Long, long ago, in a galaxy that looks an awful lot like the one we’re living in, I read a book called The Secret. Even as I was immersed in it, I found very much of its content to be…a bit loony (though I should have suspected that before even opening to the first page: Rhonda Byrne, the author, looks more than a tad batty). The concept is very much along the lines of magical thinking: that if you tell The Universe what you want, and you think long and hard enough about it, and you really believe it is not only possible but will come to be, then it surely will. I’m paring it down quite a bit, but that’s pretty much the point.
Here’s a brief illustration of how far this philosophy (for lack of a better term) tries to go. There is a story in the book about a man who drew, in great detail, a feather. The man looked at the picture of the feather dozens of times a day, and concentrated all his mental energy on that feather. And after a few days, what came drifting to his feet but the exact fucking feather! MAGIC! Let us all be convinced of this way of thinking because of this anecdote!
No, I’m kidding. Do not be convinced of this way of thinking because of the feather. Do not be convinced of this way of thinking. I am not Augusten Burroughs. I do not think, nor have I ever thought–unlike Mr. Burroughs–that if I concentrate really hard on, say, someone dying, that they will die. If that was possible, well, I’d have committed patricide long long ago. I do not think that just because you really want something and think about it a lot, that you will certainly get it (how many people can hope and pray to win the Mega Millions and actually win?) and I do not think that if you do not get something you want it’s all because you didn’t believe hard enough. That’s what The Secret tries to argue. I do not buy into it.
HOWEVER, I do believe in the very real power of positive thought.
When I picked up The Secret, I was going to weekly therapy sessions, and had been told by a psychologist that I was bipolar. (Actually, what she said was that I had some of the symptoms of depression, and some of the symptoms of manic depressive disorder but didn’t really fit the bill for either. That didn’t stop her from handing me a 60-day trial of meds, however. Quack.) I had originally gone to see a counselor at my university because my family problems had been wearing on me for too long and I just needed someone to talk to. She put me in touch with a real therapist, and thus my brief foray into the mental health arena began.
Once a week I sat and talked about all sorts of shit I went through in my life, starting as far back as I could remember. She never once asked me how I was feeling that day, or how my current life was going; she simply wanted to pick up where we had last left off: “So, last time, we were talking about your memory of handing your crying mother Kleenex…let’s start from there.” The more I talked about my less-than-stellar past, the more morose I felt. I was drowning in bad memories. But after reading just a few pages of The Secret, I realized that I was doing myself more harm than good by continuing my therapy. I quit my sessions the next day, started focusing my energy on the good things in my life, and just told myself that even if my past wasn’t “resolved,” that didn’t mean I had to dwell on it. And, miraculously, I was cured! Or at least, I was smiling again. And frequently.
Thoughts, I feel, have inertia: once they build momentum in one direction, it’s difficult to change their path. When you allow yourself to wallow in unhappiness, you find yourself seeing all the negative in the world, and missing all the positive. Now, Ms. Byrne would say that by thinking about negative things you are asking the Universe to send you more negative. I’m sorry, you are not a magnet, and sometimes, shit happens. We get bummed out. It’s not your fault that in every life a little rain must fall, and sometimes, when it rains, it fucking pours. BUT, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all try to put our thoughts on a positive path. The more good you concentrate on, the more good you see. Building momentum in a happy, hopeful direction can only make your life better.
Another valuable little nugget I sifted from the rubble of The Secret is that you need to make what you want very clear–not to The Universe, or to the Lotto gods, but to YOURSELF.
We live in a world in which we are bombarded, beaten and berated by images and sounds and smells of things we are supposed to want. How many billboards, print ads, television commercials, and Facebook sidebar blurbs do you encounter every day? A lot, I’d wager. The purpose of those ads is to make you want something. Or at least believe, for a brief moment, that you want it so that you might get it.
But you know what? You probably don’t give a flying fuck about 99% of the bullshit that passes before your eyes. The bright colors and jingly songs might draw your attention, and marketing is a dastardly art form that can be quite hypnotizing, but how often do you see an advertisement for Cinnamon Toast Crunch and linger on it for days out of utter want? OK, maybe that wasn’t a great example because as a recovering sugar addict, I can linger on Cinnamon Toast Crunch for quite some time…but you get my point. It is honestly difficult to decipher what we really desire anymore, because everyone else thinks they know better than we do.
So when the time comes when you have a very real want, that is important. It is meaningful. We’re always seeking ways to make ourselves happier, but feeling a real connection with something, truly believing it will put you on the road to a better phase of your life, you need to own that. Being able to say to yourself with conviction, “I want that job/house/partner/peace of mind/etc.” and mean it is a beautiful thing, and it should not be taken for granted. And by telling yourself, by saying, outloud “I WANT THAT,” you’re actually giving yourself permission to hope. And, more importantly, to do something about it.
There is something to be said for dwelling on the things we are striving for. If you are applying for a great job that you very much want to land, and you tell yourself all the time that you are qualified and would be great at it, and you daydream about how your life will be when you get it, wouldn’t you think that would affect how you approach applying? Wouldn’t you write a better cover letter because your head is already filled with your positive traits? Or walk into your interview prepared and confident because your mind’s inertia is already moving in that direction?
Cynicism is rampant these days–I should know, I’m the cynic sarcasmo supremo–so we tend to shy away from enthusiasm and hope. We’re often so afraid of disappointment that we would rather not want anything in the first place. But that line of thinking is all wrong. Your perception is your reality, and your thoughts, your mental inertia, color your perception. By simply stating your wants and your goals (maybe even writing them down) and then allowing yourself to fill up with anticipation and belief that these things are possible and that you’re worthy of them, well, that will open up a whole new world of possibilities. A few happy thoughts and a self-sure statement of purpose are the first steps to a bright and shiny future.
I’m a slightly noir chick. If I’m saying this stuff, well, you should just take my advice.