The Secret – A skeptics review


If you have not heard of the phenomenon called “The Secret” then you must be new to the internet.
“The Secret” is a self help documentary, and associated books and audio products that was promoted using a heavy handed viral marketing campaign on the internet in 2006.
It is basically making the claim that the “law of attraction” is a secret passed down the generations by successful people and families.
It is, of course, like most self help ideas awash with pseudo-scientific, superstitious mumbo jumbo bullshit.
But, also like most self help ideas, it has a valid basis. [It just draws ridiculous conclusions]

Positive Mental Attitude

The secret starts by claiming that if one has a positive frame of mind and focuses on positive things then “the universe” will “manifest” good things for you.
If you focus on the negative and bad things then “the universe” will “manifest” bad things for you.


However, this does seem to be what happens. [Notice the emphasis there.]
What actually happens is a perceptual shift. Our experience of reality is directly related to how we perceive it to be.
If you could shift your perception of the reality you change your experience.
This still sounds a bit mumbo-jumbo but it has been talked about by philosophers, and more recently clinical psychologists, for millennia.
They call it “subjective reality”.
Let’s use an example to understand the psychology of what happens.

After five years in a happy relationship you significant other suddenly dumps you and leaves.
Your friends noticing you are obviously distressed by the situation take you out to a singles club. [Aren’t they sensitive]
Across the room you notice someone really hot smiling at you.
Which of the following thoughts do you have;

  1. Hmm, I think they might be interested in me. I am going over and find out. Time to get jiggy.
  2. They are laughing at me. I am worthless.

In all likelihood the second thought is more accurate.
A good thing has happened, someone hot is interested in you, but because you are upset about your situation you can not see it as a good thing.
Let’s consider an antonym situation

After five years trying for a baby, including expensive trips to medical specialists, and after you have almost given up hope, you find you are expecting.
When you get to your car parked outside the clinic you notice you have a ticket. You had unintentionally parked in a disabled space.
Which of the following thoughts do you have;

  1. Damn. Just my luck. It always has to happen to me.
  2. WHATEVER! We are off home to celebrate!

yet again it is more than likely to be the latter.

What is happening is that if you are in a positive mood then the impact of a negative experience is minimized, and when you are in a negative mood the impact of a positive experience is likewise minimized.
The claim in “The Secret” that there are less negative experiences for people who take a positive outlook is nonsense.
These people have the same amount of negative experiences as they did before. But the impact of these experiences is reduced.
As our experience of reality is subjective, remaining positive is a good way to effectively change our reality.
Likewise the proposals of “counting our blessings”, as espoused publicly by the christian church for over 1000 years, and seeing the best in others are neither secret, new nor non-obvious. They are used to reinforce a positive outlook.

Goal Focus and Visualization

Neither of these two points are a secret or particularly mysterious. But the secret does it’s best to associate the power of focusing on goals and objectives, and visualizing achieving those goals, to some sort of universal energy field.
It makes sense that if you are focusing on your goals you are more likely to achieve them. Common sense.
If I want to have a clean apartment then visualizing how i want it afterwards then focussing on cleaning will make it happen.
Nothing mysterious there.
Cognitive scientists, the kind that avoid pseudo-scientific claptrap like the Secret like it is a plague, have found amazing things with athletes.
Athletes who visualize performing better, and then train, perform better than if they only trained.
This is interesting and warrants further study. It may be associated to the placebo effect.
Just attributing this phenomenon to “the universe” is a pathetic way of stifling scientific investigation and the authors of “The Secret” should be ashamed.

He who hesitates is lost & carpe diem

In a later part of the documentary it goes on about how after having a positive state of mind, and visualizing and focusing on your goals, you must be “ready to receive” the “manifestation” of the goals for it to happen.
This is nonsense. Yet again tying up some common sense idioms in nonsensical new age mumbo-jumbo.
What they are trying, ineptly, to say is that you have to be able to perceive the opportunities available to you and to seize them.
As described earlier, your attitude will determine how you perceive reality.
So if you are down you will not notice the cute single person smiling at you.
But this section is about if you are able to recognize the opportunity. It says you should not hesitate and should seize it.
How this “secret passed down the centuries” has remained secret when it is a common phrase, Carpe diem, baffles me.


All in all, The Secret has a few useful tips on how to achieve more in your life. But unfortunately it tries it’s best to associate it’s message with pseudo-science, spirituality and religion and not on verifiable scientific reasoning.
[One of the pieces talks about miracles by those that follow the ideas presented. But I have to ask if these miracles are just as miraculous as Lourdes? Where over 10 million people visit annually for the last 60 years and only 13 miracles have been recognized. In medical science that would be considered statistically insignificant to prove the effectiveness of Lourdes to produce miracles. At least Lourdes has raw data to study. The Secret does not.]
The whole piece can be summarized (sans mumbo-jumbo) as follows;

  • Focus on the positive in your life:
    • Focus on the good things that happen and cast off the bad things
    • List all the things that are good in your life and read them every day
    • Find the good in others, even those that make you feel bad
    • find the good, if you can, in bad situations. [They can be seen as a learning experience]
  • Focus on your goals:
    • Cut out the cruft and procrastination
    • Visualize your goals and the method of achieving them
  • Cape Diem:
    • Don’t hesitate when you see something you want
    • If you see an opportunity seize it

There you go. Simple idioms, and you do not need to waste all that time talking nonsense about “the universe” of how “we are all made of vibrating energy that flows between us”.
What would have been useful would have been some tips and strategies on how to;

  • Remove cruft to allow better goal focus
  • How to be more open to and recognize opportunities when they arise

Guess that will be in the next book/dvd/seminar.

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