Positive Thinking & “The Law of Attraction” : An Investigative Approach
Part 1: Practical Tools & Techniques for Positive Thinking
The Law of Attraction, also known as “The Secret”, popularized by The Secret movie and book, is a principle belief that the thoughts one thinks manifest into physical reality. Those of us with chronic illnesses are commonly told to think positive thoughts, as if our negative internal world is the root cause of illness. This type of philosophy has skyrocketed since The Secret movie and continues to spread across a wide range of social circles. The Law of Attraction is not designed to be practiced with only thought, however if one does take it most literally, then those living with chronic illnesses are primarily responsible for the continuation of their own suffering. I personally believe this movement has major potential to increase humanity’s sense of fulfillment and happiness in the long run, but also see the potential dark side to the muddling of fact and fiction, particularly in the realm of self blame.
This is a two part article focusing on the facts behind The Law of Attraction and positive thinking claims. I dissected through a tangled web of wishful thinking to showcase the evidence based findings.
- Part 1: Practical Tools & Techniques for Positive Thinking
- Part 2: The Law of Attraction History & The Science Behind its Success
An affirmation is proclamation of something that is. Affirmations are used in psychology to modulate ones self talk. Have you ever experienced your inner voice telling you you’ll never be “good enough” to accomplish your dreams or invalidating your entire self worth because you made a silly mistake? This type of self deprecating internal dialogue can be lessoned and eventually diminished through the practice of positive affirmations. The most effective affirmations are ones that are the most personalized and specific to you. Properly designed affirmations can, “can minimize the anxiety, stress, and defensiveness associated with threats to our sense of self while keeping us open to the idea that there is room for improvement (psychologicalscience.org). ”
How to Practice Self Affirmation Theory
Self affirmation theory and comes out of the cognitive sciences and focuses on using affirmations to change ones concept of the self. In order to address negative dialogue, you start by thinking about what your ideal thoughts could be and feel like. If your in a state of mind where you can’t think of this for yourself, you can imagine the kind of dialogue you would want for your closest friend. Another approach is to write a list of the negative thoughts and then challenge yourself to write the reverse of these statements.
Here’s an example using the technique explained above
Negative self talk: “ I’m sucking up societies resources.”
Positive affirmation: “I create value for the communities I’m involved with.”
Your list of affirmations can be as long or as short as you like. Most important, the list should be read at least once a day (preferably twice).
The Law of Attractions Affirmation Theory
A second approach to affirmations, related to The Law of Attraction is, “a carefully formatted statement that should be repeated to one’s self and written down frequently. For affirmations to be effective, it is said that they need to be present tense, positive, personal and specific ( wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmations_(New_Age)).”
This approach is less focused on regulating the internal dialogue and instead focuses on getting the mind oriented towards how you want life to be. You can use either or both of the approaches at once. If you have little to no negative self talk then using this second approach likely makes more sense as you have nothing rid the mind of and only good things to fill it with.
The video below explains the use of affirmations in The Law of Attraction and gives additional examples for taking this approach to positive thinking.
A Combination Approach
The cognitive sciences have shown the most effective way to approach affirmations is to focus less on the modulation of self talk, and instead to focus on directing internal dialogue towards core values. These are the virtues you care most about and feel your in alignment with during your most meaningful moments. To practice this style of affirmation you get yourself to summarize not who you want to be, but who you already are in your truest essence.
In sticking with the same example from above I would personally change the original affirmation: “I create value for the communities I’m involved with” to “ I create work that benefits human kind.” Because what matters to me at my core is that the work I create is just as much for others as it is for myself. As you can tell the end results are quite similar no matter what approach you take to establishing your affirmations. You should use whichever approach feels the most intuitive and natural.
The video below explains the use of affirmations in the context of the cognitive sciences and gives additional examples for taking this approach to positive thinking.
Visualization techniques involve the process of forming mental images. Visualization is a tool that can be used to prepare or train the brain for real life events. Studies have shown that the brain is somewhat unaware as to if an event is occurring solely internally or in real life.
Cognitive Science & Visualization
Through the process of visualization you create some of the same thought networks as if you were actually performing a real activity or living through an event. Strengthening desired networks can be used to your benefit. This is were the power of visualization can play a role in healing. In the field of psychology, visualization has been used as a tool to improve performance for athletes and astronauts. In this sense it could be utilized by the chronic illness community to train the brain to conquer less strenuous activity, like performing activities of daily living. Traditionally most studies have focused on recording the physical gains that arise from visualization such as the improvement in muscle power, however its use can be expanded to include improvements in mood, emotional well being, and accomplishing long term goals.
The Law of Attraction & Visualization
The Secrets Approach to visualization is that in order to get what you want in life, you have to be able to imagine that picture clearly with as much detail as possible . This form of visualization is less about practicing specified actions and more about accomplishing long term goals. The emphasize of this technique is the process of exploring yourself in order to discover your truest intentions and desires. A tips for figuring what you really want is to write a list of past experiences when you felt most alive, happy and in alignments with your true self. You can then analyze the list to find commonalties in circumstances. I view this aspect of visualization as an excellent way to develop life intentions. Knowing what you want in life is the first step towards event having the chance to acquire it.
A helpful practice for visualization is the creation of a dream board. A dream board is simply a collage or group of images and text that inspire and remind you of your ultimate dream life. “The only thing that all dream board examples have in common is that they are boards displaying pictures that represent the desired future. (thelawofattraction.com).”
Visualization, A Personal Experience
I recently implemented a form of visualization with the help of a mindset coach when training for a climbing competition. The most interesting tip I got from this style of coaching was to expand the idea of visualization to other sensory systems. I was directed to practice visualizing my climbs while incorporating sounds, scents and a detailed visceral experience for how my body would feel in space. My overall goal for this visualization was to remain in a state of flow during the competition. It worked quite well during the process of training as began climbing I would immediately feel my mind slip back into this pre planned peaceful state. However once I few halfway around the world to an unfamiliar environment and in terrible pain from the plane ride I was not able to truly access the state I’d practiced in for the actual competition. Beyond the competition I’ve since employed this strategy with success for other events such as public speaking, art shows, and interviews.
The coach I worked with, Adelaide Goodeve originally used the techniques she teaches to recover from severe chronic fatigue syndrome. Adelaide now runs marathons and coaches elite athletes from around the world. Here’s a few of my favorite blog posts from her website relevant to the techniques discussed in this article.