST take action towards your dreams and goals, although admittedly, maybe they didn't say it enough. But I wonder, could they EVER say it enough, because most people WANT to hear "You can have whatever you want without working hard for it." And that's what makes the secret sell. And yet the secret *does say* you have to take action. And yet many people don't want to hear that so they emphasize the "attraction" part of it. And the vicious marketing cycle continues.

My Version of The Secret in a Nutshell, "Be Grateful for what you have, Create a vision for what you want, act & think as if that vision already exists for you creatively seek out opportunities and WORK YOUR BUTT OFF TO ACHIEVE IT!

Maybe that last part didn't come off strong enough on Oprah and in the movie, but it was there. Perhaps it is not emphasized as much because it is the other parts of the secret (i.e. gratitude, visualization, dream boarding, feeling as if you have achieved your goal) that is relatively new to the American public and there really isn't that much to say other than - "Of course, you DO need to take action as well" As they said on Oprah, "It won't do you any good to sit and visualize you having a million dollars while they are taking the rest of your furniture away.

9:28 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Sarah, you are very generous in your interpretation of "The Secret." I am not cutting the authors that much slack or credit. Their steps to using the secret are 1. Ask, 2. Believe, 3. Receive. Three passive steps! They use the example of losing weight this way, which is ironic since as you say, "working your butt off" would be the logical way to do it. Rhonda Byrne claims that through Ask, Believe, Receive, she can now "maintain my perfect weight of 116 pounds and eat whatever I want." I can't believe that!

And Bob Proctor specifically says "The Universe does everything with zero effort. The grass doesn't strain to grow. It's effortless. It's just this great design." This isn't true, realistic or a helpful vision for life.

I agree with you that there is a deeper PHILOSOPHY behind "The Secret" that operates as you have stated it, but I maintain that this particular book and DVD are wishful, ineffective thinking. A triumph of marketing style over substance.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Sarah Zeldman said...

I do, likewise, see your perspective. Yes, I suppose do I bring my own knowledge and background to my interpretation of The Secret as I stated it above.

What I said is there, but looking at it again, you do have a point that is JUST AS EASY to it from the "zero effort" perspective, especially when we get caught up in the soundbites. The steps should be 1) Ask 2)believe and 3) receive WHILE WORKING YOUR BUTT OFF! LOL!

Did you see "What the Bleep Do We Know?" It's very similar to "The Secret" I'm curious about your thoughts on it.

One last thought, it *is* possible to maintain your weight at 116 and eat anything you want, as long as you control your portion sizes and exercise too! But...she forgot to mention that part. And I guess that is your whole point! Right?

Overall though, I liked the movie, I think it can be generally positive and useful, but I'm not going to take it too seriously. But I can see your concern for people who watch it without an analytical eye.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous maddy said...

Two things...

1. If I had to sum the entire thing up, it's that the Law of Attraction
is all about alignment. You've got to do the "work" if you want to
bring something info your life.

This is where I think people mess up, which gives the entire thing the
"MLM/Amway" kind of vibe. You can't just sit around eating junk food
and watching reruns and expect to live on the beach...regardless of what
the infomercials say.

People like Joe Vitale are out working. Bob Proctor is out working.
James Ray is out working.

2. I found a FREE book (yes, FREE) that helped me figure out all of
this. http://www.receivethebook.com/ has it and it's well worth the read.

And like I said, it's FREE. So you can't argue that the guy is trying
to take advantage of people looking for a "magic pill" or whatever else
I've been hearing over the last 2-3 weeks since this thing hit Oprah.

11:31 PM  
Blogger danielle said...

okay, first off Mojo mom, I love your podcast. I just recently subscribed.

second, you wrote- As a former scientist, I am always frustrated that people glom onto science only when it seems to benefit them. Readers suddenly care about "a magnetic signal that is drawing the parallel back to you" because they think it can make them rich.

they do this with religion too! have you heard of prosperity gospel. Huge churches the size of 3 school gyms. http://www.cultlink.com/ar/osteen.htm
also, I thought the same thing about what the bleep do we know... why all the hoopla about the secret? It's the same thing...ahhhh, marketing $$$ make all the difference.

For the record. I beleive there is alot of truth to the law of attraction. they just make it sound sooo easy.

9:35 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Danielle, thanks for the compliment about my podcast. It's so much work to put it together, yet I love doing it. Hearing from our dedicated listeners keeps our production going.

About "The Secret," I agree that it can point to something true and valuable. It frustrates me to no end that it's oversimplified so much. The tension between these two ideas is what propels both my fascination with the ideas alluded to in "The Secret" and my criticism of this particular book and DVD.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Gomez said...

Great info.

I watched the Secret DVD a few months ago and got another book on Law of Attraction,
but it didn't really start happening for me until I wrote down my intentions. I found that to be
VERY powerful.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0975436171/ is a book I just got, which makes
planning out your Law of Attraction goals easy. Just fill in the blanks and you've got a road
map to follow. Has been working well so far.

2:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as soon as a read that protesting war causes more war, it lost any credibility - seems like a brilliant attempt to make everyone mindlessly follow the government (whoever happens to be president). I prefer a society where dissent is encouraged – guess the secret isn’t a big fan of things like civil rights that came about through protests

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as soon as a read that protesting war causes more war, it lost any credibility - seems like a brilliant attempt to make everyone mindlessly follow the government (whoever happens to be president). I prefer a society where dissent is encouraged – guess the secret isn’t a big fan of things like civil rights that came about through protests

6:27 PM  

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