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Magical Thinking: Why the Law of Attraction Doesn't Work and why Attractors do!

An interest in God, meta-physics, and religion dominated Tessa's life for half a century. A decade ago she walked away to become an atheist.

The lies they tell you.

I studied the Law of Attraction for two decades before deciding that there were other explanations for the examples generally given for success. For example, while Wayne Dyer claimed repeatedly that the Law of Attraction was responsible for his publishing success, what he omitted to tell his readers was that when he wrote his first book, he self-published. He then bought up every single copy of his own work in order to get onto the New York Times Bestselling List. After that, everybody bought it because it was on the bestselling list, and, of course, because it was a well-written work, it sold. However, the book did not get on the the bestselling list because he was thinking positive thoughts, it got there because he used some marketing guile.

How my own magical thinking set the stage for my disaster

I first came into contact with the Law of Attraction in the early 80s and was immediately overwhelmed by its potential. I set about to learn everything about it, and if I was positive before, I became fanatically certain that things would work out just the way I wanted them to. So much so that I clearly remember a young man saying to me in the late 80s, "I don't know what you're so confident about - you've achieved exactly nothing." The real issue was, of course, that I didn't even have to try that hard. I was positive by nature and always felt that there was a way to resolve anything. Ironically, it was only after I started believing in the Law of Attraction that my life started going downhill.

Let me give you two examples of this. I was explaining to a positive thinking guru who taught the law of attraction that my car was constantly breaking down. He explained to me that I had to go out and buy a new car and affirm each day that the money would come in so that I could meet payments at the end of the month. So, despite the fact that my salary didn't cover the payment I would have to make, I followed his advice. Consequently, I spent the next seven years in dire financial stress. The money never did arrive, and it meant my daughter and myself had to do without many essentials.

Still another example is when I received a piece of junk mail from my bank selling 'loans.' Believe it or not, I had never seen junk mail before I received that mailing. So when it spoke to me of loans, I thought it was a signal from the universe to do a course that was particularly expensive. What a disaster. I was never able to meet the payment. And the course was a complete disaster. So much for signals from the Universe.

Barbara Ehrenreich states that positive thinking is a dangerous mass delusion

Barbara Ehrenreich states that positive thinking is a dangerous mass delusion

The history of magical thinking

Helena Blavatsky, a spirit medium, first used the term in a book she wrote in 1877. Naturally the idea that by merely thinking something one could have it was appealing to most people. So by the end of the 19th century, several other books were written about it - notably Prentice Mulford and Ralph Trine.

Unsurprisingly everytime someone wrote a book on this concept, the author got rich. So more and more people climbed on the bandwagon. In the 50s Frederick Bailes wrote extensively about the Law of Attraction in his book, ' Hidden Power for Human Problems '. Raymond Charles Barker also wrote about it, his best known book on the topic probably being, Treat Yourself to Life'. Both are still available. In addition to this, Dr. Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science, wrote extensively about it in 1927.

Books like 'Think and Grow Rich' by Napoleon Hill in 1937 made millions for its author, and still continues to make millions for its publishers - nevermind the fact that its contents were completely spurious.

Louise Hay climbed on the bandwagon with 'You can heal your life' with a load of unsubstantiated garbage and, of course, if you've never heard of 'The Secret,' lucky you.

Everytime someone wants a good topic that will ensure that they make millions, they write a new version of how all one has to do is think something and then the even will follow.

Common sense trumps positive thinking every single time... Barbara Ehrenreich

Common sense trumps positive thinking every single time... Barbara Ehrenreich

Cognitive therapy, reality, and the law of attraction

There are many examples of people changing their thought patterns and experiencing benefits as a result. However this has less to do with our thoughts being magically translated into reality than our thoughts showing us how to accomplish something.

A cognitive therapist helps us to remove traumatic patterning caused by events that prevent us from seeing situations as they are and then applying working solutions to resolving issues.

All logical discussion insists that we compare apples with apples, not apples with pears. If one were to have a stunningly beautiful woman and a very ugly one in the same room, regardless of what their thought patterns and values were, there's a 99.9% certainty that every male in the room would choose the beautiful woman. No matter how negative the thoughts of the beautiful woman, and no matter how positive the thoughts of the ugly woman, the vast majority of men would still gravitate towards the beautiful women. That's because beauty (not thoughts) do the attracting...

A cognitive therapist might teach someone dealing with her appearance to accept it and then to deal with it in the ways open to her - facial surgery, cosmetics, etc.

Cognitive therapy is not about magical thinking; it is about seeing reality as it is regardless of whether that reality is fortunate or unfortunate.

Attributes that attract others

There are certain attributes that attract human beings. Some of us are born with these attractors while some of us develop them quite easily along the way. Others struggle to attain them and eventually have some limited success. For the most part, we all have some attractors. Unfortunately many people who write about the law of attraction don't mention that they have an abundance of these attractors and that has more to do with their success than any form of magical thinking.

1. Happiness is a huge attractor. Most people will gravitate towards those who exude a smile, joy, and warmth. Sadness, depression, grumpiness, and bad temper are not attractors. They tend to repel.

2. High energy - there's something very attractive about people with high energy. Watch them dance. They are fascinating to watch.

3. Good grooming, great clothes - we all watch the way others are dressed (rightly or wrongly). We like 'cool' clothing. An attractive, groomed appearance keeps us coming back to the theaters.

4. Education - Well informed people are interesting to talk to, tend to know about what they're doing, so if an opportunity comes along, people would prefer to give it to them.

5. Being well connected - A lot of people are impressed because one has a famous mother/father/sister/brother or the man next door is a major celebrity. By association, most believe something clings to them as a result of the connection.

6. Money - Many people want to be rich and like to be in the company of rich people.

7. Talent - There's nothing more amazing and wonderful to us all than superb talent. We are all drawn to it. It has nothing to do with magical thinking. Talent comes through the gene pool and is one of those attractors that some are simply fortunate to have.

8. Outstanding communication skills - People with excellent communication skills are highly sought after because they have the ability to connect to others. This is one of those attractors that can be developed.

9. Charm - People who are charming, able to duck and dive and play the political and social game are in high demand because they smooth the way for getting things done. Again, this is something that can be learnt.

10. And beauty, of course - it is the number one attractor of all. Everybody knows that people who are good looking or beautiful earn higher salaries and are perceived to be more intelligent.

If a person had eight out of these ten attractors, they would be set for success. To write a book or tell people that their success was a result of their magical thinking, i.e. the law of attraction is either dishonest or the result of ignorance. Unfortunately it is misleading to many who believe the writer, unaware of the true cause of the person's success.

Positive thinking does not prevent disaster anymore than it brings success

Do you seriously believe there wasn't one positive, well intentional, 'spiritual' person amongst the many hundreds of thousands that died in the 2004 Tsunami? Of course, there were. And what about the terrible, terrible shootings that took place at Virginia Tech and other schools across America? The Law of Attraction would have you believe that these people received their unkind fate as a result of their negative thinking.

That's simply not true.

There are far too many amazing, stunning people who have great attitudes, but simply were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Our world is complex. The reasons things happen is complex. It is not a simplistic 'I think, therefore it is.'

We live in a world ruled by Mother Nature (natural law). Also keep in mind that the actions of millions of people all over the world cause events that are outside our ability to control. We can control only certain events in our own lives. Beyond that, we are only able to respond to what happens to us. None of this has anything to do with our thoughts magically creating our reality.

Real self-confidence means one can call a negative situation for what it is... Barbara Ehrenreich

Real self-confidence means one can call a negative situation for what it is... Barbara Ehrenreich

Cause and effect - logical sequence

The real law behind all things is cause and effect. Cause, however, is highly complex. Let me demonstrate.

Take the dawning realization that our food choices have a lot to do with the diseases we get or the health we maintain. In previous times, illness was considered the judgement of the gods. Now we know it has to do with a collection of choices we have made over a period of time. However, factor like living next to a nuclear power station and suddenly we find ourselves radiated. Years later, despite our focus on our health, we come down with cancer. The point is that all things have a cause, and that while we can control some of those factors, we cannot control them all. In addition, because there are so many causes for each effect, we mostly do not have the capacity to know what all those causes were. A good example is the weather.

We know, broadly speaking, that things like El Nino will warm up the ocean temperature. We know that there is an increase in storms - even hurricanes. We also know that these changes contribute to a change in world climate. However we are unable to exactly tell how and when and where each small wind increase, each factor that warms the ocean will play out eventually. In the same way, we might conclude that someone who is always stealing will eventually land up in jail. But, because we don't know the specifics, we cannot tell at what point, for what crime, and/or whether he will eventually get away with it.

However, all of it is cause and effect. The burglar may get away with his crime because he was particularly crafty in his crime or he may have left the country. There are hundreds, if not thousands of factors, that result in outcomes. And none of them have to do with magical thinking or the law of attraction.

Things happen because hundreds of other factors combined to bring about a certain event in our lives. Those things comprise genes, chemistry, the country of our birth (first world, third world), the circumstances of our birth (abusive, happy, rich, poor, mentally ill, healthy, talented, pretty, ugly, etc), natural world events (weather, climate, asteroids falling on top of us, tsunamis or earthquakes, etc.) To even presume to think that our thoughts have any effect on this is presumptuous.

Why the law of attraction doesn't work

The law of attraction doesn't work for a very simple reason. Our minds and thoughts do not have the power to change anything. To change something, some sort of force or energy is required. The human mind does not emit large swathes of energy. It cannot say, "Stop the train" and the train stops. The human mind is an analytical calculator not a power station sending electricity and energy to get things done. If that had been the case, we wouldn't have needed arms and legs to get things done.

Years ago, I had two very precious rings. I was the beach (in Port Elizabeth, South Africa) and left at about three in the afternoon. Later that evening, as I was preparing for a date, I realized that I had left my rings on the beach. I was devastated. The chances of finding one's rings on a beach with ever shifting white sands and sea water are precisely zilch. In any event, first thing the next morning I went to the beach to the place I had been sitting. There lay my two rings. Law of attraction? No. Just plain lucky that Mother Nature didn't have the wind blowing, that nobody walked by and trod on them and saw them. Many times people attribute coincidence or some other factor to the law of attraction. It isn't.

Does anyone make money from the law of attraction?

Yes, the authors, the gurus who teach this nonsense for a price. They make a mint telling people that they can have what they want. (Who wouldn’t want to believe that they can have exactly what they want simply by believing it?)These authors may genuinely believe what they are saying (or not). However, when they do, it's inevitably because they never understood the power of their own attractors or they didn't calculate their actions into the equation (Wayne Dyer buying up his own books in order to get onto the New York Times Bestselling list).

Basically it's easy to con people who so desperately want to believe anything that if someone tells them what they want to believe, they will believe it.

Some articles to read about why the Law of Attraction doesn't work

Why The Secret Doesnt Work and Why You Should be Glad it Doesnt Giving Up Control
This is a review of the book 'The secret.' The writer states "The idea that God is a genie ready to respond to our whims is all at once seductive, juvenile, and almost immediately falsifiable. If you doubt the latter, buy a lottery ticket tonight, and see how far “the secret” will get you." He brings up some other good points, including a quote from George Bernard Shaw about the real thing in life that brings us satisfaction and meaning.

Barbara Ehrenreich on the 'Delusional' Cult of Positive Thinking
The author became ill with breast cancer and writes about the endless advice to 'think herself well.' She shows how damaging positive thinking is.

How Positive Thinking Sets You Up to Fail
An interesting article by Heidi Grant Halvorson on the destructive effects of positive thinking. She states, "Scientifically-speaking, focusing all of your thoughts on an ideal future reliably leads to lower achievement. In other words, you are less likely to achieve your goals when all you do is imagine that you already have achieved them."

Does Confidence Really Breed Success?
William Kremer of the BBC World service writes an article about the supposed positive impact of high self esteem. He states "Research suggests that more and more American university students think they are something special." He then goes on to quote from a study that "suggested there has been a 30% tilt towards narcissistic attitudes in US students since 1979." However studies show that thinking highly of yourself does not lead to success so much as delusion.

Why do people believe in the law of attraction

If one hasn't been successful and problems seem insurmoutable, it's comforting to believe that a very easy thing like thinking thoughts can magically transform one's reality. When people who are successful tell one that they succeeded because of their thoughts, they do a grave disservice to others. They should take into consideration their talents, education, level of attractiveness to others, lucky opportunities in meeting people, energy level, and many more factors. These people are just selling something that others want to hear and becoming very rich as a result of doing so. It's called a con!

The book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell gives a far better explanation as to why some people succeed and others don't.

Two fundamental reasons for failure

There are several reasons people cannot reach their goals or get out of a hole. One is lack of opportunity. Living in excessively capitalistic (e.g. USA), countries with caste systems, (e.g. the UK or India), or totalitarian states (e.g. the old USSR) means that there is opportunity for some but not for everybody. When closed doors meet every effort, regardless of how hard one works, the fault is not one's own.

Another reason for failure is lack of knowledge. Most people simply do not have the right type of knowledge to be able to do what they want to. As an example, I am a professional writer. I can spot a grammatical error a mile away. Yet someone who has never really heard English spoken grammatically will not recognize that they write in error. "I didn't do nothing" is a classic example. To many that sounds correct. Yet it isn't, and those who speak that way and desperately want to be creative writers never realize that their failure stems from a lack of knowledge and skill. One of the reasons many cheat to achieve some goal is because they don't have the capacity or the knowledge to achieve it.

The law of attraction is a dangerous delusion

A study I read several years ago noted that positive people were inclined to die younger. This is because they were so buy 'believing positively' that they weren't focused on reality and didn't see the dangers. It is also a fact of life that if you believe that something is magically going to come to you, you're not going to figure out a common sense way of attaining. Magical thinking, however it is expressed, leads to unattained goals, depression, and in the words of Barbara Ehrenreich, has had a profoundly negative impact on the economy.

© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger


Lee A Barton from New Mexico on August 10, 2020:

I was searching "Law of Attraction" for an article I'm writing and found this. I haven't even read your whole article yet, but the first paragraph blew me away! You've really nailed it.

Richard Brook on April 12, 2020:

I've been following the "Law of Attraction" for over twenty years and I've yet to find any evidence whatsover that it exists, never mind actually works! Why? ..because there isn't any!

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on January 11, 2019:

Science is a method of observation, experiment, and analysis to see if something works or not. The law of attraction does not work. Psychology is not a belief system. There are many different schools attempting to explain human behaviour. Freud. Maslow. Rogers. Jung. These are just a few.

Nova work on January 11, 2019:

Lol.so only psychology works.but u believe in science.still is a belief. Will all the psychology look how bad are the schools and the stress is up, drug use is up..etc..etc.etc.so your science is not working

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on October 03, 2018:

Shell, the articles does not 'support' CBT. It is saying that CBT does not teach magical thinking. When one has accepted oneself for who one is, one is at peace. There is no need to control one's thoughts.

shell on October 02, 2018:

The article has a quote saying the truly self-confident & those who've made peace with their way in the world don't need to expend energy controlling their thoughts.... but the whole article seems to support CBT. This seems a contradiction.... CBT of course involved behavior (actions) too, but also thoughts. So it seems the truly self confident & those at peace DID control their thoughts or somehow managed to develop or at least sustain thought patterns that complemented their behaviors so they could get to that place of confidence and peace.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on April 11, 2018:

Finn Liam Cooper. Randomness is just another word for luck, and luck is most certainly a very definite contributor to both success and failure. Interestingly, the people who know the most people and who interact the most with other people are the luckiest. Why? Probably because most of our luck comes from other people.

Fin from Barstow on April 11, 2018:

Well you are certainly well informed about this principle and make some good points. I do believe in randomness however, the law of attraction does have some attributes to it that are valid. You may not necessarily grow rich from it but you do have the ability to project a positive image that can be contagious.

I do agree with you about the various money making schemes that are perpertrated and I do remember when Barnes (is that her name) wrote the Secret and the folly that came about from that narrative. The other books you mentioned have been popular since their publication and are interesting reads as far as nonfiction literature are concerned....but I don't think they are valid solutions to people seeking problem solving in their lives.

nice article

Cinna on December 02, 2017:

You studied LOA 20 years. That is such a long time. I must say I have very positive experiences with the LOA myself. I attract people, clothes, music, insights etc. It is a great help in my life. Ofcourse you have to have common sense. But you can attract the right situations for yourselve. But maybe it is not the right path for all. Like for the writer.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on January 21, 2017:

Oztinato precisely.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on January 20, 2017:

I understand where you are coming from. I spent ten years thinking all that was true. It didn't work and it doesn't work. There are other reasons that things happen. We are going to have to agree to disagree.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on January 20, 2017:


Do you mean "Sympathetic magic"? This term was coined by early anthropologists to explain so-called "primitive" thought. It is therefore more than a little biased against certain indigenous cultures.

Sympathetic vibration ( an actual scientific term) is very similar but is is an indispensable part of technology!. It is also all about "attraction". Modern tech looks like magic too. Mobile phones, tv, computers and many other tech devices utilise Sympathetic vibration.

The hub seems to suggest that positive thoughts for example is a type of "primitive" magical thinking.

"As we think so we are" comes from great philosophers. Are we greater than perennial wisdom?

The principle of attraction directly relates to gravity which still remains unexplained and "magical" as a force of attraction.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on January 19, 2017:

The law of attraction has nothing to do with gravity. It is about thinking something in one's mind and then it happens. That is magical thinking. Oztinato.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on January 17, 2017:

If the law of attraction doesn't work then gravity itself wouldn't work: but gravity is real. No one can explain gravity but there it is as a force of attraction running the entire universe.

That said if we attempt to dum down the law of attraction to a "get rich quick scheme" then we miss the beauty of the Real law of attraction.

As we think so we are etc. Can't be denied.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on March 31, 2016:

Yes, Moneymindit, but I have read approximately 200 books on the Law of Attraction and that is not what it means. What the law of attractions means is that your thought (without the action) is what makes things happen. What you're talking about is cognitive psychology in which if we think that we can do it, we are more likely to do it. It's not a guarantee, but it's more likely. You are not talking about the Law of Attraction.

Money Man from California on March 31, 2016:

Hi Tess,

The thought comes before the action. Even buildings cannot be built without blueprints. Blueprints are the "thoughts". I agree totally that thoughts alone do not create anything. Action is the true creator. Intelligent thoughts followed by action create intelligent results.


Tessa Schlesinger (author) on March 30, 2016:

Thoughts do NOT become things. Effort becomes things - if you're good enough. If you just think about things without doing them, then they do not become things. If you do something and you gave it very little though, it still becomes a thing.

A thought is a concept. One can chose to act on it or not. It's not the thought that has sufficient energy to convert itself into something without effort. That is called magical thinking, and if you read the article, you would have understood that.

Money Man from California on March 30, 2016:

I once read that the Golden Rule doesn't work. People will not always treat you as you treat them. That is just reality. However, when it comes to thinking and achieving, I think that thoughts do become things. You had to think about this HUB before you wrote it. If you wrote it as you were thinking about it, then the thought still came first.

I do agree with you that positive thinking alone will not accomplish anything. However, I am a firm believer that thoughts become things. What do you "think" about that? LOL!


Tessa Schlesinger (author) on January 18, 2016:

Deborah Demander, my perspective is shared by many. Many books are written about it. All the books and videos share the same perspective. It's just that you are mixing with people who don't read much and who aren't involved in science, studies, academia, etc.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on January 18, 2016:

Deborah Demander, and it is your moral right to believe whatever you like, so long as it doesn't in any way harm mothers. :)

Deborah Reno from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on January 18, 2016:

You have a perspective different than any I have ever encountered. As for your poll, I did not vote, because while I often ponder the many different reasons for the things that happen in my life, I still believe in the law of attraction.

No, I am not delusional enough to think that money will fall into my lap if I sit home and think about it, but I believe that the type of energy I send out (positive) is exactly what I attract to myself.

I am surrounded by love, and by abundance. And while I may not be wealthy by most standards, I am happy, and that, in the end, is all that matters to me.

Thanks again for writing this illuminating article.

Namaste. (And I sincerely mean that:)

Lizett from The Great Northwest on November 03, 2015:

When The Law of attraction gained popularity it reminded me of the people who pray to God like he's a fairy God mother. Fact is, hard work and perseverance win...most of the time.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on October 30, 2015:

CriSp, as I said, cause and effect is complex. To think that we have that much power over the myriads of causes that impact on us personally is to make ourselves a god of some sort. We aren't. We are all very human... :)

CrisSp from Sky Is The Limit Adventure on October 30, 2015:

I like your thinking and your preference, "reality, regardless of how harsh it is" -- very clever.

And this line: "When closed doors meet every effort, regardless of how hard one works, the fault is not one's own." -- is something I'd like to believe.

This hub is an eye opener and very insightful.

Thank you.

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