Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Is "The Secret" Really a Secret? The Real Power of Positive Thinking

Is "The Secret" Really a Secret? The Real Power of Positive Thinking

Quite a few Chatham County residents have asked me to comment on the film/DVD/book entitled "The Secret" developed by Rhonda Byrne. There appears to be almost a cult-like movement generated by one year of advertising hype since the premiere in March 2006. If you look on Google you will find 230,000,000 references to The Secret. The official website is full of superlatives about "The Great Secret of the universe. It has been passed throughout the ages, traveling through centuries to reach you and humankind. This is The Secret to everything-the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, use: everything you have ever wanted." Wow!

The great secret, described as "the law of attraction", basically means that your mind sends out vibrations that will attract like vibrations in the universe around you. In other words, positive thoughts and feelings will cause those positive events to actually be realized in your life. This law is described as scientific with proof that our thoughts affect the "frequencies that we radiate into the world" and that "thoughts become things" when they attract "things radiating the same frequencies." The work quotes great thinkers of the past such as Aristotle and Einstein as "past secret teachers" and implies that there has been some sort of conspiracy to keep this law of attraction hidden from the public. Living "secret teachers" such as Jack Canfield have lent support to this movement and are featured prominently on the website which sells their own works as well as The Secret information. If you look at an online book seller such as Amazon, many readers provided glowing testimonials to the power of this concept in changing their own lives.

Should you ran out and buy The Secret for yourself? In my opinion: No. The Secret has and will continue to provide unlimited money etc. to the promoters but is really just a promotional/motivational treatise, not even a self-help book. Careful reviewers will realize that the book really does not tell anyone what to do except sit around and try to change their thoughts in a more positive or less negative direction.

Really, there is no secret. The power of optimism over pessimism and positive over negative thinking has been well documented and is the subject of many thoughtful books with real how-to suggestions. These works describe the psychological underpinnings and research basis of cognitive-behavioral principles without resorting to a pseudoscience of cosmic vibrations. Our brains are not magnets but can be used as tools to study, understand and apply these principles. Effort is required including real changes in our thought patterns and behaviors which will often lead to positive results. However, there are no guarantees or panaceas as appear to be promised in The Secret.

If you want to learn how to develop optimism and positive thinking, I would suggest the books written by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. psychologist, "Learned Optimism" (Knopf, 1991) and "Authentic Happiness" (Free Press, 2002.) If you are struggling with negative thoughts causing low self-esteem, depression and/or anxiety, I would suggest the book "Self-Esteem" by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning (Third Edition, New Harbinger, 2000.) Before you go out and purchase these books you can access other articles in the Reading Room of this website which provide a great deal of information on these topics as well as reviews or references to these books and authors.

Yes, there is power in positive thinking! It's just not a secret.