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Can the Law of Attraction be used to improve your finances?

magnetThis could be the shortest blog post ever if I answered my own question with a single-word answer, but that wouldn’t provide justification for my position. I want to unpack what is commonly referred to as the Law of Attraction in order to understand whether or not it can help when it comes to improving our finances.

In a blog post addressed to a former Prime Minister, I discuss the wealth gap that is at the heart of my work. Can we address this big problem by simply applying the Law of Attraction (LOA)?

In a word, no. Here’s why.

In a thought-provoking book entitled Throw Away Your Vision Board, author Neil Farber takes an exhaustive look at the Law of Attraction. Elements of the LOA have been around for a very long time, however it really started to take root in the 20th century through authors like Wallace Wattles, Earl Nightingale, Bob Proctor, John Assaraf and Rhonda Byrne (of The Secret fame), to name but a few. The LOA states that like attracts like, and that therefore you attract into your life positive or negative outcomes based on the energy that you put out via your thoughts, feelings and words. If you think positive, abundant thoughts, you will have a positive, abundant life. This is a gross simplification, but you get the idea. If something in your life isn’t quite right, then it means that you’re somehow putting out negative energy. Change your thoughts, feelings and words, the thinking goes, and you will change your life.

If this were true, then we should be able to close the wealth gap for women by simply changing our thoughts and our feelings, en masse, to positive thoughts about money and growing financial strength. If every woman were to simply focus on thinking and feeling only positive things about money, then the gap would narrow.

Let me ask you something: have you ever tried positive affirmations to address a challenge in your life? How did that work for you? Did writing and saying something like the following, daily, make any difference: “I am so happy now that I have reached my ideal weight of x pounds and I feel healthy and sexy in my body!” Or, “I am so grateful now that I earn XX per month and live in my dream home, able to travel whenever I want with my family!” Are you there yet? Probably not if this has been your only strategy, because thinking and feeling alone won’t get you there. I have yet to meet a successful person who “thought” and “felt” their way to a great life.

Farber points out in painstaking detail that there is not a shred of evidence that the Law of Attraction works. Nothing, nada. All the wild claims? They are just that – claims. Research has yet to show that the LOA is in any way effective despite its long list of adherents.

Here are a few other problematic points to consider:

It’s all your fault

If you’re a believer in the LOA, then the problems in your life are your fault. If you had done it right, you wouldn’t be in a pickle. Got cancer? Are you broke? Did your spouse leave you in the night with unpaid bills and kids to care for? It’s your fault. I don’t even know where to begin in tearing this apart; the premise is so flawed and harmful. Farber spends an entire chapter deconstructing this, among other, unintended consequences of adhering to the LOA.

You are indeed responsible for your financial choices, but that’s a different matter. It’s not solely about your energy, thoughts and words, it’s about your actions.

Why so many guides?

Here’s the thing about a real law: it works all the time. Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation works everywhere. You don’t need a Quick Guide to Successfully Use Gravity to make the baseball come back down if you throw it in the air. The LOA, on the other hand, works so seldom that countless guides, programs and gurus have popped up to show you how it “really works”. If you haven’t had success with it, the latest thinking goes, then it’s because you have not done the right ten steps in the right order. Tweak those and you’ll have success.

It doesn’t work that way. Like does not always attract like as the LOA would have us believe, and it has nothing to do with the program or the steps that you’re following. It just flat-out doesn’t work.

The trouble with visualization

How many times have we heard something like the following: “Close your eyes and visualize your ultimate goal state. See every detail, feel every amazing feeling of having, being and doing whatever your heart desires.” This is often promoted as a key to the LOA. Visualize your goals and then act as if you have accomplished them.

Does that work? Not in that way, it doesn’t. In his book, Farber shares the results of several studies on the effectiveness of visualization, including one done with students : “College graduates who visualized getting their dream job after college submitted fewer applications, received fewer job offers and had lower salaries than those who visualized how they were going to look for jobs.” He goes on to say, “Visualizing futuristic goals being attained saps your energy and decreases your motivation to play an active role.”

This is critical: it appears that visualizing the end goal can actually impede your progress! Visualization can indeed be helpful, but only if you focus on the process of accomplishing a goal, and not the end state. For example, if you want to be a top-scorer on a sports team, you would visualize yourself practicing the skills required to become a top-scorer. Similarly, if you want to be debt-free, you would visualize yourself doing the work to earn more money, paying off your debts and resisting purchases rather than seeing yourself on a white, sandy beach looking out at the ocean.

I encourage you to read Farber’s book if you want more details on some of the arguments above, but for now I’d like to turn my attention to an approach that works. In a nutshell, here is what can make a difference to strengthening your financial position:

  1. Figure out your why’s.
    • What end goal do you desire and why is it important to you?
    • What current actions are preventing you from achieving your end goal?
    • What’s the why behind your actions (e.g. if you’re a compulsive spender, sort out when and why you do it). When you know your why’s, you will have the motivating force for the next step.
  2. ACTION! You can have inspiring goals all you like, think positively, read affirmations every day of your life and visualize until the cows come home, but if you don’t act, you will get nowhere. First get your head straight (Step 1), then get to work. Break down your goals into action steps, tackle the first one and keep going! It’s all about action.
  3. Remain positive and keep looking for solutions. When we remain positive, we are open to solutions and we have a greater chance of spotting opportunities.
  4. Demonstrate resilience. If you fail at a goal, don’t throw in the towel. Review your goal to ensure that it’s the right goal for you and then get back to work.
  5. Keep your eye on the prize rather than focusing on the stumbling blocks. You certainly need to understand and address problems, but don’t let them steal your focus.

For those of you who feel protective of the LOA, I do understand. At first blush it seems quite appealing, but I encourage you to look honestly at the results that you’re getting with its implementation. You’ll achieve more by focusing on values-based action while retaining a positive outlook than you ever will by sticking to the LOA.

As Farber points out, the LOA is more of a principle than a law. Like tends to attract like. It just doesn’t always do so. Bear that in mind and use it to your advantage.

Until next time, thrive and grow.

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