Sunday, October 3, 2010

Focusing on your goals - it is really not a new thing

This is a long playing record for me:

Perhaps it is because I am not a cynical, greedy and uncaring author willing to make a quick buck off the desperate, lazy, uncritical or grief stricken but I really don't understand how it has been possible to take this very old idea:

Focus on your goals

And turn it into something that everyone seems to think is a brand new idea, whilst part of the selling point of your fake brand new idea is that it is indeed an old idea that has been around for ages.

If nothing else, I have to admire the sheer brass bollocksness of getting away with it.

Let's be clear - the idea that focusing on your goals and working towards them might help you achieve them is nothing new - it's as old as the first person in human history to come up with a goal for themselves to achieve, and it's basically good advice.

Setting sensible targets, working towards them, staying determined in the face of setbacks, hard work - all of this can get you where you want to be, most of the time. This is not something we didn't understand until Rhonda Byrne and her like came along. She didn't tell anybody anything they didn't already know.

But what happened when Rhonda Byrne came along?

Well, she just figured out a way to sell the fucking obvious to people and charge them for it, and the money printing industry known as The Secret was born.

Proof that Byrne is laughing at anyone who follows her is right there in the title of the book: The Secret. What fucking secret? Oh, you mean the one piece of advice that lots of people have been telling lots of other people for thousands of years? It's not a secret, and she knows it. But calling her book Stating the bleeding obvious wouldn't have made the idea nearly as popular, would it? And if it wasn't popular it wouldn't have made her money, would it?

If everyone knows it, it isn't a secret, it's common bloody knowledge.

"But that's not all she said." I hear you say. True. She dressed up the bleeding obvious in some mystic bullshit. In order to make it seem like she was saying something new and startling, Byrne had to come up with some new clothes to dress up the old idea and make her boat loads of cash. That doesn't mean that right at the heart of it all is the simple idea of focusing on your goals and working towards them. It wasn't hers, it isn't new, and it didn't need pointing out (for a price, of course) anyway.

The mystic bullshit

It's the Law of Attraction (which, again, is not a new idea, though it has always been bullshit) - the idea that if you desire something and completely focus on it then you attract the outcome to you, via some undetermined mechanism that the Universe has a hand in. Basically, the Universe grants you the stuff you really really wish for. Like draws like to it. Somehow.

This in fact removes some of the good advice present in the 'focus on your goals and work towards them' because now all you have to do is wish for them really really hard. It's the grown up equivalent of squeezing your eyes shut, crossing your fingers and saying "I really really really want that new toy." And then expecting the Universe to deliver. I have problems with every aspect of this.

Sorry, out here in reality things don't work that way. It has even been claimed that the Law of Attraction is a scientific law like other well known and tested physical laws. It isn't. Scientific laws can actually be tested, this can't. When it works it is the LoA, when it doesn't it is the LoA - there is no way to test it, which makes it psuedoscience (I prefer the term bullshit). There's no proof that it works other than anecdotes, and the human mind is a very fallible thing - people don't remember when it didn't work for them, only when it supposedly did.

Think about it

It should be pathetically obvious - if the Universe worked that way then everyone would have everything they wanted. There's a couple of obvious problems.

  1. We don't all have everything we want. In fact, some people have an unbelievably shitty deal - for example, nearly 1 billion people (half of them children) in the world don't have access to clean drinking water. Do you really think that they don't want to have access to water that won't make them sick, or kill them, so they don't determinedly focus on clean drinking water? Do you think children forced into prostitution wish for their situation? Don't you find it interesting that the only people who believe in The Secret and the Law of Attraction are people living comfortably in the developed world? People who, by the standards of history and in relation to most of the present population of the planet, have everything they could need like to think that the Universe grants you what you really really want, and they just ignore the billions of people who live far away and get nothing but indifference from the Universe. Think about that.
  2. People want contradictory things - how do they get sorted out by the Universe? If it comes down to who wants it more then what if I want people like Rhonda Byrne to drop dead because they are parasites, and they don't want to? What if the would be rapist really really wants to attack someone, but his intended victim only really doesn't want it? Think about that.

In short

Focusing on goals and working towards them - sound advice, not new, not startling, not a cast iron guarantee of success, not a secret.

The Secret and The Law of Attraction - bullshit dressed up to look like chocolate. Not a scientific law, not true, not real, not new.

Why do people fall for this shit?


  1. Always happy to see this evil sodding bullshit dismantled. Rhonda has even come out with a new one, The Power. I won't link to it, but here's part of the product description:

    "The Secret revealed the law of attraction. Now Rhonda Byrne reveals the greatest power in the universe-- The Power to have anything you want."

    There is so much wrong with this stuff it's hard to know where to begin, and then there's the brain cells to think about. Just even reading this lunacy is painful.

  2. Jesus Tits, I hope we don't get another year of having to debunk The Secret.

    Maybe we can just say "See everything we wrote in 2008. Now go away."

  3. She's brought in a couple of new ideas. Get ready for a tsunami of water woo.

    A reviewer outlines her ideas thus:

    "Researchers in several countries," Byrne writes, "have discovered that when water is exposed to positive words and feelings such as love and gratitude, the energy level of the water not only increases, but the structure of the water changes, making it perfectly harmonious ... When water is exposed to negative emotions, such as hate, the energy level of the water decreases and chaotic changes occur." Since "the inside of your head is 80 percent water," you can see how important this is.

  4. Unfortunately I don't think we'll ever be done debunking this, but I like you're approach Ryan.

    It might save me from Carpal Tunnel after all