Self-improvement has a long history but in the last 10 years or so, we’ve heard a lot about the “Law of Attraction (LoA)” – the idea that our thoughts magically attract things, people and situations into our lives. Movies like “The Secret” have glamorized this idea to near mythic proportions and many, many practitioners use it as a way to achieve improvement in their clients’ lives.
I have only one problem with the LoA: I don't get the mechanics. When I ask how the LoA works, the answer I get is invariably something along the lines of: “Like energy attracts like energy.” My immediate thought to this is: “What the heck does that mean?” It might make sense to a physicist or a sorcerer, but it doesn't explain to me how it works. I’ve heard it so often that I started wondering if I had to go to Hogwart’s to get the power to have a better life. Luckily, I recently came up with a way to explain it without having to figure out how to find Dumbledore.
I was talking with my friend, Marvin, and he told me he is afraid of dogs. Compared to my mother, who greets all the dogs in the neighborhood, Marvin doesn't like them. When Marvin sees a dog – especially a larger dog – he immediately thinks: “Oh no! There’s a dog. Dogs are scary.” He then starts to tense up, his heart starts beating faster, his mouth dries up and starts sweating as he prepares for aggressive behavior from the dog. Next thing he knows, the dog is either barking at him or chasing him down the block.
For Marvin, this is a problem, but for me it was the answer to bringing the LoA down to earth. I finally understood that yes, “energy” might be involved, but on a more mundane level, attraction happens depending on how we think about things. I finally understood that the LoA is just a way of saying that our thoughts create our reality.
To illustrate, when Marvin sees a dog, he thinks dogs are scary and starts feeling afraid. Even if he can hide his physical expression of fear, it doesn't matter because his body gives off pheromones that communicate his state. Though most humans won’t consciously notice this pheromone, dogs, with nearly 40% of their brains dedicated to smell analysis and the ability to smell between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than we, sense it right away.
This, however, wouldn't be an issue if dog’s weren’t social animals. Compared to relatively solitary cats, dogs act much different when confronted with a fearful other. I mean, if you act afraid of a cat, what do they usually do? They freak out just as much as you do, right? Freak out around a cat, and they usually end up stuck to the ceiling. Cower in front of a dog, however, and it will do just the opposite. Perhaps it’s because cats are small, but that doesn’t answer this difference because even small dogs act aggressively if they sense fear.
You see, as social animals, dogs naturally hang out in groups. They play together. They hunt together. They develop relationships with others in the pack. They try to please higher-status members, and, given a chance, they do what they can to raise their own status in the pack. This can be done in a variety of ways, but when another exhibits fear, they tend to react aggressively – using that fear as an opportunity to climb the social ladder.
Interestingly, in the human social hierarchy, dogs know their place. They know that we dominate and they submit and, as long as they understand this, most dogs accept it and act accordingly. If, however, it is not clear that a human is dominant in a situation, (like when someone acts scared of them), a dog will revert to it’s natural instincts and seek to dominate – even over a human.
So, when Marvin starts acting scared, a dog smells the fear and recognizes an opportunity to dominate. It might take a strong stance; look at him menacingly, growl, bark or even attack - reminding Marvin that dogs are scary. Sadly for Marvin, this process repeats itself nearly every time he sees a dog.
This is how thought becomes reality and how Marvin “attracts” these experiences to himself. Marvin sees dog. Marvin thinks dogs are scary and prepares for trouble. Dog responds to Marvin’s communicated fear by acting aggressively. Marvin lives in a world of aggressive dogs.
Thought creates reality.
So, what would happen if Marvin were to change his beliefs about dogs? What if Marvin thought instead that dogs weren’t scary but perhaps just unpleasant? Would things be different? In this case, upon seeing a dog, Marvin wouldn't think: dog = scary and act afraid. He might instead think something like: dog = annoying and show signs of mild displeasure without sending off the fear pheromone. In response to his communicated ambivalence and the lack of the fear smell, the dog would probably ignore him too. Marvin’s new thought about dogs would allow him to have a different experience.
New thought = new reality.
This is how we literally create our reality. We respond to the world in conscious and unconscious ways by how we think about it and the world tells us we are right. It’s kind of scary if you think about it: just by the way we think about things, we are creating our reality – both good and bad. How depressing to imagine that many of our failures or unpleasant experiences are our own doing, but on the flip side, how liberating to know that we have the power of creation and just as we created the life we lead today, we have the power to change it.
This is my point: if you can accept that you are the one creating most of the experiences in your life by the way you think about them, you’re on your way to a better life. Instead of beating yourself up for creating/attracting unpleasant experiences, recognize that you’ve done an amazing job! Congratulate yourself on those aspects of your life that you are happy and proud of and recognize that you can change those you aren’t. Everything may not be the way you wanted, but you are the creator – not the victim – of your life.
Now that’s a powerful thought.
So, next time you are unhappy at the way things are going, create a new thought and see if things don't change just a little bit. You might be surprised by what happens.
Next time I’ll apply this concept to the thoughts we have about more practical things in our life like money, weight and leadership and see where it leads us.
Thanks to Marvin, his beliefs, and dogs everywhere for helping me to finally, clearly verbalize this concept.