Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Secret, deconstructed.

Let's go into the weekend with a shocker, shall we? Something you'd never expect to read on SHAMblog, or hear from its proprietor:

The Secret works.

No, it doesn't work for the reasons they say. And it's not automatic; you can't depend on the fact that it's going to work for you. What's more, by definition, it cannot work for everyone; that's a practical impossibility, as we'll see. But I concede that for some people, in some settings, the mindset and overall game plan laid out in The Secret will have some impact on their lives: The things they think about affirmatively and continually will indeed come to them.

There's nothing mystical or spiritual going on here; it has nothing to do with "harmonic resonance" or any "law of attraction." The efficacy of The Secret, within the limited context described above, proceeds from a basic truism that you already know: You have a better chance of being successful at something that consumes you.

Here, we need yet another caveat: I am pointedly not saying that I subscribe to "believe it, achieve it," or any of the facile nostrums found most conspicuously in Sportsthink (see also SHAM chapter 5). I'm saying that if you're highly focused on a certain goal that preoccupies your thoughts, you are more likely to organize your life around attaining that goal. Which means you're probably more likely to achieve that goal (though such achievement is hardly a sure thing). We're talking, really, about priorities. Which, in turn, explains why The Secret can only "work," in any given realm, if it's not universally embraced. The achievement of one's goals in a closed, free-market system is dependent on two things: 1, You need to have a fair amount of talent and/or drive, and 2, There can't be a tremendous amount of competition from people whose talent and drive equals or exceeds your own.

We'll use a very simple, low-level illustration. I read on some site about a woman who said she bought The Secret, "visualized" getting a great parking space for some event she was attending, and lo-and-behold, there it was when she showed up that night. Let's walk this through, OK? Suppose you're attending a lecture at 9 p.m. and you know the weather's going to be lousy, so you're extremely focused on getting a good parking space. It's on your mind all day. Because it's on your mind, you make a prompt exit from work, race home (picking up take-out on the way), eat, immediately change clothes, then leave for the lecture a good half-hour sooner than you normally would. And when you show up—whaddya know!—there's a great space right in front of the building with your name on it. Thing is, you haven't "attracted" that parking space. You got it because it was a high priority of yours. But if everybody attending that concert had the same idea in mind, and got out of work just as expeditiously, and gobbled down dinner, and changed clothes, and left and the majority of your fellow attendees are likely gonna be walking a good distance in the rain. No matter how driven you were to get that space. The "law of attraction" is not magically going to make parking spots available for all of you right in front of the building.

We'll call that the "law of finite on-street parking."

It does not shock me, and should not shock you, that some people who buy The Secret, or take a Dale Carnegie course, or go to a Tony Robbins "Life Mastery" seminar, subsequently enjoy succcess at the goals those events persuade them to refine and set. If you've always been the kind of person who's motivated by money, and your new Secret DVD suggests to you that money should become the single-minded focus of your life, it's not surprising that you might then begin to budget differently or explore new financial opportunities. That's not magic. It's what we used to call applying yourself. The converse is equally true. If you're the kind of person who lacks goals, or whose thoughts revolve around negative if not downright calamitous ideas, then obviously you're more likely to have a daily life that reflects that chaos. (This may be why Secretons, as our Cosmic Connie calls them, are so adamant in blaming people with negative thoughts for the bad stuff that happens to them.)

Again, there's no great mystery to any of this. The genius of The Secret and its testimonials (assuming first that those testimonials are on the level) is that people who succeed after watching it mistakenly attribute their success to the mysticism of the concept, rather than goal-setting or hard work. Which is why I repeat: You don't need to spend $30 to have Rhonda Byrne, Joe Vitale or anyone else tell you what you already know about life and living.

The real secret is, there's no secret.


Anonymous said...

This is the best enunciation I've seen of this yet. Kudos!

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Anon. You know, it's like we completely forget the concept of "self-fulfilling prophecy" in this culture, and we're willing to shell out astonishing sums of money to people who repackage that familiar, ho-hum notion and sell it back to us as mind-blowing New Age wisdom.

Cosmic Connie said...

Very good points, Steve. And don't forget one of the other factors that was so instrumental in creating and marketing "The Secret." You mentioned it yourself in your Amazon review:

"One seldom encounters a better/worse example of the logical fallacy known as a posteriori reasoning. To take a successful person, look backwards at the attitudes they held on the way to becoming successful, then use those as proof-positive of WHY they're successful, is as fundamentally silly as using the fact that Bill Gates and Ted Turner were college dropouts as justification for why you or your kids should drop out of college, too. ('See? You'll become a millionaire, just like they did!')"

By the way, the number of negative reviews of "The Secret" on Amazon is growing. I think that's an encouraging sign. Not everyone is buying into this crap.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, thanks for reminding me about the a posteriori thing.

Yeah, it's like, "Hey, that Salerno guy ran over his dog, and then later that day, his agent called and said he'd gotten a new book deal. So therefore, it's a good idea for aspiring writers to run over their dogs!"

a/good/lysstener said...

Steve, the funny thing is, you whet my appetite to know what all the fuss is about! But I'm going to restrain myself and not order it, I promise.

I can't promise I won't borrow it from the library, though, if I can find a copy. Just to check it out. :)

Citizen Deux said...

Horatio Alger.

Pluck and Luck.

Protestant Work Ethic.

Ah, the mystery handed down from generations! On target, Steve, now if we could only convince the youth of the nation that they will NOT all grow up to be rock stars and professional criminals (I mean athletes), we'll be ahead of the curve!

Steve Salerno said...

Now now, CD...not all athletes are common criminals. Just all of the ones, seemingly, who play for the Cincinnati Bengals or once played for the 1980s-vintage New York Mets. It's sad, what happened to such boyhood idols of mine as Gooden and Strawberry.... Where was Dr. Phil when they needed him? (Oh, I forgot; he was busting up bars in Oklahoma.)

Cosmic Connie said...

By the way, Steve, I’m sure that many Secretrons would argue with your parking-space example. I'm not playing devil's advocate here, just noting that many in the manifestation crowd would say it's *not* all about being obsessed with a single thing and acting accordingly. They’d say that once you start living your life in accordance with the stuff taught in “The Secret,” it becomes almost effortless to “manifest” good things in one’s life. (“It’s really that easy!” as Joe Vitale said.)

Most of us who have been following this phenomenon have read tales by Secret believers who were running late to an event, class, or appointment. Their circumstances were such that most people in a similar fix would despair of finding even a marginally decent parking space, or seat in the class, or what have you. Yet *these* Secret/LOA believers "visualized" finding just the perfect spot anyway, and -- Holy Manifestation, Batman! -- they did!

Coincidence? Just a nice surprise? Not in their book. In their view, they made the Law of Attraction work for them.

This, of course, doesn't make the Law of Attraction real, at least not in the sense that it's portrayed in "The Secret." But such examples from everyday people, shared on discussion forums and blogs, help keep the "Secret" myth aloft.

Others who are keeping it aloft, of course, are major players such as Oprah, not to mention the "stars" of "The Secret." Jack Canfield of "Chicken Soup" fame now has an entire "Secret" site at

What's interesting though, is that the stars of "The Secret" are illustrations of the very point Steve made in this post. These folks worked hard for years, sometimes decades, often reinventing themselves many times before they hit on the right shtick. That's not LOA. That's determination, persistence, obsession, mixed in with a lot of trial and error. (Joe Vitale himself wrote many books on marketing, customer relations, copywriting, the art of book writing, etc. before he finally hit on "The Attractor Factor," which is apparently what attracted "Secret" producer Rhonda Byrne to his work.)

I have a feeling that the “Secret”/LOA backlash has finally gained enough force that we may see some serious coverage in mainstream media soon. But watch out (early warning here): there’s going to be a whole new wave of magical thinking this summer when Joe V. comes out with “Zero Limits,” his Ho’poannoying book (co-authored with the legendary Dr. Len, who reportedly "cured" an entire ward of psychos just by thinking about them). Joe’s already publicizing the heck out of the book, in conjunction with his “Secret” and LOA material. For those who don’t know about this “ancient Hawaiian healing technique,” follow the Joe Vitale link towards the bottom of Steve’s post (Feb. 22).

But don't say I didn't warn you.

Tshombe said...

Hi Steve,

Your points are well-taken. I'm not sure they discount The Secret, however. Rather, they appear to clarify the mindset and subsequent action(s) that make "manifestation" possible. (Some may say that you actually are defining what The Secret really in fact is.)

"Spirituality" means different things to different people. It would not be inaccurate to equate 'the power of the mind' and positive feeling with spirituality.

As for people saying silly things -- like the "if you're so smart..." letter you received -- that's par for the course. Unfortunately, some people make comparisons that aren't relevant in an attempt to prove an assumption they already hold true.

As far as marketing is concerned, I think it itself has gotten a bad rap. How can anyone learn about what you do and whether it will be of benefit or not to them if you do no marketing?

We all do it on some level, even in how we dress and groom ourselves. We do it both to feel good about ourselves and to promote ourselves to others.

That doesn't mean we have bad motives. If you're in business, you want to make money (I know I do -- and more money is better than less.)

I do agree that much of the marketing around The Secret was/is very slick and high-tech and (perhaps) over the top. But so was Superman, Spiderman, and any other big marketing blitz -- movie or otherwise.

I definitely wouldn't call The Secret a sham.

However, I do think the controversy over The Secret is a good thing. Healthy, honest, and constructive criticism is always a good thing -- provided we've actually read or viewed the thing we're critiquing.

Since there's enough negativity in the world dragging people down, if people are feeling good about themselves and prospering as a result of how they interpret The Secret, I say all the more power to them.

Thanks for the thoughtful blog posts.

-- Tshombe

PS By the way, last year
I wrote a blog post
in response to criticsm of The Secret.

I believe it is a well-reasoned response, but I have to say that my comments are biased: I viewed The Secret and liked it.

Anonymous said...

also, seach Google for...


That really explains The Secret. Its mainly self-deception.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for posting this. I actually thought The Secret was a RIOT. I laughed my ass off when I watched it. I am frankly surprised that dear friends of mine, who are normally smarter than this, actually took the movie seriously.

I explain why I thought it was so funny in my podcast review here:

Now...I am actually pretty woo-woo myself, being an energy healer and all that. But that is based on Chinese medicine and has nothing to do with the Law of Attraction.

The Secret makes my job harder because it mucks up the issues and tries to boil everything down to a simplistic formula that's simply not true. I am going to be incredibly relieved when all the hype dies down and everyone forgets about it.

Mike Brooks in VA said...

I'm not into this book at all. It does seem tacky. However, after researching various experiments, studies, and string theory. I was curious as to if these laws apply to a larger every day life end of the spectrum as well. I was working on my car in a parking lot one time laying on my back listening for a noise (I'm a performance technician and cannot ignore strange sounds from my cars), and it turned out to be two pieces of plastic vibrating against each other. I thought to myself "Man, if I had just a bit of duct tape, I could shut this up for the ride home...". Not four seconds later (I was still on the ground), a roll of duct tape rolled my way from twenty feet away, then fell within my reach. Nobody was around, and it had just enough tape left on the roll to fix my problem. Things like this have happened multiple times to the point where viewing them as pure coincidences now, would be frankly...Ignorant. I think that there is a lot of things we can't conceive of as possible, really are.

Don't buy the book...Research the scientific aspects of the real "Law of Attraction". Make your own call.

Just my .02...