Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another Interesting Reading List

I love making reading lists. The last one I did was on a business blog a couple weeks ago, and it got a LOT of attention online. Apparently I'm not the only one interested in self-improvement manuals and wisdom for business.

I had an interesting experience just this week, as I've been reviewing Burt Goldman's "Quantum Jumping." This is a curious self-improvement strategy, because it follows in line with some stuff that came out in the '60s (notably Jane Roberts' Seth books), which in turn follow along the same lines as Napoleon Hill.

Basically, the strategy for all these programs of programming boils down to this: Whatever you can think of as a fundamental desire in your life, you have the potential to create.

That's a bold statement. It was made by The Secret as well, which turned out to be one of the greatest marketing pulls of all time in the self-help industry. If I have one qualm with The Secret, it's that the basic premise is flawed. Their general statement is that the "law of attraction" -- the thing that causes planets to orbit each other, and rockets to fly to the moon, and success to come to those who are success conscious -- is that "like attracts like."

Of course, the law of attraction in the world of physics is that opposites attract. It's how electrons, magnetism, gravity and dozens of other physical processes actually work. Is that splitting hairs? Possibly. I think they should rewrite the wording of the law to something like "thoughts encourage like results." At least that wouldn't be a flat-out lie like the other "law of attraction."

So what's the same here?

Well, we're looking at these texts as the basis:

Napoleon Hill says that the key to success is unflagging, single-minded determination. A ritual ingraining of the desired outcome, bordering on obsession, with the intent of causing that thing to manifest in reality. According to Hill, all beings and things in the universe are connected to an energy field he calls "infinite intelligence," and that it is possible to influence this intelligence by bringing a strong enough force of will to bear on it. Doing so will cause the thing you desire to manifest in your life.

This is the thread of all these other texts. For example, Jane Roberts (purportedly channeling an intelligence named Seth) states that it is through our understanding of the thinness of our perceptual veil and the profound realities that lie beyond it that we can take control of our own destinies and the things that lead to personal success and happiness. Peale, in his classic of positive thinking, emphasizes the effect positive mindset can have on day-to-day happiness. The Secret touts the same idea as all these books: that with the right attitude, you can tap into the universal forces that connect everyone and everything, and as a result manifest whatever you want.

Quantum Jumping is a slightly different take on the idea. First, the premise is that there is an infinite number of universes, and that in each universe there is a you that has taken a different path at each juncture of your life. So in one life, you decided not to go to school to become an engineer. In another, you decided to eat fudge ripple instead of maple walnut.

And so on.

Goldman claims to have found the way to contact each of these alternate selves (an extension, to a point, of the idea Roberts puts forward in her books) and ask them stuff about whatever you want to do. So, you can go through a "dimensional door" via meditation, find a version of yourself that is a successful photographer (his example), ask them about becoming a successful photographer, then return to consciousness with a cryptic response that will inevitably lead to your becoming a successful photographer.

Hill and the others would probably argue that this is a connection not to a trans-dimensional self, but to infinite intelligence. In fact, Peale would argue that your meditative question had been answered directly by God, as through prayer. But regardless of the source (and, let's face it, it would be arrogant of any of these authors to claim singular knowledge of the vastness of the source of all these miracles), the precept remains the same. Know what you want, focus your energy and thought on it, and it will come to you through the power of this vast intelligent universe.

But is there a downside?

There actually is a downside to the whole positive thinking phenomenon. Aside from the fact that I consider it incredibly narcissistic to believe you can command the universe to give you whatever you want, psychologists have actually begun to uncover some problems with this whole line of thought.

First of all, what happens if you put all of your concentration into trying to manifest the career of your dreams and it doesn't materialize? The authors above would say that it's because you didn't do it right. There was some negativity blocking you. What this does is it puts the responsibility for failure on you, and not on their system of controlling destiny. This is profoundly dangerous, because it can actually make your sense of personal failure even greater than it was before you started the million-dollar quest.

Secondly, the power of positive thinking can backfire by leading to depression. If one is sad about something, and uses one of these methods to come out of that slump and it doesn't work, the perceived failure can actually cause an even deeper level of depression.

There's also the attendant weirdness of having to ignore reality while applying these principles. For Peale and The Secret actually require that you put negative thoughts out of your head. This would include fear, doubt, sadness, anxiety, worry, displeasure, mourning, anger, stress...really anything that might cause you to not smile for a few minutes. In Peale's case, he actually suggests that all the world's problems would go away if people simply stopped thinking about them. Hunger would disappear, and disease would cease to exist because people wouldn't give these problems any power.

Of course they wouldn't really go away. We just would just be justified in ignoring them. I suppose eventually the sick and hungry would die off anyway, so by extension the problem would disappear.

Hmm...not a great thought, considering he's touted as a Christian author.

There's also a famous incident of a discussion of The Secret on Oprah. In that instance, author Rhonda Byrne literally suggested that negative thoughts block positive outcomes. The example given was that if one wishes to lose weight, one shouldn't look at fat people.


Right...if you want to manifest thinness, you have to avoid seeing anyone who's fat. The image will become implanted in your mind and that's the image your subconscious and the universe will create for your own manifestation.

Or you could, I don't know, eat less junk food and do some sit ups.

Bottom Line

I have no doubt that a doggedly single-minded focus on your personal mission and your goals is crucial in achieving success. In fact, not doing so allows you to become distracted, sidetracked, and otherwise lose focus. However, it's important in reading and reviewing self-help materials to keep a firm grip on reality as well, and to understand that while you can keep your spirits up you have to stay flexible enough to cope -- really cope -- with things that happen to get in the way.

This is why I like to go to Lao Tzu for a little grounding in personal ambition:

"Failure is the foundation of success, and the means by which it is achieved."
"Ambition has one heel nailed in well, though she stretches her fingers to touch the heavens."
"Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream."
Do I suggest not reading or listening to these books? Absolutely not! Everybody needs to be reminded to stay on track, and these books are solid guideposts and strategies for doing this. What I suggest is that using them, avoid overzealous or religious tenacity to their precepts, or you run the risk of coming up against those disappointments and not having a solid foundation to deal with them properly.

Be motivated, but be flexible.

1 comment:

  1. Very extensive and well-written post, on a topic near and dear to my own heart. I'm so happy you posted about LoA.

    I write about this all the time on my blog (including authoring a 377 page book.)

    A couple things to contribute:

    Re Law Of Attraction Physics:
    Power Vs. Force by David Hawkins analyzes the 'physics' of 'Like Attracts Like' aspects a bit more thoroughly (but still not adequately for most detail-oriented scientists.) may be a good read, but the best understanding I've seen which satisfies masculine, logic-based thinking and delves into the science of Law Of Attraction is "The Web Of Life" by Fritjof Capra.

    Re: Napoleon Hill
    This man is known as the world's greatest Millionaire Maker and has been mentioned by almost any successful personality, but even if the successful do not mention him, they are almost always mentioning his principles, or peale's or some other LoA espouser.

    Jay-Z praises Gary Zukav. Lady Gaga raves about Deepak Chopra. Jim Carrey is spokesman for Eckhart Tolle. Oprah's all over this. The list goes on.

    "its sorta like a mantra. You repeat it to yourself everyday. Music is my life, music is my life. The fame is inside of me, im going to make a number one record with number one hits. And its not yet, its a lie. Your saying a lie over and over and over again, and then, one day the lie is true." Lady Gaga "on the record with fuse" interview.

    There is a reason all these superstars reference Law Of Attraction teachers. They've all TRIED IT. Not analyzed it. Not picked it apart. The were like REAL scientists, experimenting, trying, and taking in experiential, empirical evidence.

    Think about it.

    Articles are great for informing us and guiding us, but everything comes down to a leap of faith always.

    Try it or don't.

    Personally, I highly recommend TRYING it. :)