Recent motivational books like The Secret use obscure mystical concepts to explain common-sense advice. Here, I break down the main message of The Secret to reveal its practical message and explain why it shouldn’t be considered a spiritual text.
First off, the secret is that there is no secret. The main focus of the book, “law of attraction”, is simply the idea that giving attention to a goal will help you attain that goal. I don’t have a problem with its advice for personal success; what I have a problem with is calling it “spiritual”.
Personal success manuals should not be confused with spiritual texts. The former teaches you how to effectively get what you want (whatever it may be), while the latter teaches you how to live a life of deep fulfillment in relation to others, based on a concept of the common good.
If you think this book is the absolute most profound book you’ve ever read, you should consider getting your dose of spiritual insight from a less narcissistic source. If you have a solid understanding of your ethical relations to others, or are already following a spiritual path of some sort, these ideas on personal development can help you maintain an effective outlook in your pursuits.
Here is the practical advice this book offers:
1) Intent – The ‘believe in order to achieve’ element in The Secret points to the importance of having a clear goal. Having a clear goal consists of visualizing exactly what you want to achieve.
This visualization is more than mere wishful thinking, since you must also be taking small daily actions toward achieving your goal. Developing a clear intent on what it is you want to achieve is absolutely necessary so that you do not get in the scattered habit of floundering between abstract goals.
Getting clear intent through imagining specific goals will put you ahead of the majority of people who are striving toward an abstract notion of ‘success’, without considering what the attainment of their success will look like.
“Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything”
2) Optimism – This element points to the importance of focusing on the positive. Being optimistic invokes the power of two mechanisms: the ‘reticular activation system’ (defined below), and the power of ‘hope’ (elaborated on below).
First off, lets consider this definition of “Optimism”:
Being optimistic is not ‘blind optimism’ which refuses to recognize anything negative. Optimism recognizes the negative/ risks, but primarily focuses on the positive elements/ expects success. Being optimistic can be defined as “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/optimism).
Notice the two mechanisms in the above definition:
1) “…tendency to look on the more favorable side…”
This is the ‘reticular activation system’:
The ‘reticular activation system’ can be defined as a brain-mechanism responsible for selective attention. Have you ever bought a new car, just to realize you’re now seeing that same car everywhere? In the case of optimism, if your attention is on the positive, you will see more positive. This will increase your awareness of opportunities, allowing you to take positive steps forward, rather than getting stuck dwelling on the negatives.
2) “…expect the most favorable outcome…”
This is the power of hope:
A strong belief that you will achieve your goal, while remaining well-aware of the risks and difficulties, will provide the fuel to your endeavor.
Psychological studies on ‘learned helplessness’ state that without ‘hope’, both humans and animals are likely to give up and accept the afflictions of an adverse stimulus (see the work of Martin Seligman)
As Zig Ziglar says, “If there is hope in the future, there is power in the present.”
This ‘psychological resilience’ is the (not so) secret mystical power of The Secret.
In Conclusion, The Secret may offer important practical advice in terms of personal development, but should not be understood as a spiritual text.