To manifest: to make evident to the eye; to show plainly, reveal or display.—The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993)
Since The Secret burst upon the scene a year and half ago, the idea of setting an intention and making it a reality is moving into the mainstream. How often do you hear someone saying, “I set an intention to,” or “I put it out to the Universe”? Many of us women hear about “creating the life we love” or some variation on that theme and we wonder just how the concept of “manifesting an intention” works.
Actually, the principles in The Secret are a repackaged version of a concept called the Law of Attraction that has been around for a long time. Wallace Wattles wrote about it in The Science of Getting Rich in 1910 and Napoleon Hill wrote Think and Grow Rich in 1937. The principles basically say that we get what we believe/think about. Believe you’ll get a million dollars strongly enough and it will come to you. Not everyone is on board with this. Some have called the Law of Attraction in these works “self-help hogwash.”
But, my academic background in critical thinking has given me a good understanding of how a person’s values, attitudes, and beliefs determine the decisions they make and the actions they take. Based on that, I believe the principles of the Law of Attraction remain fundamentally sound despite often being over-simplified and misapplied by self-help gurus who reduce it simply to nothing but an easy path to wealth. The principles can be applied to much more than that.
So how does it work? In a nutshell, the mind sees what it expects to see. Then, we act based on what we see. You see, our minds are hard-wired to make information filters composed of our beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and values about the world. Those elements make a mesh through which raw events and situations pass. Based on what comes out of the filter, we reach a conclusion about what just happened.
The good thing about the process is it gives us a useful and lightning fast way of making sense about what goes on around us. But because the filters are made of our own beliefs and attitudes, we tend to notice and believe things that are consistent with what we already believe to be true. Our filters do an excellent job of showing us what we expect to see. And, of course, our actions reflect the conclusion we reached as filtered through our beliefs.
A good point to remember is that my belief is no more “true” in an absolute sense than my neighbor’s. Each individual’s belief is a product of his or her unique set of values, perceptions and attitudes. That is why this quote by Anais Nin is so powerful, “We see the world not as it is, but how we are.” Happily, if we change our beliefs, our actions change and we can get a different outcome. That is how our beliefs bring certain things into our life.
The good news about our filters is they keep us from having to re-invent the wheel every time something happens. Let’s look at an example that illustrates how we can attract what we think about. We can take a millisecond to see that this is what happened last time Joe said he’d get that information to us for our project deadline. “He’s such a loser,” we say to ourselves. “He didn’t follow through then, or the previous two times, so that means he won’t get it done this time. I’d better make other arrangements.” Which all sounds perfectly reasonable, right? And it is, it’s based on what you’ve experienced. But, the down side of our hard wiring is, we can actually make choices that almost ensure we get what we expect even when other outcomes are possible.
For example, if we believe Joe isn’t going to get it done, we take action that can actually make Joe mad enough that he won’t do it even if he was going to do it before. He’s thinking, “Well, I stayed late last night to clear my plate so I can get on this since I’ve let her down already, but she’s gone behind my back and asked Sally to do it, so by God, that’s the last time I’ll help her out.” So then we think to ourselves, “I knew it, Joe didn’t do it. Good thing I went to Plan B.” Maybe the deadline is met, maybe not, but now Joe couldn’t have his own assumptions about you as a “sneak” or as someone untrustworthy or ungrateful. That doesn’t bode well for future interactions. And of course, Joe continues to live into your “loser” conclusion about him.
That’s how this Law of Attraction thing works. Our actions reflect what we believe and they can cause other people to act in ways that make things work out the way we expected. The thing to remember is, there is always another choice that could change the outcome of a situation.
We could have gone to Joe and said, “Joe, I know you have great intentions here, but I’m a little concerned. You told me you’d do this twice last week and it didn’t get done. Our funding depends on this being done day after tomorrow and I’m worried that you have too much on your plate to get it done in time. That means my project misses its deadline and we don’t get funding.” That could light a fire under Joe who is really just overworked but well meaning, rather than the “loser” label we had applied before. So, the bad news is, our filters can blind us to other options we may have because they don’t fit our conclusions about the person or situation. And that of course, validates our original belief and so the cycle goes on reinforcing itself.
That is why the Law of Attraction is so powerful. It means that if we want a million dollars and believe we can get it, we are more likely to act in a way that supports making a million dollars. This is where many of the self-help gurus go astray in my view … they make it sound as though magically we just have to believe what we want strongly enough and it will come to us. The secret of the Law of Attraction, in my opinion, is the actions we take to make our intention a reality. The degree of clarity about what we want and the strength and clarity of our belief that we can achieve it is what provides the juice for what comes next: giving it focused attention and actions that support it, and doing that consistently over some period of time.
Of course, there are many other factors at play that affect whether we actually get what we asked for. That is a topic for another article. But the bottom line is our minds operate in a way that gives us great potential to create something we want. It does this through what we choose to believe, what we value, and what attitudes and perceptions we hold onto, and then through the actions we take to support those.