Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

The Secret has been widely criticized for being unoriginal.

And, well, it is.

I don't think author Rhonda Byrne would deny that she borrows heavily from the pioneers of 19th and 20th century positive psychology, including Wallace Wattles, Charles Haanel and Napoleon Hill. And much of the content of The Secret is an amalgamation of quotes, concepts and input from some two dozen modern positive psychology practitioners, including Lee Brower, Morris Canfield, John Gray and Hale Dwoskin.

Okay, so the book is derivative. So what? It's not a crime to rehash things, as long as doing so provides value to readers. And the primary gift of this book is that it presents useful psychological concepts like visualization, gratitude, mindfulness, and the Law of Attraction in a friendly and easy-to-understand way.

The central idea of The Secret is the notion that thoughts are things. Thoughts have weight, they have force, and they cause things to happen. If you really think about it, all inventions, ideas and perceptions of the world are products of our thoughts. Thus being mindful of the thoughts you have, and the way you think, are key factors in achieving your goals in life.

A simple example: You can create your day in advance. You play a substantial role in whether you have a good day or a bad day, a day of success or a day of failure, based on your thoughts, emotions and mental images of the day before it happens. And if we can learn to have feelings of gratitude for our life situations, and learn to be happy in the most basic sense for the things we have and the people we know, we can have an enormous impact on our personal satisfaction with life.

These are simple but powerful concepts worth absorbing, and the great strength of The Secret is how it presents these ideas in a clear, easily digestible and easy-to-read format.

But that doesn't mean the book doesn't have flaws. In my view, the book focuses too much on money and economic gain, which cheapens its simple and elegant messages. The Secret also panders to the narcissism of the reader, with quotes like "Welcome to the magnificence of You!" sprinkled frequently throughout the text. Readers will need to develop a tolerance for exclamation points.

And when a book renders a complex and easy to misunderstand concept like the Law of Attraction with too much enthusiasm and too many exclamation points, it can drive a cynical reader to see only parody: After all, if thoughts are really things, and we can make things happen with our thoughts, how come when I sit around and visualize bags of money they never appear? I'd argue that concepts like gratitude, visualization and the Law of Attraction are better articulated in more useful and practical books like How To Want What You Have by Timothy Miller and Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain.

But just because a book sells itself a bit too enthusiastically doesn't mean it doesn't provide value. And The Secret assembles quite a bit of wisdom--even if it's not directly the product of the author's own mind--and it provides an excellent starting point and an even better bibliography for further reading.

One more unexpected advantage of a fundamentally derivative book: The Secret yields a solid list of titles for further reading. I'd recommend The Secret for a quick, casual read, and then I'd suggest you go and read some of the source texts for this book for a more meaningful exploration of the key ideas (see below for a suggested reading list). I hope to tackle a number of these books in the coming months. I'm curious to see if the originators of these ideas address them with more substance.

Reading List for The Secret:
Wallace Wattles: The Science of Getting Rich, The Science of Being Great and The Science of Being Well 1910
Charles Haanel: The Master Key System 1912
Thomas Troward: Lectures on Mental Science
Genevieve Behrend: The Law of Attraction
Genevieve Behrend: The Wisdom of Genevieve Behrend: Your Invisible Power and Attaining Your Desires
Michael Bernard Beckwith: A Manifesto of Peace
Robert Collier: The Secret of the Ages
Robert Collier: Riches Within Your Reach: The Law of the Higher Potential
Mike Dooley: Infinite Possibilities: The Art of Living Your Dreams
Hale Dwoskin: The Sedona Method: Your Key to Lasting Happiness, Success, Peace and Emotional Well-Being
Prentice Mulford: Thoughts Are Things
Bob Proctor: You Were Born Rich
Dr. Joe Vitale: Life's Missing Instruction Manual : The Guidebook You Should Have Been Given at Birth
Fred Alan Wolf: Taking the Quantum Leap: The New Physics for Nonscientists

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