Here’s the thing: Like so many others, I was obsessed with The Secret when it first came out. I was around 15. I had good reason to be, I think. When I was a child I had yearned, endlessly, for magical powers. I wanted the kind of powers Mara Wilson spouted throughout Matilda but I would settle for anything really; mind-reading, the ability to fly, time travel–sure, whatever! I’ll take it! I wanted magic so badly I would even ask for it for Christmas, writing a string of letters to Santa Claus with my very special request.
So, at 15, when I had long grown out of my childhood fantasies and graduated to the world of teenage wishful thinking and day-dreaming, I was overwhelmed to discover a book that suggested magic was real. Not only that, it was being recommended to me by adults whom I trusted; smart, driven and moderately successful grown-ups. This wasn’t some sort of childhood fantasy. This was real.
I became obsessed with The Secret, devouring the book in a single sitting, watching the movie hundreds of times and reading the follow-up books that were published in the years after its success. You mean I can just wish for the life I want, visualize it strongly enough and I will get it? I’m connected to the Universe? Anything I want is mine?
And then I grew up. And how does one do that? Well, they face failure; they face disappointment; they face outcomes that were not at all what they spent months and years visualizing and, perhaps, they lose a little faith. But I’m grateful for that very important coming-of-age period in my early twenties. In the 14 years since first reading The Secret, I have successfully grown out of it and come to view it for what it is: a clever marketing tool that aligned itself well with the success and phenomenon of The DaVinci Code (positioning itself as recently uncovered, long-kept, well-guarded secret) that lacks incredibly important information in the technique that is known in many (much older) publications as The Law of Attraction. Since falling out of The Secret, I have stopped believing in manifestation, visualization, and positive affirmations to believing in it all over again, in a fresh, grounded sort of way.
Along with The Secret, I was constantly reading stories of how simply visualizing the life you want can bring about desired results. There was, of course, the famous story of Jim Carrey who wrote a check to himself for $5,000,000, post-dated for three or five years from the time of writing. He kept that ratty, dog-eared check in his wallet and sure enough, within that time period, he signed a movie deal for Dumb and Dumber that would earn him $5,000,000.
So the stuff works! If I just write myself checks and keep them in my wallet like I actually own them, I’ll get that money at some point, right? The part The Secret (and Cole’s notes versions of Jim Carrey’s story) leave out–and it’s so vitality important–is that visualization and affirmation is nothing if it is not matched with action. And this took a lot of growing up to realize. Perhaps I should have clued in sooner. But can you blame a kid who so badly wanted magic to be real, he wrote letters to Santa asking for it?
The Secret shares stories of people who visualize money and randomly get checks in the mail, or who visualize the perfect spouse and one day, out of the blue, run into them; the exact person they pictured. All of this just happens because people wish for it, and, if the life you’re after isn’t happening, it’s because you are not visualizing strongly enough or are trapped in a lower, negative vibration (ie: you’re thinking negatively).
As I’ve grown older, made mistakes, had some really cool successes and many, many failures to back them up, I’ve come to realize that The Secret is both very right and very wrong–but it’s formatted and delivered so poorly that it becomes a somewhat dangerous and incredibly ineffective tool to rely on. Indeed, there was a rather tragic case of a woman who, while battling terminal cancer, refused any kind of treatment other than positive visualization. She, unfortunately, passed away.
I relied on The Secret so heavily, I wrote letters–while still in film school–to people like Ron Howard, JJ Abrams, James Cameron, The Jim Henson Company and more believing SO deeply that they would read my words, see my potential and snatch me up as their apprentice. My career as a filmmaker would be set. I believed in it so fully that I refused to get a job after film school and spent days at home simply visualizing a production company discovering my work online and hiring me. I went 6 months living in Toronto without securing work and only caved when I had $400 in my bank account. But The Secret said magic was real — so why wasn’t it happening?
Because I wasn’t applying concrete action to my dreams. I began journaling, off and on and a young age (and you can read my Elephant Journal article about that here), and it was writing in the pages of my journal that became the turning point in my self-discovery of inner-magic. It’s looking back on the pages of your journal that reveal how positive affirmation and goal-setting can actually work. One passage, in particular, took me by surprise.
Every New Years Eve I would write in my journal and set goals for the year; things I wanted to see happen, things I wanted to achieve. On New Years Eve 2012, I wrote a line that stuck out to me like a glimmering light when I looked back over the entry years later:
“I will expand my reach as a performer, internationally”
I know at the time of writing this affirmation what my goal was. I meant I would become famous by going to LA or getting cast in a big movie; following the path of so many other great, Canadian artists; Martin Short, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, etc… I had no clue how it would happen but the cool thing about affirmations is that they are free and relatively painless to do.
The interesting thing is it actually worked! Just not in the way I expected it to. A mere two months after writing that affirmation in my journal, I was contacted by an entertainment company in the US and flown out to do a seven-city tour beginning my career as a professional, paid entertainer. It was only in looking back over my entries, years later, that I realized I had set an affirmation and it had come true. But here’s the real secret: it came true because of YEARS of hard, dedicated work. Prior to being flown out to the states, I had spent a couple of years perfecting my act in nursing homes across Ontario and later, debuting a one-man show (self-produced, self-directed) at The Orillia Opera House to an room of 200–in which I seriously bombed. I did, however, come away with great footage. I spent months editing it into a decent, professional looking reel and it was that footage that caught the attention of the US entertainment company almost a year later. Within three months of my written affirmation, I had expanded my reach as a performer, internationally. Not in the way I expected to, but I had done it. Hard work + positive affirmation was the formula.
Something I mention when I’m giving talks is that your dreams won’t happen the way you expect them to. It’s a truth I’ve come to realize. A large part of life is being open to opportunities and following the threads to see where they lead. And this is where positive affirmation actually is a very good thing. It’s true, we shape our own realities. If we think negatively and only lament over our current situation (finances, relationships, work, etc…) then we close ourselves off to seeing the opportunities that could change it. It’s not that the opportunities aren’t there or that they magically manifest out of thin air if we start thinking positively. They are always there, but if we are too preoccupied with our frustrations, we don’t see them. When we set positive affirmations (I will turn my financial situation around, I will get an agent, I will start getting more bookings), we open ourselves up to seeing the opportunities that could lead to those outcomes.
And the truth of it all? You’ll rarely notice when it actually does come to fruition. Since I was 13, I have dreamed of doing a professional Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis tribute act. It took years of performing for hundreds of seniors, bombing in front of 200 people, touring the US with a show to finally land the incredible concert I am apart of now–a show that recently celebrated its 100th performance and third anniversary. I barely noticed when it all happened. One day, I just took a step back and thought “Wow…it’s what I wanted!” It didn’t come out of thin air. It came out of picturing, dreaming it, but then applying hard, concrete, determined action. Years of it. When I decided I wanted to focus more on speaking, within a month I booked two gigs and an emcee engagement. I’m now doing a TEDxTalk in 2020. It wasn’t magic. It took hard, strategic platform building of my website and online presence — something I continue to work at and manage.
Photo by Alana Lee Photography
In retrospect, I was combining positive affirmations with hard work ethic even before reading The Secret. When I graduated the 8th grade, our ceremony took place in a beautiful auditorium on the campus of Queens University – Duncan McArthur Auditorium. At the time, I was toying with the ambitious idea of making a feature film by the time I graduated high school. I wrote in my journal, a few days later, that I would premiere said film at Duncna McArthur Auditorium. Wouldn’t you know it, after a year of pre-production, 57 grueling days of shooting, and two years of post-production, a professor at Queens University reached out to me wanting to help with the project. I premiered the film at Duncan McArthur Auditorium to a sold out audience — four years and a ton of hard work after writing that affirmation.
Forget The Secret. It’s problematic at best. Don’t even call it The Law of Attraction if that’s too ‘New Age’ for you. Do use affirmations. But combine them with a steady, unprecedented work ethic. Do that and you will see the desired results, not necessarily in the way you expect or the timeline you want, but in a way that will make sense and matter in the end.
You shouldn’t want things to happen to you automatically. That takes the story out of your journey; the character out of your personality. Things will happen if you set your mind to them, if you articulate concrete goals, visualize them and apply the appropriate action. And when you step back and look at it all, it will feel like magic. It will feel like magic in a way The Secret could never appropriately articulate.