Does the law of attraction really work? – A skeptical & scientific perspective

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The law of attraction became a marketing term

I would like to compare the law of attraction with superfoods. Superfoods are a broad marketing term describing a group of foods  that are supposedly far more nutritious than any other food.  While this term is very commonly used in health food stores  and  very popular in pop health articles. It’s not a scientific term. It is a Does the law of attraction really work?term created solely for marketing purposes. (Tim Crowe,2011)

And while the “law of attraction” was a term that existed in  occult lore before. The oversimplified idea that ‘You can get anything you want just by thinking about it”  was strictly created for marketing purposes. It is also an oversimplified formula designed to be marketed to the general public.

It is a very common strategy in marketing to do that, because most people like formulas, dogmas  and simple ideas they can put on a small piece of paper to glue on their refrigerator. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s only something wrong with that if you don’t realize that there’s much more to it than the oversimplified principle states.

Oversimplification hinders progress

The need for oversimplification very often makes scientific findings misunderstood when presented to the general population. Ellen Langer, a noted social psychologist states:

 The problem is, however, that once “Who knows? (in scientific thinking)’ enters the popular vernacular it is very easy to transform. ‘It could be true’ and even ‘It is probably not true’ into ‘It is true’

The truth behind the law of attraction

It’s interesting that studies have shown that we intuitively believe in something similar to the law of attraction. (Pronin, E., 2006) In one study people who have imagined their team winning very often attributed the baseballs team success to their visualization and likewise they did the same if they believed that they ‘cursed’ the basketball team and it lost. All in all this indicates that the law of attraction is something we grasp intuitively, which might further explain the wide appeal of this theory.

The “law” of attraction is  not a law it’s only a principle that deals with probability

It’s a fact that scientific laws, especially in psychology very often deal with probability. Psychology in general is a scientific discipline and things are not as clear-cut as in physics or in math.  One cannot for example say “All people born from schizophrenic parents will become schizophrenics’ but instead we say ‘People born from schizophrenic parents have a greater tendency to be schizophrenic themselves’ (As there is never a 100% guarantee that it will happen because there are many other factors at play)


There are many good things about the law of attraction

While the law of attraction is not completelly a good idea  it does very often persuade people to  re-examine their thoughts and feel better from the feelings of hope, joy and possibility the idea evokes.

I personally think that a group coaching environment which is very often created by many specialists in the law of attraction is the most helpful in the achievement of those, and other positive goals associated with the law of attraction.

At the same time I know that there are some suggestible individuals, such as myself, who can be hurt by the distortion of truth present in the whole idea of the law of attraction, about which I have written extensively in this article

But let’s now discuss the positive things about the law of attraction while answering the question “Does the law of attraction really work?”

Let’s first begin with…

The esoteric truth behind the law of attraction

It is true that  quite a number of esoteric teacher did actually claim that you can influence the world through thought and your beliefs.  This is actually one of the main principles of hermetics and various contemporary occult authors did also talk about a similar phenomena.

The term “Law of Attraction” was first coined in   1880 by Helena P. Blavatsky  in her book, Isis Unveiled.  Since that time much has been written about the idea that we attract what we want by the idea that we get and become the things that we focus upon.

And she was actually the author who was the starting point for a lot of the beliefs we see in self help literature today: the power of intuition, the superiority of the ‘right brain’ over the left brain etc.

Israel Regardie, who’s most famous at bringing the esoteric teachers of the hermetic order of the golden dawn to the general public also  presented a similar idea to the law attraction in his book Art Of True Healing

Although I would like to note that  Blavatsky and Regardie would be the first ones to attack the kind off dogmatic narrow-mindedness which hurt me during my exploration of the law of attraction, which I see in some of the proponents of it. I have written an extensive criticism of the over-hyped claims of some of the proponents of law of attraction in this article and I would highly encourage you to read it.

But the fact is real esoteric truth is not so pretty and anything but safe

It is important to mention that all those materials emphasized that spirituality is anything BUT a sure-fire method of getting rich, happy, and hot. They actually emphasized that it’s pretty dangerous, and that if it’s done incorrectly it can even bring terrible things onto you.Which is something in which I’ll go in depth in later articles, right now I can just mention that many people who were heavily into spirituality ended up homeless and psychotic, because while self-help books very often claim that spirituality is completely safe, it just isn’t. That’s why real occultists very often had a very rigorous scientific approach to esoteric work, something which I’ll also discuss in greater depth in the future)

I  would like  to give a very good analogy between authentic esoteric teachers and popular proponents of the law of attraction. Authentic esoteric teachers are like your PE teacher, they are though and do not lie to you that you’ll get thin and athletic in a month without exercising, while on the other hand  ”spiritual” self-help  books are like diet books that claim you’ll get thin while eating two buckets of ice cream per day. (And very often they themselves are fat, but this is also a complaint for another article)


At best, true magick can only increase your luck by 30%

Petter J. Carrol  in his audiobook The Chaos Magick Audio CDs claimed that all that magick and all spiritual disciplines (at best) can do, is to increase the probability of something happening by 30% , which based on my own experience and research is absolutely true.

luck parameter

If you’ve ever played an RPG game you can think of it as the ‘luck’ stat. It basically increases the chances of something happening, and while a 30% increase in luck is helpful it’s useless is you’re fighting something that’s 200 levels above you (RPG metaphor, I know I’m a geek)


And so  if you basically do nothing all day but watch TV a 30% increase in the probability of you becoming rich will not make you rich, as the probability of that happening is small

Let’s work through a related example

The probability of winning the lottery is: 1/13,983,816 (decimal probability) which makes it: in decimal probability

0.000 000 071 5

And if you increase it by 30% by being the master at spirituality and the law of attraction it becomes

0.000 000 071 5 × 1.3 = 0.000 000 092 95

rounded down it’s still a 0.0000001 decimal probability


So it’s still one in a 10 million

Which means it won’t happen, and if you don’t buy a ticket the probability changes from one in a million to 0. No matter what you do with your thoughts


Science on the esoteric aspects of the law of attraction

The techniques of magick are now very often used in psychotherapy (something which I’ll discuss in detail on this site in the future)

And they might actually be one of the causes for the immense power of the placebo effect which has been shown to actually produce tangible changes in the brain

There are also numerous studies that indicate that intention and ritual might give significant health benefits, and that they are useful as supplements to traditional medical and psychological care.   (Schwartz, S.,2013)

And there are also various studies that show do indicate the effectiveness of distance healing practices such as reiki and healing touch, although many scientists are skeptical of them. . (Astin, J. A.,2000)  (Sicher, F., 1998)

And one meta analysis do indicate that the effect of magic and ritual can have some effect on healing and health (Schmidt, S.,2004)


 The bottom line about the esoteric aspects of the law of attraction

Real magic is an art form, and it is a  very hard art form at that. It is something that can really hurt you if you’re not carefully, and even if you’re doing anything right it will not give you a new car.

Real occultism involves deep self-exploration and it’s ultimate aim is self-actualization and enlightenment, it’s a spiritual endeavour  for which the rewards are anything but material.

But now let’s discuss

Positive thinking is healthier than negative thinking

  It is without a doubt that positive thinking is healthier than negative thinking.  There have been many studies done on this topic to the point that it has become a fact. For example a recent study done on  samples of Singaporean  students    (Wong S., 2013) has shown that positive thinking is positive correlated with life satisfaction and happiness while negative thinking is correlated with stress,anxiety, depression and anger.

One study done in 2011 by Lench, H.  has shown that positive thinking made people more likely to have to goals that deal with achieving something as opposed to actively trying to avoid something. Avoidance goals have been associated with greater health risks and poorer accomplishments than positive goals. (Which is one of the reasons why positive thinking and the law of attraction might actually be healthy, it motivates people to formulate positive goals instead of negative goals)

Another recent study done by Lightsey Jr. O and Johnson Eł Freeman P. in 2012 indicates that negative and positive thoughts directly predicted positive and negative emotions, and that positive thoughts predicted higher self-esteem.

And there are many other psychological benefits to positive thinking, even  unrealistic positive thinking. Such as:

Expectations affect our outcomes

Studies have shown that expectations do have the tendency to affect outcomes.   (Jussim, L and Harber, K. D., 2005)

So if someone believing in the law of attraction persuades himself to believe that he’ll do better on a test, he just might. I myself have experienced just that.  When I believed in the law of attraction I very often got semi-good grades with almost no studying, which I attributed to the fact that I affirmed that I’ll get good grades for an hour a day.  But in retrospect  I really think I should have just spend the time on studying.

The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion Effect is a widely accepted phenomena in psychology which states that the greater expectations are put on people the better they tend to perform.

People who believe in the law of attraction tend to set more ambitious goals, as they begin to believe that ‘they can achieve anything’ and while sometimes this can be dangerous, very often it can actually lead to  increased productivity as people’s expectations of themselves increase.


Studies have shown that belief can actually produce physical changes in the body

One study has shown  that belief can actually produce specific biological changes in the body.   In one study researchers have given a placebo pill to people suffering from Parkinson disease. This disease  is associated with a decrease in the production of dopamine. It was discovered that the people who took the plecebo had a sever increase the in the production of dopamine. So there was a direct biological change recoreded in response to a belief change. Which indicates that the plecebo effect and belief change is represented by specific activity in the physical brain so while our beliefs cannot change our physical reality, they can change the reality we experience- our physical brain. ({author},2013)

And also a follow up study found out that the strength of the plecebo response (Indicated by how much the levels of dopamine increased in the patients brain) were directly correlated with the intensity of the belief. So the more the patient believed that the medication will help him, the more it did. So there’s an undeniable strength to irrational or “magical” positive beliefs. (Lidstone, SC,{year})


There are many studies done on hypnosis, (Gerald Kein and Calvin Banyan,2001) that prove that self-suggestion can immensely improve our lives.

And because the law of attraction persuades people to basically give themselves continuous autosuggestion, they might actually repeat them to themselves in various spontaneous trances we enter during the day and night

Additionally many books on the law of attraction teach self-hypnosis, which is a method of self-improvement that works for many people and which will be discussed in the future on this blog quite extensively.

Mood contagion

And it is undeniable that positive thinking does have a lot of pluses. For example there the sociological phenomena called ‘mood contagion’. Recent studies basically show that happy feelings quite easily infect other people through social networks, and so the happiness of one person might make other people close to him happier. (ScienceDaily,2008)

But there are some potential negative aspects to the practice of the law of attraction

I have discussed them more in depth in other articles.  In short some individuals who practice the law of attraction might be overly rigorous with their thought control, and might in fact  try to resist and/or avoid their negative thoughts and feelings. This phenomena is called experiential avoidance and is one of the unhealthiest mental practices you can do. (Steven Hayes,2005)

Additionally it might encourage black & white thinking, decrease the compassion towards suffering and sometimes even produce psychosis, which is  something that I’ll discuss further in future articles.


The secret of how to apply the secret and the law of attraction

The real secret of applying the law of attraction is a very common secret. It’s hard work. Both from an esoteric and psychological perspective, to gain the benefits of positive thinking you need to experience a change in your as a person, as otherwise the positive thinking will never seem natural it will be false and forced.
This deep internal change takes a lot of patient and diligent work. From a psychoanalytic perspective it involves a long-term analysis of your own motivations, from a bioenergetic perspective it involves the elimination of chronic muscular tension, and from a cognitive-behavioral perspective it involves learning new thought patterns and behaviors.

Each of those things is very often much harder than, for example, loosing 20 pounds, and even if you accomplish those things there’s no guarantee that positive thinking or any ritual will actually assure the achievement of your goal. And even if you use affirmations or visualizations to predispose yourself towards the achievement of a goal, you’ll still have to do the work involved to get it.


Conclusion. So does the law of attraction really work? Or not?

As you have read in this article.  Thinking positively and believing that good things will happen has immense psychological benefits, and does actually predispose one to success, and there are actually numerous ancient accounts that do claim that a phenomena similar to ‘manifesting’ does indeed take place, although it’s far less straightforward and ‘motivational’ than the one shown in the movie The Secret

It is my honest opinion that many of the purveyors  of the law of attraction not only oversimplify legitimate occult ideas, but at the same time play the ‘blame the victim’ game in order to  stop any criticism of their idea.


I  myself was subjected to it and it did very serious long term damage to my health and psychological well being, about which I have written here

That’s why (among a few other books I’m writing at this moment) I’m writing a book that not only sheds light on the secret as a marketing phenomena, explains the true occult principles it’s based on and presents them in a practical and helpful way that’s safe to use for everyone.

But that’s not currently high on my priority list, so if you want to know more about it please submit your email. As I have  3 other books I’m writing at this moment in time, and  as I mentioned before.  I want this blog to focus on solving serious psychological problems.

The reason why I write about the law of attraction right now is because many people who will try to help themselves with serious problems will encounter the law of attraction as it’s one of the most popular ideas in self help literature, and they might be hurt by it  just like I was if they don’t read what I have written.

Additionally I know that people with psychological issues very often have serious problems with goal setting Even though they  are the ones who most need a guide to help them find a meaning and their life and the book that I’m planning plans to rectify that.



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  • Astin, J. A. (2000), The efficiancy of distant healing. A systematic review of randondomixed trials..
  • Gerald Kein and Calvin Banyan (2001), Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy Basic to Advanced Techniques for the Professional.
  • Helena P. Blavatsky (1880), Isis Unveiled.
  • Israel Regardie (n.d.), Art Of True Healing.
  • Jussim, L and Harber, K. D. (2005), Teacher expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies: Knowns and unknowns, resolved and unresolved controversies.
  • Lench, H. (2011), Personality and Health Outcomes: Making Positive Expectations a Reality.
  • Lidstone, SC (n.d.), Effects of Expectation on Placebo-Induced Dopamine Release in Parkinson Disease.
  • Lightsey Jr. O and Johnson Eł Freeman P. (2012), Can Positive Thinking Reduce Negative Affect? A Test of Potential Mediating Mechanisms. .
  • Petter J. Carrol (2008), The Chaos Magick Audio CDs.
  • Pronin, E. (2006), Everyday magical powers: the role of apparent mental causation in the overestimation of personal influence.
  • ScienceDaily (2008), Happiness is ‘infectious’ in network of friends: collective — not just individual — phenomenon.
  • Sicher, F. (1998), A randomized double-blind study of the effect of distant healing in a population with advanced AIDS. Report of a small scale study..
  • Steven Hayes (2005), Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life.
  • Tim Crowe (2011), Superfoods Or Supermyths?.
  • Wong S. (2013), Negative Thinking versus Positive Thinking in a Singaporean Student Sample: Relationships with Psychological Well-Being and Psychological Maladjustment..

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About the Author ()

I’ve hurt myself while trying to help myself more than you can imagine, that’s why I want to scientifically analyze every popular self-help technique and ‘method’ there is.