Does the law of attraction really work?
Can you make the universe bend to your will?
If you’ve read books like As a man thinketh, Think and Grow Rich, and The Secret and almost all the stuff by authors like Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer, you’re probably aware of the Law of Attraction.
The law states that our life is the consequence of our thoughts. Our reality is created by the thoughts we think. Everything that you see in your life is there because of the thoughts you’ve had attracted those things into your life.
It also says that your mind is like a giant magnet that attracts only those people, things, and circumstances in your life that match your ways of thinking.
The proponents of the law, therefore, suggest that in order to get all the good stuff that you want, you got to think good thoughts that will attract those very things into your life.
According to the law, when you believe that you’ll get something, constantly visualize yourself having it, and desire it with strong emotions, the universe will conspire to bring it to you.
There’s a kernel of truth to it
…but only a kernel. Like many superstitions, this law is not 100% inaccurate. We do tend to act in ways that reflect our thoughts and beliefs and are, thereby, likely to experience circumstances that match our attitudes and beliefs.
However, what I want to prove wrong is the idea that there’s something magical about it, that our mind somehow influences the universe to bend to its will.
When I was first introduced to the idea long ago, it heavily influenced me. I conducted thought experiments on myself, trying to predict my own future.
Once, during graduation, while trying to figure out which question we’d be asked in a particularly tough exam, I tried to figure out what the universe had in store for me.
Needless to say, it didn’t help much. I didn’t find any magic formula that could tell me what the future would bring. I quickly realized that people believed in this law because they were lazy and didn’t want to work their way to the life they desired.
But it didn’t matter because I wasn’t really into the ‘think-your-way-to-happiness’ part of it. What intrigued me was this possibility that we could actually command the universe to bend to our will. The ontological claim in itself was shocking enough. It could prove to be a window of sorts into the nature of reality.
What are the odds?
The part of the law that I was inclined to believe was that our minds somehow created our circumstances. I’ve had experiences- as have many others- where the odds of an experience were so low that they could only be explained by the law of attraction.
For example, thinking of an old friend one fine morning and immediately receiving their call, even though you hadn’t thought about them and they hadn’t called you since ages. Or reading about a topic in your class and then when you get back home and check YouTube, the first suggestion you see is about the same topic!
These experiences, because they’re so astonishing and inexplicable, force us to think there’s something grand going on- that our minds, in some mysterious way, do tend to create our reality.
Nothing but coincidence
What appears as the law of attraction is nothing but pure coincidence. Coincidences, by their very nature, tend to be rare. The same quality is shared by experiences that seem to result from the law of attraction. They don’t happen every day or all the time.
If the law of attraction is true, we should be constantly manifesting our thoughts because we tend to constantly think about things. But this doesn’t happen, even if we power our thoughts with emotion.
We’re constantly bombarded with information day in and day out, and sometimes it so happens that the new information seems to be in perfect sync with the previous information that we had received earlier.
Granted, the odds of this happening are extremely low, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen or has a zero possibility of happening. This is when we experience the coincidence that seems to be due to the law of attraction.
We’re awestruck because this doesn’t happen too often. Because of this rarity, we tend to place a high value on such events.
In psychology, we call this the scarcity heuristic, i.e. overvaluing things that are scarce.
This overvaluation makes us think it must have some otherworldly quality to it. We tend to give little importance to 90% of the time when such coincidences don’t happen and overvalue 10% of the time they do happen.
Add to this the fact that your mind is essentially an associating machine. It categorizes related information together such that the acquisition of one type of information activates the memory of similar information stored in its recent memory database.
The reason you see the car you’re planning to buy everywhere is not that your thoughts of the car are making the universe show you more of these cars. It’s because you’re now primed to notice these cars more often.
One more factor to consider is that since most of us are exposed to the same type of information day after day, we’re more likely to experience such coincidences.
For instance, a computer programmer who’s learning a language in college and also practices at home will obviously encounter similar pairs of information, giving the impression of the law of attraction being real.
If, however, he decides to learn French as a part-time job in the evenings, the frequency with which he’ll experience any ‘law of attraction’ regarding information about the computer language will drop.
The point I’m trying to make is that if you work in a particular job daily, meet the same friends daily, browse the types of sites daily, the likelihood of you experiencing ‘law of attraction’ coincidence will be high. At the same time, the likelihood will be low enough compared to your overall life experiences, making you think there’s something grand going on.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.