Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” This statement was very much in keeping with a surge of New Thought that was sweeping American and European culture during the same period when Ford was attaining his phenomenal success in the automotive industry. The New Thought movement, itself a recapitulation of ancient principles, emphasizes the divine spark in all of humanity and the power of the mind over material circumstances such as health, happiness, and wealth. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” said Napoleon Hill, perhaps the most widely read New Thought writer in the first half of the 20th Century. His classic, Think and Grow Rich, largely reiterates the work of earlier New Thought giant William Walker Atkinson, who said, “Thought is a force – a manifestation of energy – having a magnet-like power of attraction.” These concepts continue to gain force a century later, when a new generation, introduced to “the secret” of the law of attraction, eagerly buys into the assurance that “Life can and should be phenomenal... and it will be when you consciously apply the Law of Attraction.”
But is it true? Does it actually play out this way in the lives of real people like you and me? From the vantage point of a lifetime of work with these concepts in my own life and those of my clients, I would have to answer yes… and no.
As a hypnotherapist, I have often guided my clients with the time-tested approach that involves imaginatively stepping into the state where a desired outcome is current reality. The subconscious mind works tirelessly to create what is presented to it as truth, the theory goes, so if you convince the subconscious that you are already thin, for example, you will start eating, exercising and thinking like a thin person does. Therefore you manifest what the subconscious has already accepted as actuality. If you imprint the image of yourself as a totally confident person on the subconscious mind, that is how you will start to act. If you imagine yourself in vivid scenarios where you are already living your ideal life, you will indeed create that kind of future for yourself. This is the principle behind most of the techniques for using the law of attraction to manifest things in your life.
We find the same principle in much of so-called “faith healing.” If you totally believe you are healed, then you will be healed. If you are not healed well, then, doubt must have gotten in the way. Have more faith, and you will be successful. We see the same underlying assumptions in our educational models, too: If children see themselves as winners and achievers, then that is what they will grow up to be. If they believe math is difficult and scary, then a fear of math will keep them from ever mastering even its most basic functions. It is a well-known fact that we tend to live into whatever we believe about ourselves and about life in general. No wonder so many of the techniques and teachings about making our lives into what we want them to be give great emphasis to establishing clear expectations about desired outcomes.
But there is a problem with all of this. Sometimes this approach works spectacularly well. This is the stuff of testimonial stories. But – as anyone with a shelf full of self-improvement books or videos will attest – it is just as often a total flop. Why?
For one thing, there are times when Law of Attraction thinking becomes outright magical in its nature. Magical thinking ignores the laws of nature to an extent that defies credibility. I have read, for example, the "Law of Attraction" claim that food will not cause you to put on weight unless you think it can. While I allow for the possibility that some yogis may have mastered the body-mind connection to that extent, I am here to tell you that such mastery is not likely to happen in my life experience, no matter what I think!
The idea that life should always be “phenomenal,” that we should always recover from illness, that we should be aglow with success at every turn in life also belies the incredibly transformative power of adversity. For every one of us, there will even be a time when death is not only unavoidable but will herald a graduation of sorts. In most cases, that graduation will be brought about by an illness that we fail to heal from, no matter how well we may employ the power of the mind.
I don’t mean to construct a simplistic straw man that fails to give credit to the nuances in mind-power philosophies. Most do indeed include reasonable acknowledgement of caveats and this-world limitations. L.W. Rogers expressed an idea not foreign to New Thought promulgators when he said, “Death is as necessary as life and as beneficial as birth.” William Walker Atkinson tempered his writings on the power of the mind with doses of common sense, such as "There is no royal road to success – no patent process by which the unsuccessful are to be magically transformed. . . real work must be accomplished by the individual." Nonetheless, we tend to forget this more nuanced approach when we get caught up in the hope that we can create desired outcomes using the power of the mind.
Possibly the chief problem occurs, though, when we have tunnel vision for very specific outcomes that blind us to much better possibilities, alternatives that may be more in line with our greatest good. How many times have you been disappointed in some occurrence, only to discover later that it was the proverbial blessing in disguise? Not winning the love of the person you thought you couldn’t live without but who you now realize would have been all wrong for you. Being laid off and later finding a far better career path. Getting a bad head cold on the day you had wanted to go on a special outing that turned out to be a bust. These are mundane examples that illustrate how little we really know at any given time what is truly best for us. As the old Taoist story, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” vividly illustrates, things that appear to be wonderful good fortune can have terrible fallout, while things that seem terrible can turn out to be most providential. (If you’ve never read this story, do look it up. It is too long to include here but well worth the read.)
Does this mean that we should avoid all attempts to create desired outcomes in our lives, for fear that we may unwittingly blunder, fall prey to magical thinking, or miss an opportunity to grow? By no means! Rather, the evolutionary view of life encourages us to exercise our creative capacity. More accurately, we are invited to a co-creative process that subordinates our fixed ideas to the deeper wisdom of God, the Universe, or whatever we call that creative, loving, power to evolve all things. Working with this force in a spirit of co-creation joins our enormous power to create with the limitless possibilities of the universe. We let go of rigid ideas of what the outcome should be and instead remain open to the many ways that creation can express in us and through us. We open to the energy of evolution itself and let it fulfill, reshape, or redirect our desired outcomes in accordance with the deep mystery of life’s timeless undercurrents.
This is Part 1 of a 2-part exploration of the co-creative process. Part 2 will follow next month. In the meantime, those who live in Virginia may be interested in either of these two upcoming lecture-workshops:
Saturday, July 20: Evolutionary Spirituality: Co-Creating with the Field of Infinite Possibilities Richmond, VA, Sponsored by the Central Virginia Institute of Noetic Sciences Community Group -- Visitors welcome, free-will donation.
 Earliest attribution of this quote to Ford seems to be in the September, 1947 Reader’s Digest.
 Rhonda Byrne, The Secret