Why the Law of Attraction Doesn’t Work

The Law of Attraction, promulgated in The Secret, became immensely popular when The Secret was first published several years ago. Feeding on people’s greed, The Secret basically said that you can attract whatever you want in your life – money, success, the perfect relationship, great house, car etc – simply by focusing on it with the positive intent to have it.

In other words, by using positive intention, or positive thinking, you can manifest whatever you want for your life.

Positive thinking has actually been around for decades – it was the basis of the very successful self-help empires of Napoleon Hill, Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie – the forerunners of new age thinking applied to success in your personal life.

Every ‘new’ formula for success based on positive thinking is always a hit – after all, who wouldn’t want an easy way to get rich? It appeals perfectly to the greedy, lazy age we live in.

In the rush to get on the band wagon, however, very few stop to wonder, if it were so easy, how come everyone is not living out their dream?

And anyway, how would the world function if everyone lived their dream – who would do the kind of work that no one else wanted to do? And would it really be so much fun if everyone else were also living in a big house and driving a luxury car?

You can tell by looking at the latest courses and books being offered that the initial optimism of The Secret is being replaced with disillusion. Now courses offer to teach you why the Law of Attraction is not working for you – they say, pay me and I will give you the missing ingredient.

It won’t make much difference.

Osho called the whole thing rubbish, long before The Secret came out. He says that positive thinking cannot change anything because it is a way of avoiding looking at the unconscious mind, which is full of our negativity. He says that ‘by your not seeing it, do you think it disappears? You are just befooling yourself.

You cannot change reality. The night will still be there; you can think that it is daytime for twenty-four hours, but by your thinking it, it is not going to be light twenty-four hours a day.’ (See more below)

And now my favorite scientist, Dr Bruce Lipton, has come up with scientific proof which backs up what Osho has been saying all these years.

He says that positive thinking does not work, because it is done with the conscious mind. And the conscious mind is not what is running our lives.

Our lives are run by what Dr Lipton calls the sub-conscious mind, what Osho calls the unconscious mind.  He says science shows that the subconscious runs our life 95 – 99 % of the time, every single day. And the subconscious mind is much more powerful than the conscious mind – over a million times more powerful as an information processor.

The combined effect of a million times more powerful part of our brain, and the fact that it runs our lives up to 95% of the time, means that our conscious mind (where our so called ‘positive thinking’ is) has quite an uphill battle to be heard!

If our conscious desire fitted with our unconscious ideas, there would actually be no problem.

Then the ‘Law of Attraction’ would work automatically – no need to do anything to create it. But most of our unconscious ideas (70% according to Dr Lipton), are negative and destructive, not what we would consciously want! And as that is what is running our life, you can see why any attempt at conscious positive thinking is doomed to failure. Just spitting in the wind.

It means that we may consciously think we want more money, and focus on the visualization of a nice fat bank account of a few million and repeat a lot of affirmations to that affect, but if there is a belief in our unconscious mind that we don’t deserve to be rich, that we will never win the lottery, that it is something for other people not me, then guess what – no matter how much and for how long you visualize those millions, you will never get them!

The subconscious mind, says Lipton, is like a tape player – it just goes on playing the same old tapes we learned in early childhood.

Those tapes are the messages we picked up mostly from our parents, or from anyone else who was very influential for the first six years of our lives. Most of the tapes run along the lines of, ‘You are not good enough’, ‘You don’t deserve’, ‘Other people are better than you’, ‘You are not acceptable or respectable as you are, you have to be better.’

Whether these messages were given to us directly or indirectly, they are what we picked up from the way we were treated, and those messages went into our innocent unconscious minds where they became truths.

And then the tape player started re-playing those messages any time we were in similar situations, and we acted accordingly. In other words, we started living in a vicious cycle where we went on proving those negative ideas about us were true, thus making them even stronger. And it still happens today! We still continue to sabotage our attempts at happiness, success, love, etc. Just we are not aware that we are doing it ourselves, because it is, well… unconscious.

And where is our conscious mind in all this? That tiny part that is supposed to be there for at least 1% of the day?

Well, it is there when we consciously use our creativity to work on a particular issue or project. But when we are not using it, what does it do? It day dreams!! It wanders off into the future or the past, and thus becomes unconscious, according to Osho. When it is somewhere else, it is not observing the unconscious mechanisms that are actually in this moment running our behavior.

So, not only are we unaware of when our unconscious tapes are playing, we don’t even have the ability to use our conscious minds to become aware of and observe the mechanisms of the unconscious.

I remember the dental sessions with Osho the last two years he was in the body, when he was trying in every way to get the five of us who were there to become more aware of our unconscious minds. He kept saying, at first with a chuckle, things like ‘Anando, can’t you read your own mind?’

And honestly, I have to admit that the answer was ‘No’. He said he was laughing at the five of us, at our unconscious. ‘I am in a difficult position. 

A man with eyes in the hands of blind people.’ You can imagine how frustrating it was for us to hear over and over, day after day, ‘You don’t know your unconscious Anando/Amrito/Devageet/Nityamo/Shunyo. I know.’ Yet it was incredibly difficult at that time to see the things he was talking about.

Lipton says you have to learn how to use the Stop button on the tapes instead of the automatic Play button, and then to change the tapes.

Osho says basically the same thing, and he also says that the way to do that is through meditation. Meditation is, after all, the knack of watching the mind, without getting involved in it (ie without pressing the play button), and without judging it (it is after all old tapes that are probably no longer relevant to your life, if they ever were).

Osho is the greatest teacher of meditation I have ever come across. He not only explains why we are so identified with our unconscious minds, but formulates a whole new psychology – the psychology of the buddhas – where meditation is the stepping stone to being free of our unconscious. And he gives us over 112 techniques of meditation – no creed or belief system to follow, just the techniques for your own personal journey, all the tools you need to make this step.

You can find these meditation techniques in The Book of Secrets, by Osho.

Direct from Osho:

Once Gautam Buddha was asked, ”Why don’t you teach your people to pray?” It was an obvious question – a religion without prayer is simply inconceivable to many people. And the answer Buddha gave is as fresh today as it was twenty-five centuries before, as new and as revolutionary.

He said, ”I don’t teach my people to pray because their prayers will harm them. Right now they are not conscious enough to ask for anything, and whatsoever they ask will be wrong. First, let them become conscious enough. I teach them how to become more conscious and then it is up to them.

When they are fully conscious, if they want to pray, they are free. They are not my slaves. But I can say one thing: that anybody who is fully conscious has nothing to ask for. He has got everything that one can ever ask for.”

Mildred had been nagging her family for years, and everyone had become accustomed to her whining and her sour face. One day she attended a ”positive thinking” lecture, where the speaker talked for an hour on the winning qualities of the face with a smile. Mildred went home, very impressed, and decided to reform.

Next morning she got up early, put on her favorite dress, and prepared a good breakfast. When the family came in to the dining room she greeted them with a beaming smile. Her husband George took a good look at her face and collapsed in a chair. “Along with everything else,” he moaned, ”she has gone and developed lockjaw.”

He could not believe that her smile could be true. It must be lockjaw!

People try to pray, people try to smile, people try to look happy, people try to be truthful, honest – whatever qualities are praised. But their unconsciousness stands there behind every act of theirs, and their unconsciousness distorts their honesty, distorts their smiles, distorts their truth.

But no morality in the world teaches people to first be conscious and only then to find, by your own consciousness, what qualities you would like to blossom in your being…. Honesty, sincerity, truth, love, compassion?

Except for a very few rebels like Gautam Buddha, nobody has thought about your unconscious, that first it has to be dropped, changed, your inner being has to be full of light, and then whatever you do is going to be right. Out of a totally conscious mind nothing can go wrong. But who listens?

The Rebel, chapter 26


The philosophy of positive thinking means being untruthful

It means seeing a certain thing and yet denying what you have seen; it means deceiving yourself and others.

Positive thinking is the only bullshit philosophy that America has contributed to human thought – nothing else. Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and the Christian priest, Vincent Peale – all these people have filled the whole American mind with this absolutely absurd idea of a positive philosophy.

And it appeals particularly to mediocre minds.

Dale Carnegie’s book, HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, has been sold in numbers just next to the Christian Bible. No other book has been able to reach that popularity.

The Christian Bible should not be a competitor in fact, because it is more or less given free, forced on people. But Dale Carnegie’s book people have been purchasing; it has not been given to you free. And it has created a certain kind of ideology which has given birth to many books of a similar kind. But to me it is nauseating.

… Dale Carnegie started this whole school of positive philosophy, positive thinking: Don’t see the negative part, don’t see the darker side. But by your not seeing it, do you think it disappears? You are just befooling yourself. You cannot change reality. The night will still be there; you can think that it is daytime for twenty-four hours, but by your thinking it, it is not going to be light twenty-four hours a day.

The negative is as much part of life as the positive. They balance each other.

After Dale Carnegie, the great name in the tradition of this positive thinking is Napoleon Hill. THINK AND GROW RICH is his greatest contribution to the world – a beautifully written book, but all crap.

Think and grow rich… you don’t have to do anything, you only have to think in absolutely positive terms and riches will start flowing towards you. If they don’t come, that simply means that you have not been thinking absolutely positively.

So these are beautiful games in which you cannot defeat the man who is proposing the game. He has the key in his hands. If you succeed by chance, then he succeeds because his philosophy – think and grow rich – has succeeded. You have been thinking and thinking and thinking and positively thinking that dollars are showering on you – these are not snowflakes but dollars showering on you – and suddenly your uncle dies and leaves you a big inheritance. Naturally, positive thinking works!

But if you don’t succeed… and ninety-nine percent of the time you are not going to succeed – you know perfectly well that your positive thinking is not absolutely positive; you know that there is doubt.

Once is a while you open your eyes to see whether they are dollars or just snowflakes. You see they are just snowflakes, and you again close your eyes and start thinking that dollars are showering.

But the doubt is there, that these really are snowflakes. Whom are you trying to befool? All these thoughts are going on: “This is just nonsense, I shouldn’t waste my time, I could be earning some dollars; this way I am losing rather than gaining.”

But Napoleon Hill writes beautifully and gives examples of how people have succeeded by positive thinking. And you can find people – this world is big enough. For everything you can find an example.

Why one? – you can find hundreds of examples if you just look around and try to find them. And all these people have been doing just that: they find examples, and they place the examples in beautiful poetic prose. And of course you want to be rich, so they exploit your ambition, your desire. They give you such a simple method – and they don’t ask anything of you in return.

About Napoleon Hill I remember… he himself was a poor man. That would have been enough proof to disprove his whole philosophy. He became rich by selling the book, THINK AND GROW RICH.

But it was not positive thinking that was making him rich – it was fools around the world who were purchasing the book, it was his work, his labor, his effort. But in the very beginning days, when his book came out, he used to stand in bookstores to persuade people to purchase the book.

And it happened that Henry Ford came in his latest model car and went into the bookshop to find something light to read. And Napoleon Hill did not want to miss this chance. He went forwards with his book and he said, ”A great book has just been published – you will be happy with it. And it is not only a book, it is a sure method of success.”

Henry Ford looked at the man and said, ”Are you the writer of the book?”

Napoleon Hill said proudly, ”Yes, I am the writer of the book.” And he can be proud: that book he has written is a piece of art. And to create a piece of art out of crap is real mastery.

Henry Ford, without touching the book, just asked one question, ”Have you come in your own car or on the bus?”

Napoleon Hill could not understand what he meant. He said, ”Of course, I came on the bus.”

Henry Ford said, ”Look outside. That is my private car, and I am Henry Ford. You are befooling others; you don’t have even a private car and you write a book called THINK AND GROW RICH! And I have grown rich without thinking, so I don’t want to bother with it. You think and grow rich! – and when you grow rich then you come to me. That will be the proof. The book is not the proof”

And it is said that Napoleon Hill never could gather up the courage to meet this old man, Henry Ford, again, even though he became a little richer. But compared to Henry Ford he was always a poor man and was bound to remain a poor man, always. But Henry Ford’s logic was clear.

No. I do not believe in any philosophy of positive thinking; nor do I believe in the opposite, in the philosophy of negative thinking – because both are there. The positive and the negative make one whole. My philosophy is holistic – neither positivist, nor negativist, but holistic, realistic. You see the whole in its totality, whatever it is. Good and bad, day and night, life and death, they both are there.

The Approach

There is no need to project any philosophy on it.

… You ask me: Am I against positive philosophy? Yes, because I am also against negative philosophy.

I have to be against both because both choose only half the fact, and both try to ignore the other half.

And remember: a half-truth is far more dangerous than a whole lie, because the whole lie will be discovered by you sooner or later. How long can it remain undiscovered by you? A lie, of course, is a lie; it is just a palace made of playing cards – a little breeze and the whole palace disappears.

But the half-truth is dangerous. You may never discover it, you may continue to think it is the whole truth. So the real problem is not the whole lie, the real problem is the half-truth pretending to be the whole truth; and that is what these people are doing.

The philosophy of positive thinking says: “Take everything positively. The negative should not have any space in your approach, there should be no negative part.” This is making a part, the positive part, almost the whole.

The same is true about negative people, although there are none who preach the philosophy of negative thinking, because who is going to listen to them? They will say, ”If somebody is smiling, look out – there must be something he is hiding behind the smile. In fact, he must want to cry or weep. Look out – don’t be deceived by his smiling; find out the negative. If he is looking very happy, that means certainly there is something that he is trying to hide behind his happiness.”

People are so miserable, who is going to listen to such a philosopher? They will say, ”We are already so miserable, and you are teaching us to search for more misery! Even if a false smile is there, at least it is there. Please forgive us, we can’t go on digging and finding the tears. We have enough tears already. And just a smile – although it may be just a mannerism, a formality, just a civilized way of meeting somebody….”

When you meet somebody and ask, ”How are you?” – he says, ”I am perfectly well.” Now, if you are a negative philosopher you have to find out what this man is hiding: ”How can he be perfectly well? Have you ever heard of anybody in the world being perfectly well? He is Lying!” But nobody will listen to a negative philosopher. You also say, ”I am perfectly well. You are perfectly well? – good.”

And you depart in good spirits. What is the point of showing one’s wounds to each other and making each other more miserable than before?

So there is no school of negative philosophers. But there are more people who believe in negative philosophy without knowing it than there are people who believe in positive philosophy.

In fact, all these believers in positive philosophy are basically negative. To hide that negativity they believe firmly in the positive philosophy.

I am not in support of either side. I am in favor of taking the whole truth, and that’s what I would like you to do too: take the whole truth, because the negative is as essential as the positive.

You cannot create electricity with only the positive pole; you will need the negative pole too. Only with both the negative and the positive pole can you create electricity. Is the negative absolutely negative? It is complementary, so it is not against the positive.

From Ignorance to Innocence chapter 29 | Positive thinking: philosophy for phonies


Positive thinking

The technique of positive thinking is not a technique that transforms you. It is simply repressing the negative aspects of your personality. It is a method of choice. It cannot help awareness; it goes against awareness. Awareness is always choiceless.

Positive thinking simply means forcing the negative into the unconscious and conditioning the conscious mind with positive thoughts. But the trouble is that the unconscious is far more powerful, nine times more powerful, than the conscious mind.

So once a thing becomes unconscious, it becomes nine times more powerful than it was before. It may not show in the old fashion, but it will find new ways of expression.

So positive thinking is a very poor method, without any deep understanding, and it goes on giving you wrong ideas about yourself.

… Positive thinking came out of Christian Science. It talks now more philosophically, but the base remains the same – that if you think negatively, that is going to happen to you; if you think positively, that is going to happen to you. And in America that kind of literature is widely read. Nowhere else in the world has positive thinking made any impact – because it is childish.

“Think and grow rich” – everybody knows this is simply foolish. And it is harmful, and dangerous too.

The negative ideas of your mind have to be released, not repressed by positive ideas. You have to create a consciousness which is neither positive nor negative. That will be the pure consciousness.

In that pure consciousness you will live the most natural and blissful life.

If you repress some negative idea because it is hurting you…. For example: if you are angry, and you repress it and try to make an effort to change the energy into something positive – to feel loving towards the person you were feeling angry with, to feel compassionate – you know you are deceiving yourself.

Deep down it is still anger; it is just that you are whitewashing it. On the surface you may smile, but your smile will be limited only to your lips. It will be an exercise of the lips; it won’t be connected with you, with your heart, with your being. Between your smile and your heart, you yourself have put a great block – the negative feeling that you have repressed.

And it is not one feeling; in life you have thousands of negative feelings. You don’t like a person, you don’t like many things; you don’t like yourself, you don’t like the situation you are in. All this garbage goes on collecting in the unconscious, and on the surface a hypocrite is born, who says, ”I love everybody, love is the key to blissfulness.” But you don’t see any bliss in that person’s life. He is holding the whole of hell within himself.

He can deceive others, and if he goes on deceiving long enough, he can deceive himself too. But it won’t be a change. It is simply wasting life – which is immensely valuable because you cannot get it back.

Positive thinking is simply the philosophy of hypocrisy – to give it the right name. When you are feeling like crying, it teaches you to sing. You can manage if you try, but those repressed tears will come out at some point, in some situation. There is a limitation to repression. And the song that you were singing was absolutely meaningless; you were not feeling it, it was not born out of your heart.

It was just because the philosophy says to always choose the positive.

I am absolutely against positive thinking. You will be surprised that if you don’t choose, if you remain in a choiceless awareness, your life will start expressing something which is beyond both positive and negative, which is higher than both. So you are not going to be a loser. It is not going to be negative, it is not going to be positive, it is going to be existential.

Positive thinking is simply the philosophy of hypocrisy – to give it the right name. When you are feeling like crying, it teaches you to sing. You can manage if you try, but those repressed tears will come out at some point, in some situation. There is a limitation to repression. And the song that you were singing was absolutely meaningless; you were not feeling it, it was not born out of your heart. It was just because the philosophy says to always choose the positive.

I am absolutely against positive thinking. You will be surprised that if you don’t choose, if you remain in a choiceless awareness, your life will start expressing something which is beyond both positive and negative,  which is higher than both.

Ezra Klein
Ezra Klein
Has an insatiable desire of investigating the mind. Here is his attempt at finding order amongst the madness.


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