What’s wrong with the Law of Attraction?

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I do not believe in the Law of Attraction. As you may know, I write self-help books. I do not discuss the Law of Attraction in any of my books. There is a reason for that. More than ten years ago, when it first became all the rage, I thought that the Law of Attraction is the next best thing to my first cup of coffee every morning. I am now much older and somewhat wiser and have done an awful lot of difficult living since. I have discovered that the theory supporting the Law of Attraction is full of holes.

This “law” is based on the assumption that “like” attracts “like.” According to the promoters of the Law of Attraction, all thoughts are energy, and each thought vibrates at a different frequency. Thoughts of similar frequencies attract each other. So, if you think positive thoughts the whole day long, you will attract positive events into your life. If you think negative thoughts the whole day long, say you spend most of your time worrying about what is going to go wrong in the future or obsessing about what went wrong in the past, you are in serious trouble.

Who can think positive thoughts the whole day long, though? I certainly can’t; I can barely manage to think positively from one moment to the next, never mind all day long.

It has been many years since I rejected the idea that the Law of Attraction could be of any use to me. Recently, while writing my latest book, it came back to haunt me. It sounds so tempting: all you have to do whenever you are desperate for something to happen in your life, is to lock yourself into a positive mindset, focus your thoughts on whatever it is that you want, ignore any self-doubt and avoid all self-criticism, believe that you already have what you want and voilà! You will have manifested your heart’s dearest desire.

If only it were that easy. Sigh.

In the last ten years, I have had more eye operations that I care to count, nearly all emergencies, nearly all in a wretched attempt to save my sight. Practising the Law of Attraction has made no difference to the outcome of my operations, I have still lost all sight in my left eye (I now have a very fancy artificial eye in that eye socket) and I have restricted vision in my right eye.

I have recently read two excellent articles about why the Law of Attraction doesn’t work: one by Mark Mason and the other by Shaunta Grimes. These two articles inspired me to reflect on why I do not believe in it. I have never really given it much thought. I decided the whole Law of Attraction craze was no more than a storm in a coffee cup, and I moved on.

On closer inspection, I decided I do not believe in the Law of Attraction because:

  • It fosters self-centeredness. The Law of Attraction is all about you, what you want and how and when you are going to get it. When my situation becomes unbearable, I cope by thinking of others and what I could do to help them with their problems.
  • I have found that staying positive, at all times, in the face of overwhelming threat or exceptionally bad news, is impossible. Distressing events happen, c’est la vie. If I allow myself to accept the despair I feel, for a specified amount of time – an hour, two hours – it is easier to get over it and on with life afterwards.
  • Ignoring your inner and outer critics, whatever happens, is not a good coping strategy. Sometimes self-doubt can help you to avoid disasters. Sometimes the advice of friends can help you get back on track when you lose your way. The trick is to pay attention to these warnings and to choose carefully which to heed and which to ignore.
  • If you try to suppress a negative thought at all costs, you will end up being incapable of thinking of anything else. That’s just the way your brain is wired. Better to acknowledge that thought, without necessarily reacting on the emotion it might generate, and then to let it go. Admittedly, this needs a bit of practice, but I have found it is a habit worth cultivating.
  • It encourages perfectionism. It is better to accept that you are not perfect, that you have made and will continue to make mistakes. Life becomes easier when you accept that other people are not perfect either, that they also make mistakes and then you can forgive both yourself and others.

In the book I am writing at the moment, I go on at length about what I do believe in: accepting my imperfections, mindfully getting the most out of every single moment, collecting experiences rather than possessions, counting my blessings and sharing those blessings with others.

Of all the above, what helped most, even on the darkest of days, and during the longest of nights, was reminding myself of my blessings. I could always find something that I was grateful for, even if it was just being alive. What kept me going was:

  • Being fully present in each moment, even in difficult moments,
  • Being grateful that I can experience each moment and for what I can learn from whatever I am experiencing,
  • Sharing what I have learned with others.

It took me ten years to devise a workable strategy to cope with unexpected and unavoidable change. Because of the reasons I cite above, the law of Attraction is not part of this strategy.

I have created a checklist and cheat sheet about coping with change, based on my strategy, that I share with the subscribers to my mailing list. Claim yours and I will shortly let you know when I have published my book about embracing change.

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Writing your Way through Life Transitions

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Not so long ago, my friend Paula asked me, “So, do you think you will ever write a novel?”

“Moi?” I laughed, “I couldn’t write fiction if my horses’ lives depended on it. I am strictly a non-fiction writer.”

CCmimiI woke up that night at 03h17. I thought about what I had said. I realised that what I said was not entirely true. In fact, it was entirely untrue. My first book, Horse Riding Confidence Secrets, contains several anecdotes to illustrate the points I wanted to make. My second book, Self-Confidence made Simple, features the stories of sixteen French women. Sixteen women I interviewed to find out how they became the confident and well-adjusted women they are today. My third book, the 2nd in the Fabriqué en France series, includes the stories of ten of my workshop participants. My latest book, Cope with Change, Thrive on Transitions, 3rd in the series, contains a large number of personal anecdotes and accounts that illustrate the strategy I developed to cope with change.

In the early morning hours, it dawned on me that what I said to Paula was nonsense. I do write fiction. I would never have been able to write a single book if I could not write stories. I have been writing stories since the day I first opened a file to write a morning page (see Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) ten years ago. Morning pages are an essential coping strategy for me. I write troublesome emotions out of my head and onto paper. I used to write aimlessly about what had happened and what I felt about it. Sometimes this made me feel better, sometimes worse. As a coping strategy, it had its limitations.

I wanted to include this strategy in my sixth book, but because of its limitations, I hesitated. Luckily, I discovered a more promising technique. I have used it for two years now, and during this time, I have written more stories while trying to cope with my eye problems than I care to count. The technique is called narrative expressive writing (or N.E.W.)

According to James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at The University of Texas–Austin and co-author of the new book Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain, “Writing about an emotionally charged subject or an unresolved trauma helps you put the event into perspective…” In other words, writing about thoughts and feelings that arise from a stressful life experience may help some people cope with the emotional upheaval caused by such an event.

Writing a story, instead of just writing about the emotions one experiences, makes a difference.  Kyle Bourassa, author of the article The Impact of Narrative Expressive Writing on Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, and Blood Pressure Following Marital Separation said, “To be able to create a story in a structured way—not just re-experience your emotions but make meaning out of them—allows you to process those feelings in a more physiologically adaptive way. The explicit instructions to create a narrative may provide a scaffolding for people who are going through this tough time. This structure can help people gain an understanding of their experience that allows them to move forward, rather than simply spinning and re-experiencing the same negative emotions over and over.”

It certainly works for me.

Are you going through a difficult time?
How about using narrative expressive writing to try to make sense of it?

Not sure how to go about it? As an example, here is Leo’s story:

I thought that Leo was a lost cause. I thought that he had been so severely neglected, so fundamentally mistreated, so intensively abused that he would never recover. On the day we met, Leo was little more than a bag of bones. He was infested with lice and so malnourished that he had difficulty staying upright. His eyes were lifeless. His breathing was shallow. When I reached out to him, he tried to get away, but he was so weak that he fell to his knees.

I was ready to give up on Leo.

The chances of ever reaching him again, to lure him out of the dark hole in his mind where he had taken refuge seemed like an impossible undertaking. Might as well give him up as a worthless lot. He had given up himself a long time ago. Leo would never trust anyone again. He tried to make himself as small as possible. He shied away from any physical contact. He offered no resistance and no engagement. He wasn’t present. His broken body was there with me, but his damaged mind was somewhere where no human could reach it.

Once, he must have been young, playful and full of energy. Now, at barely twelve years old, he was a tired old man.

I had worked with damaged horses before, but I have never encountered a horse as far gone as Leo. I did not know where to start. I seriously considered having him put to sleep, even if only to end his suffering. The festering wounds on his legs desperately needed aggressive treatment, but he was so weak that the antibiotics that he needed would probably have done more harm than good. From his swollen stomach, it was clear that he was full of worms, but I wasn’t sure if he would survive treatment for that either. His teeth were in such bad condition that he could not chew even if he did get access to some decent hay. Even if I managed to get him through this, he would never be a healthy, happy horse again.

How totally, utterly and completely wrong I was!

I did not give up on Leo, against my better judgement. Two years later, as I walked out of the front door one morning, I found a happy, healthy, well-fed horse with a shiny coat and a twinkle in his big brown eyes standing on the front lawn. He knows full well that he should not be there, but he has that you-know-that-I-am-a-bit-special attitude down to perfection. He knows that he can melt my heart with a single pleading look. No longer does he shy away when I approach him. I can see that it takes every ounce of self-control that he can muster to remain standing on the same spot when his every instinct tells him to run away as fast as he possibly can. He knows that when he does that, I sigh and turn around with tears in my eyes. So he just stands there, glued to the spot, trembling with effort. From somewhere deep inside himself, Leo found the courage to give people one more chance. Just as I had given him one last chance.

Leo taught me a lot in the time he was with us. He taught me not to give up, no matter how bleak the outlook. He taught me to persevere no matter how impossible a task may seem. He taught me that “success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds,” as Orison Swett Marden said.

Leo died a year ago. I miss him. Writing the above, on the anniversary of his death, helped me to let him go. It reminded me of how grateful I should be that he shared my life for four full years.

Clearly, I am not ready to write a novel yet. In the meantime, I am getting some extensive practice transferring the tension created by one transition after another out of my head and into a lockable computer file.

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As soon as my book Coping with Change, Thriving on Transitions is published, I will let subscribers to my mailing list know. Have you subscribed to my blog’s mailing list yet? If you are already a subscriber, thank you so much! If not, please do. My blog aims to assist you in making the most of yourself and in providing you with the tools to do so. You can subscribe by clicking here, and you will receive my 10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence guide – straight from the horse’s mouth! as well as a copy of the Cope with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist.

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Misconceptions about Mindfulness

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In each book I write, I write about mindfulness. It becomes difficult not to repeat myself, so in my latest book, Coping with Change – A 10-Step Strategy to manage Stress Successfully during Transitions, I decided to write about mindfulness from a different perspective. Instead of explaining what mindfulness is, I explain what mindfulness is not:

  1. Mindfulness is not easy, but it is not complicated. Mindfulness is simply about being present in the moment, observing our thoughts and emotions without judgement and without allowing our thoughts and feelings to dictate our actions.
  2. Mindfulness is not effortless. Mindfulness requires work: an investment of time, effort and energy.
  3. Mindfulness is not a religion, though being mindful is fundamental to several faiths, incl Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Taoist teachings. Mindfulness is a mental practice unrelated to any specific religion.
  4. Mindfulness is not meditation. Meditation is just one mindfulness practice.
  5. Mindfulness is not about disconnecting from the world around you. It’s about being fully aware of what you are thinking where you are right at this precise moment.
  6. Mindfulness is not just another item to add to your to-do list. It is a mindset, a lifestyle, an integral part of your every day.
  7. Mindfulness is not just about stress reduction, although it can significantly reduce stress. Mindfulness enables you to cultivate awareness, tolerance, acceptance, kindness and compassion. Mindfulness increases resilience by rewiring your brain to respond to experiences positively and productively, instead of reacting in a way that can increase stress.
  8. Mindfulness is not a waste of time. Yes, it takes time to master, but as it involves being present in the here and now, it saves a lot of time, time we usually spend ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
  9. Mindfulness meditation is not about escaping reality. Mindfulness is about being fully aware of our reality without our views being influenced by our emotions, assumptions or preconceived ideas.
  10. It does not take a long time to benefit from mindfulness. You can make significant progress in just one week of daily mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness can make you feel more relaxed, sleep better, worry less and cope better with challenges after only one session.
  11. Mindfulness is not time-consuming. If you can find 10-15 minutes/day to practice mindfulness, you can make significant progress and dramatically reduce your stress levels. Even as little as 5-10 minutes a day will yield noticeable results.
  12. Mindfulness is not for everybody. Mindfulness is not a “one-size fits all” approach. Although anyone can be more mindful, not everyone finds mindfulness useful. That’s fine; there are other ways to increase well-being.
  13. Mindfulness is not therapy. It can be an adjunct to a variety of treatments, but it is not a cure for all ills.
  14. Mindfulness is not about emptying your mind. Mindfulness is about noticing, accepting and letting go of your thoughts.
  15. Mindfulness does not always make you feel better. It is about noticing your thoughts, even the distressing ones, without judging yourself for having them. It is about acknowledging and accepting your negative thoughts, without allowing them to alter your mood or induce you to act in unhelpful ways. Mindfulness enables you to work through your feelings, positive as well as negative.
  16. Mindfulness is not something you do; it is something you are – an essential and intrinsic part of you.
  17. Mindfulness is not a shortcut to happiness. Mindfulness can help reduce and even eliminate depression, anxiety and stress but only if we are willing to work at re-training our minds so that we can cope with whatever comes our way.
  18. Mindfulness is not the only method you can use to cope with change, but it is one of the most effective ones. Mindfulness enables you to see more clearly what is happening in your life. It will not eliminate stress, but it can help you respond in a stress-diminishing way. It helps you to recognise and avoid habitual, often unconscious and unhelpful reactions to everyday events, thus improving your quality of life.

Extract from Coping with Change – A 10-Step Strategy to manage Stress Successfully during Transitions

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My latest book has not been published yet, I will let subscribers to my mailing list know as soon as I publish it. Have you subscribed to my blog’s mailing list yet? If you are already a subscriber, thank you so much! If not, please do. My blog aims to assist you in making the most of yourself and in providing you with the tools to do so. The blog has a distinctly French flavour, as I also share with you our life here in the south of France. You can subscribe by clicking here, and you will receive my 10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence guide – straight from the horse’s mouth! as well as a copy of the Cope with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist.

Walking, Writing and Stress Management

Walk to cope with change
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After the operation, my surgeon told me that I had to take things easy for a while, so no long walks, no running and certainly no horse riding. Since I was quite determined that the 4th operation in 18 months was going to be a success, I decided to keep to the rules.

I missed not riding, especially as I have only recently started to ride one of the bravest Lusitano stallions I have ever had the privilege of knowing, at Le Domaine de Passage, a Lusitano Stud not far from where I live. I also missed running. I can no longer see well enough to run outside, so I run on my treadmill 4/5 times per week, for about 30 minutes. It keeps me fit. I could, however, survive without walking or riding.

What I really missed, more than anything else, is my long, slow walks. I walk nearly every day, on my own, with a friend or with one of my horses. I don’t walk for fitness; I get enough exercise from running.

  • I walk to spend time communing with nature, to feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the fresh air flowing into my lungs…
  • I walk to get out of my head and away from demands upon my time and attention.
  • I walk to spend time with someone who is important to me.
  • I walk as an exercise in mindfulness. When I walk with one of my horses, the horse teaches me how to be mindful in exchange for regular pitstops to sample the tastier-than-in-their-paddock grass along the way.
  • I walk along the edges of the horses’ paddocks, to check the fencing.
  • But mostly, I walk because walking helps me to think.

Ask Aristotle, who insisted that he did his best thinking while walking, if you don’t believe me. Ask Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote, “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Walking improves not only my thinking but also my writing. Just ask walking-writers Rimbaud, Dickens, Woolf, Kant, Hemmingway, Rousseau, Blake, Thoreau, Wordsworth and Jane Austen if it isn’t true.

“Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “my thoughts begin to flow.” Orson Scott Card said that it’s “worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.” According to Charles Dickens, “The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.” Hemmingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, “I would walk along the quays when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something…”

Two Stanford walking researchers, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz* found that students tested showed markedly heightened creative abilities while walking. Walking increased their creative output by an average of 60 per cent. Oppezzo and Schwartz speculate that “future studies would likely determine a complex pathway that extends from the physical act of walking to physiological changes to the cognitive control of imagination.”

As I could not walk while I was getting better after the operation, I had the impression that writing was much more difficult. I got stuck more frequently, and it took longer to get unstuck. I did manage to put the finishing touches to my latest book, Coping with Change – Ten Steps to Successful Stress Management during Transitions and I wrote an 11-page Coping with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist, but it took much longer than it usually does.

You may not be an artist, so why is it useful to you to know that walking increases creativity? It is because creativity is an essential part of practical problem-solving. Author and athlete Christopher Bergland wrote, “Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are buried in the subconscious.” So next time you are struggling to cope with a challenge generated by desired or undesired change, consider going outside for a walk of at least 5 to 15 minutes. That’s the length of time Oppezzo and Schwartz found most useful.

I live close to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim’s route. It is one of my favourite places to walk for inspiration. I am very much looking forward to going there for a walk again! For this very reason, walking the Camino is an integral part of the Walking, Writing and Wine Tasting Workshops I host here in the south of France. We have two 5-day residential spring workshops scheduled this year:

  • 26-30 April 2019 and
  • 20-24th May 2019

You are, of course, very welcome to join us! You can find out more about the benefits of walking and about these workshops here: Walking, Writing and Wine Tasting Workshops in the south of France.

 

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*J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014 Jul;40(4):1142-52. Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Oppezzo M1, Schwartz DL

Need help to cope with the stress caused by Change? Subscribe to my Mailing List and receive my Coping with Challenges and Change Cheatsheet and Checklist as well as monthly updates about new books, blog posts, courses and last-minute or early-bird special offers on my workshops. Simply click on the image below to subscribe.

Embrace Change and Boost Resilience

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I had my eye operation one week ago. I had come to the end of the road, there was no going back, and the only way forward was to have the eye removed. It was.

The surgeon warned me that it would be the most painful eye operation I had ever had. It was.

Possible complications after the operation were mentioned, all to do with the surgery itself. Possible post-anaesthetic complications were mentioned too, in passing. After all, I had had many operations before and never had a reaction. This time I did. I started vomiting on the way back from the hospital and was sick for the first 36 hours. Bringing everything back up meant I could not keep any pain killers down…not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy.

The worst is over now. I have a new eye. It needs some more work before it will be ready for public viewing, so I shall be wearing a patch for the next couple of months.

Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be said, “Change is inevitable in life. You can either resist it and potentially get run over by it, or you can choose to cooperate with it, adapt to it, and learn how to benefit from it. When you embrace change you will begin to see it as an opportunity for growth.”

So I have decided to embrace this dramatic change in my circumstances.

Because I can.

Because

  • Change is something I know I can handle. I have dealt with the challenges generated by both expected and unexpected change successfully in the past. When I feel overwhelmed, I look back through my gratitude diary and remind myself of the challenges I had encountered and navigated in the past – when I retired from medical practice, when I started my own business, when I got divorced and remarried…
  • I know that I do not have to face this change on my own. I have friends. I have family. I have a mother-in-lieu who nursed me physically and mentally through those first two horrendous days and through the days that followed, I have a mother-in-law who rang and sent messages from deepest, darkest Africa daily, I have heart-friends who phoned, visited and sent e-mails and texts from far and wide. Change of this magnitude forces me to acknowledge my inability to cope on my own and thus enriches and strengthens my relationships.
  • I believe that change incites personal growth and personal development is important to me. I shall have to find new ways of doing, new ways of being. I shall have to accept my new physical limitations and redefine my identity (more about this in Chapter 2 of my book Self-Confidence made Simple,) from a two-eyed person to a one-eyed person. I shall have to set firm boundaries and learn to say “No” more frequently to protect the eye I have left.
  • I have discovered that even significant changes can be broken down into smaller sections to make it more manageable. There are only so many waking hours in each day, and in those waking hours, I only have to deal with as much of the change as I can manage. I can handle this change: I can prioritise and choose to cope with the most urgent challenges first while ensuring that I also make time to recharge my batteries regularly.
  • Change makes me stronger. It forces me to develop new coping strategies, strategies that I can later share with participants in my personal empowerment workshops. Change teaches me to be more flexible and more willing to compromise when there is no other option. Change inspires me to I reassess and improve my problem-solving skills; it makes me more resilient. Change requires that I unearth and eradicate possible limiting beliefs that I may have acquired during the last two years. It brings unhelpful habits to light, enabling me to break these habits and form more helpful ones.
  • Change allows me to grow spiritually; it refreshes my faith.
  • Change extends my horizons. I learn more about myself, about the people around me, about coping in challenging circumstances. Before, during and after the operation, I have met inspiring people I would otherwise not have met, kind and considerate strangers who give without expecting anything in return. Change reminds me of all I have to be grateful for in my life.
  • Change reminds me to be mindful, to acknowledge my emotions without allowing them to dictate my actions. Leading up to the operation, the consuming emotion I felt was anger. Incandescent rage, actually. Mindfulness allows me to observe and acknowledge my anger (as I explain in my book Mindfulness and Meditation Options,) without allowing it to propel me into the next stage in the process of coping with loss and grief:
  1. Immobilising shock
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Depression
  5. Development of a coping strategy
  6. Acceptance

Embracing ChangeMuch better to focus on developing a plan that will enable me to cope with this change. Along the way, change teaches me to be patient, to have realistic expectations and to adjust those expectations daily, hourly, even moment-by-moment, when required. Patience is a virtue I still do not have enough of, no matter how much change I have successfully negotiated in the past.

When I look outside, I see spring everywhere. Spring is a great time to have a life-changing operation. A time of new beginnings, of new opportunities, a time of firsts – for the first time in 2 years, I shall be pain-free, and for the first time in 27 years, I shall have a nearly normal-looking (albeit artificial) eye – time to be creative: as I am not earning an awful lot at the moment, I have created a writer’s profile on Patreon, where you can support me through all this for the price of 2 cups of coffee per month. I have also nearly finished editing my new book Thriving on Challenges and Change – I will let all my mailing list subscribers know as soon as I publish it.

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