on March 19, 2007
I am commenting on The Secret as a clinical psychologist who specializes in how cultural and spiritual beliefs affect health as well as the author of a book about converging science and mysticism to navigate our personal journey. First, The Secret is a compilation of opinions from a group of professionals in several fields, rather than a book by the author. It would be more accurate for Ms. Byrne to present herself as the editor, rather than the author of the book. Having said that, it is important to distinguish between wishful thinking and mind-body science. Although the concepts expounded in the book are beautiful examples of what we could achieve if we explored our potential, it leaves the reader with "feel-good" platitudes, by failing to convey that simply wishing something does not attract anything other than expectations that lead to disappointment. As a scientist, I have seen the mind bypass biology in miraculous ways, but this does not happen by just wishing and waiting for "the laws of attraction" to work. Instead, change requires honoring commitments, not blaming others for our failures, assessing the self-sabotaging that surface when self-esteem is compromised, and realistically defining goals.
The success of this book shows how hungry we are for someone to tell us that change happens magically without having to confront our demons and without taking responsibility for the life we created with our actions.
While I wish Ms. Byrne the greatest success, I want to caution the reader that if "wishful thinking" does not attract what you want, do not blame yourself, because it was only thoughts without action.
on March 6, 2007
Catchy review title? Thought so. Robert Cialdini, renowned psychology researcher and author of Influence: The Power of Persuasion (perhaps the best book ever written on the subject) identifies six basic rules employed by politicians, advertisers and scam artists alike to persuade others. Each of them are employed quite adeptly by Rhonda Byrne in this book.
Cialdini's first principle is SCARCITY; people want what's expensive, exculsive, or otherwise attainable. Byrne's mastery of this principle is clearly shown by the very name of the book: The Secret. We all learned this the first week of kindergarten as we felt the jealousy of watching two classmates, hands cupped over ears, sharing a secret out of earshot.
This message is reinforced throughout the book and its advertising campaign which pitches "The Secret" (whatever it actually is) as jealousy-guarded information hoarded by the happy, wealthy and successful. Whenever someone tries convincing you of something, whether it's a way to make enormous sums of money, to lose weight, etc - be wary of when it's pitched as "the knowledge THEY don't want you to have." Think about it - everything from the "secrets that Wall Street doesn't want you to know" to "uncovered - celebrities' secrets to staying young" are phrased not simply to pique your interest but to make you jealous. Appeals to our emotion are far more powerful than appeals to reason, and Byrne demonstrates mastery of this principle throughout "The Secret."
Cialdini's second principle is LIKING. We like those who like us, and in turn, we do business with them. Positive thinking and emotional intelligence has been linked to strong interpersonal relationships, academic and professional success, and good health, but there is a fine line when positive thinking crosses over to unjustified exuberance. Instead of simply noting the substantial benefits of positive thinking (a well-accepted principle which wouldn't sell books), Byrne crosses the line so blatantly that anyone with a modicum of modesty would find it blasphemous.
AUTHORITY is another Cialdini principle, also in play in "The Secret" in quite subtle ways. Another technique which differentiates this book from just another book of positive thinking is the heavy use of quasiscientific language, which gives the impression that the "law of attraction" is (or will become) an accepted scientific principle, just like the law of gravity or the law of attraction of oppositely-charged particles in chemistry. Many people are both intimidated and confused by the authority of science, a fact exploited by manipulators ranging from Byrne to peddlers of magic weight-loss pills.
Since no respected physicist would ever publish a paper on the universality of the "law of attraction," Byrne indirectly seeks experts in other ways. She attributes the success of people ranging from Einstein to Beethoven to adherence of "The Secret," thereby manufacturing experts. After all, if Einstein and Shakespeare mastered "The Secret," who are YOU to question it?
The last two Cialdini principles are CONSISTENCY and SOCIAL PROOF. The success of this book should leave little doubt it will be followed by more (and more expensive) forms of media peddling "The Secret." The audio recordings, weekend seminars, advertising tie-ins, and other follow-up products certain to follow will exploit these two principles. Once people commit themselves to believing happiness will come from "The Secret," they will attribute future successes, whether a promotion or a great new relationship, to adherence to it. Conversely, setbacks will be even more powerfully in committing people to "The Secret," as people will attribute their failures to not living up to "The Secret" (and buying more of Byrne's books). Consistency dictates it will be less painful to buy more books and immerse one's self further into "The Secret" than to accept the whole premise is a quite ridiculous; while not as pernicious as a domineering cult, "The Secret" promises to charge you handsomely for a positive outlook on life.
Byrne's book is problematic on many levels. On it's face, it's a manipulative marketing tool meant to flatter, confuse and deceive. It's also pseudoscience at its best, the last thing we need to encourage in an increasingly technological world which requires healthy skepticism and critical thought. Most damaging, though, is how the book perverts reality by encouraging people to equate a positive outlook on life with a childish, idiotic narcissism. Ayn Rand must be rolling in her grave hearing about the modern manifestation of her objectivist movement reduced to the intellectual equivalent of canned pork.
If you're interested in "The Secret," I highly encourage you to read the book - yeah, READ the book - if for any other reason so not to be manipulated by its brilliant marketing. Read it with a critical eye, with a copy of Cialdini's book in the other hand. You may not learn the secret of happiness, but you WILL learn a lot about manipulation and influence from a master of the subject in Rhonda Byrne.
on January 1, 2007
I think a book like this, which makes some really big claims, should, roughly, do the following:
1) Present it's premise clearly
2) Since it's a self-help book explain clearly what you need to do
3) Provide compelling evidence that it's ideas work
4) Be credible.
The book does a decent job of explaining its premise, which is that everything in your life is the result of the law of attraction. I quote, "the law of attraction says like attracts like, so when you think a thought, you are also attracting like thoughts to you." In other words, think good thoughts and good things will come to you and if you think bad thoughts then bad things come to you. I've simplified this a bit but not a whole lot as the concept isn't rocket science.
Now, does this book explain clearly what you need to do? Actually, for a self-help book it does a very poor job of this. How do you control your thoughts? What kinds of practices and thinking produce the best results? The author and contributors basically tell you a bunch of stories about how "so and so did something and you can too by changing your thinking".
And that's it for the "how to" part of the book. There isn't any.
Now, if I wanted to prove something worked from a scientific perspective it would seem to be easy to test this stuff out. You take two groups of people, teach one the secret, let the other go on with their lives and see what happens. In theory those that know the Secret would be happier and more successful than the control group. It might not be perfect but it'd be a whole lot better than what we get in this book. But, of course, you'd have to have an actual methodology to test.
Instead the authors cite numerous anecdotes of how the Secret worked. One person's cancer went away. Another individual walks after a brutal accident. Still another finds romance. That's all fine and perhaps it's evidence but it's not proof. Cancer can be misdiagnosed. How many people who were injured like the "Miracle Man" never walked again despite the best attitude and trying the approach perfectly? The problem with anecdotes is that it's easy to start with a result, work backward and assume the conclusion. It's also very easy with anecdotes to only present the ones that make your case and ignore those that don't (when someone dies of cancer while practicing the secret for instance). It's just not good enough to use anecdotes for large claims like those made in this book.
The following quote struck a nerve.
"People hold that for awhile, and they're really a champion at it. They say, `I'm fired up, I saw this program and I'm going to change my life.' And yet the results aren't showing. Beneath the surface it's just about ready to break through but the person will look just at the surface results and say, `This stuff doesn't work.' And you know what? The universe says, "your wish is my command,"
I thought it was interesting that the universe instantly manifest failure but isn't quite so fast with success. In fact, a cynical individual might conclude that what they are really saying is, "when this program works it's because the secret always works, but, on the off chance it doesn't work, well, that's your fault." An even more cynical person might think, "gosh, I wonder what would help a person who failed? Maybe, a seminar with Bob Proctor would be just the thing to get them over the top?"
Lastly, is the Secret credible? On the one hand, I think a lot can be said for the idea that if you change your thinking you'd change your life. In many ways that seems obvious to me.
On the other hand, if the secret actually was true, especially at the scope claimed by the book it would mean that everything that's happened is the result of your thinking. So, when a child dies of pneumonia, well, it's because they brought pneumonia into their lives. Michael J. Fox, not only did you bring Parkinson's into your life but change your thinking and it will go away. Obviously these things aren't true and they obliterate, in my opinion, any credibility in the book.
Not only does the book go too far but most (I'd argue nearly all) of the contributors aren't credible. On a topic of this scope: the ability to 100% change your life and the world in an incredible fashion, does anyone really think you couldn't find psychologists, top flight scientists, therapists and thousands of mainstream individuals to support it, if it worked? Wouldn't there be tons of research instead of anecdotes? Instead we get a Feng Shui Master, a chiropractor, motivational speakers (err trainers), a metaphysicist, etc. combined with a half dozen anecdotal stories. So the most powerful like changing idea ever and you get it from the crew in this book presented in this fashion? I don't think so!
If this idea really worked, at anything other than giving material to self-help speakers and generating repeat students, it just wouldn't be found here. The book wouldn't even have to be written because we'd all already know it and be practicing it. Remember, this is not a new idea, it's been around for a very long time, and it's been the topic of literally thousands of seminars and hundreds of books.
In conclusion, I'm not opposed to the idea on a small scale but this book just goes way too far and I'm left with the feeling that all that's really going on is a bunch of people trying to get their name out and get you to pay for their seminars.
on June 25, 2007
This book was given to me as a gift on father's day. I started reading it the way I read any book but soon I started reading faster and faster, more like scanning, with speed-reading techniques, and finished it in 2 hours, while taking notes at the same time.
I have no interest in self-help books or concepts like power of positive thinking. This book combines the two, with the main thesis being that the "secret" to anything in life, wealth, health, success, love, romance, happiness is positive thinking, thinking positive thoughts. More specifically, imagining things that you want to have and really, truly believe that you already have them, and feel good about having them now!
For example, if you want to be rich, you should first imagine that you are already rich; second, you should really believe that you are already rich; and third you should feel yourself in a rich life style, feel happy about it. If you keep doing this for awhile, miraculously the doors of wealth will open to you, all the opportunities will line up at your door and you will be well into your way to becoming that rich person you are imagining. Similarly, if you want to loose weight, you should imagine yourself in your ideal weight, really focus on that, only allow yourself "thin thoughts" and avoid "fat thoughts", and you will get thin. I quote; "if someone is overweight, it came from thinking fat thoughts". Another one; "Food cannot cause you to put on weight, unless you think it can."
I felt like putting a smiley face right after the last sentence as I am smiling now, and was smiling throughout the book. All you have to do is just ask (oh, and believe, and feel) for the thing you want and lo and behold, thou shalt have it! I quote: "Make a command to the Universe. Let the Universe know what you want. The universe responds to your thoughts." Another one: "The Universe will start to rearrange itself to make it happen for you." Really? I didn't know the entire universe cared so much about me!
The method even works for some frivolous things. Like always finding a parking spot, never having to wait in lines, never being late etc. And a lot of people are, allegedly, already doing it: "We have received thousands of accounts of The Secret being used to bring about large sums of money and unexpected checks in the mail. People have used the secret to manifest their perfect homes, life partners, cars, jobs, and promotions, with many accounts of businesses being transformed within days of applying The Secret."
One look at the titles of the co-authors of the book says a lot: Metaphysician, moneymaking expert (ha?), healer, life coach, law of attraction specialist, feng shui consultant (sure)... How about gullibility specialist, swindling expert, or snake-oil salesman?
Actually I shouldn't be so hard. At least one person, the main author of the book made her wishes come true. In the foreword of the book, and elsewhere inside, she says that she was going through a very bad time, her company of 10 years was about to be history. In desperation she looked everywhere for answers and that's how she discovered "the secret". Judging from the success of the book and the film, it must have worked for her. I suppose she must have thought, believed, and felt something like this: "I want a large number of credulous people to buy what I am saying (and the book, and the dvd) so I can make a lot of money".
on April 30, 2007
How do you rate and review a book like this! It is unkind to poke too much logic at it, because there really are many people who will get valuable, and even lifetime, advice and calls to action from it. This is a good thing, and you hate to throw lukewarm water on it, thus spoiling the happiness of persons who would like to charge ahead with the good stuff written inside. At the same time, you do not want to laud a work too highly that just has too many doubtful sayings in it, especially the ones dealing with science.
So here is a compromise. If you really enjoy the inspirational sort of self-help book that spurs you to think and consider the good things in life, then The Secret is a worthwhile purchase. If you prefer a more technically-set book with regard to harder philosophy and science, then check the book out of your library instead.
The doubtful parts have to do with one too many phrases that say the universe began with a thought (per Einstein, no less!), that particle energy is related to personal energy, and that everything is nothing but energy anyway. And so forth. This scientific laziness kind of takes away some of the inspiration from the rest of the narrative. If the science was well founded, then we could do some testing of the book's claims. And the idea of bad-thoughts / good-thoughts controlling life outcomes smacks of too much religiosity (didn't get what you wanted? Then you didn't think/pray/wish hard enough.). If you do read this book, not only does Christopher Reeve's absence come to mind, but also stuff like: can a diabetic throw away his insulin?
on March 14, 2007
Let's say something first: if it makes you feel better, you can even believe in Santa Claus, and there's no problem with that.
So, if you want to believe what Rhonda says, it's up to you.
For me, there are too many lies in this book.
They are appealing, because we all search for an easy way out. They sounds beautiful, like birds in the sky. But they remain lies.
They are also immoral: I think one of the best teaching in christianity is compassion. Compassion means to feel the suffering of another, to understand him deeply. It's the feeling we all feel when we see a baby cry for apparently no reason, so cute and so defenseless.
We feel his pain, we think we have to help.
But if you believe that feeling (mental) pain attracts to you disgrace, how can you embrace compassion?
Also, why help others if when they are in struggle it's all their fault? Why try to help them if you believe that their minds are responsable for that?
When we think of World War II, and Nazism, are we going to say that all the Jews were vibrating in a bad mood? I don't think it's a good answer to the evil that men do (and what about 9/11, or Katrina?).
Were all the people in the '60 anti-war movement creating more war? Vietnam was caused by John Lennon? Don't be a fool.
The poet says: the good sailor moves the sails, for he knows he can't control the wind.
I take this very personal. When I was just a kid, a friend of mine died. He was the happiest child in the world, we were shocked and thought about death for a long long time. He didn't attract his bad destiny, and we didn't attract anything, except tears.
Leave this book alone.
There's no need to say that the quotations of great men in the past are largely distorted. Take Bhudda: he spoke all the time against desire of material things, and he thought a lot about illness, aging and death. It's easy to take a quotation out of context and gain noble fathers for a poor idea.
on April 8, 2007
Recently I was at the airport and overheard snippets of a conversation taking place nearby. A gentleman was telling a fellow traveler about "The Secret". Intrigued, I got the book and just finished reading it.
First I should say I really wanted to like this book. It's a delicious idea....to think that the happier, shinier, more successful people of this world have access to a certain "secret" that causes them to attract good things. Unfortunately, as much as I hoped this book would blow me away, it didn't.
I found it difficult to stay awake while reading the first four chapters. The same basic themes ("Your thoughts become things" and "The Great Secret of Life is the law of attraction") were repeated over and over again. Mixed with the boredom was a sense of surprise that the book was so focused on material things. A chapter called "The Secret to Money" came before chapters on Relationships, Health, "the World", You and Life, which definitely made me go "Hmmmm."
"The Secret" starts with a great idea, but develops a credibility problem when it uses All Or Nothing and Overly Simplistic language. For example:
(a) "Nothing can come into your experience unless you summon it through persistent thoughts." This would seem to suggest that everyone working in the World Trade Center on 9/11/01 somehow INVITED the terror attack through their own persistent thoughts (which is, of course, pure hogwash.) Or terminally ill cancer patients fighting for their lives... SUMMONED the disease.
(b) "You have two sets of feelings: good feelings and bad feelings. And you know the difference between the two because one makes you feel good, and the other makes you feel bad." This seems to wipe out several dimensions of human emotional experience. What about ambivalence? ("I'm happy about the job offer in LA but, gosh, I'll really miss my family and friends in Boston.") Are we wiping out the concept of bittersweet? Isn't it a balance of a range of emotions that makes us human?
It is fine to say that, within reason, what you take the time to visualize for yourself in glorious detail is more likely to manifest itself in your life, or even that you can accomplish things you never thought possible by first seeing yourself doing, feeling, and thinking like you have already accomplished them (and, of course, following up with massive action to get you where you want to go.) I also realize that repetition and simple phrasing can be useful tools for teaching new concepts; however the scope of "The Secret" is too broad to use these techniques. (We're trying to learn a new blueprint for life here, not how to care for a potted plant.)
"The Secret" takes a valid concept to extremes. The unrealistic wording is unnecessary and raised red flags that were distracting and interfered with my ability to remain open to the overall excellent and useful message of the book. If you seek to learn more about the fascinating power of positive thought and creative visualization but do not wish to be brainwashed with extreme claims, then this book is probably not up your alley either.
on April 5, 2007
The Latin phrase, Ad Ignoratium, is apt: the statements made in this book are true only to the degree of the reader's ignorance.
Hmmm, I can win the lottery just by thinking positively about it? What if everybody around me has the same thoughts? Can we all win? If I want a college degree, can I get one just by thinking really hard or do I have to actually attend classes? I have cancer; can I will it away by envisioning smiling faces? Or should I get chemo first?
The bulk of the book employs pseudo "experts" to elevate the very real power of positive thinking to the status of a wishing well. As most of us learned as children, wishing alone rarely makes things happen. Action makes things happen, and tragically little about action is talked about in this book.
Lots of people report great things coming to them after practicing the "Secret." But it's unlikely that anyone will report how often it doesn't work. Like psychic predictions, we breathlessly report the "hits" and ignore the misses.
I'm a believer in positive thinking, but not magical thinking. There is a difference. Keep that in mind when you read this nonsense.
on July 16, 2008
One day Sasquatch find book in Ranger outhouse. Book called The Secret. Owl say book is self help book. Book say only you can help you. Book say to visualize what you want to achieve it. Me hungry and cold so me try. Sasquatch close eyes and think of warm fire which is warm from sticks. Me open eyes there no warm fire which is warm from sticks. Sasquatch close eyes and think of fat, slow raccoon that is easy catch. Me open eyes there no fat, slow raccoon.
This make Sasquatch give up. Me eat flesh of book which not taste like raccoon.
on March 1, 2007
The wealth that is bestowed on the small percentage of people in this world is acquired through heredity, ingenuity, hard work, or just dumb luck.
No one obtains wealth or cures cancer by simply obsessively wishing for it.
The first step in increasing your wealth is to take the money you would have spent on this mindless drivel, and put it in your pocket. See? You're doing better already...............