Book Review

Welcome

Welcome to this book review and a big thank you to my hypnotherapy colleagues for making the session so interesting and engaging:  Andy Workman, Anna Thomas, Clare Hancock, Debbie Ray, Eileen Sweeney, Gerry Gingell, John Black, Katharine Gardner, Kay Hendy, Lara Tozer and Sacha Taylor

The Book

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Published by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd (2016). Reviewed from a hypnotherapy perspective on 4th October 2023.

The book in a few words

Book club members chose a word or short phrase to describe the book. These were:
 
Life-changing, Possibilities, Hope, Inspiration, Love, Law of Attraction, Repetitive, Controversial, Marmite, Irritating, Materialistic, Profound, What If True?
Recommended Reading
Book Club Score - 6.96 / 10

Summary

The book is in effect, a transcript of the film by the author and based on a belief that our thoughts are so powerful that we attract and manifest (bring into existence) everything in our lives through our thoughts. 

Another key idea in the book is that there is a single unifying, universal energy system and that we and our thoughts are an integral part of this. This energy system is said to have a magnetic-like quality in which ‘like attracts like’ i.e. positive thoughts attract positive things. This quality is referred to as the Law of Attraction.

The book includes explanations, examples and techniques aimed to encourage all of us to utilise this power so that we can enjoy happy, healthy, fulfilled lives. The book is universally inclusive in this regard.

The method of manifesting what a person wants in life is referred to as the creative process and this involves:

1) Asking and signalling what we want through our thoughts and feelings

2) Believing and acting as if, what we want is already ours

3) Receiving – behaving as if the receiving process has already started (we are in the process of receiving)

 
The title of the book comes from a suggestion that many influential people across human history have been aware of the Law of Attraction and the power of thought, but this knowledge, for one reason or another, has not been shared, adopted or endorsed widely, hence The Secret.

The Book Review

The book evoked strong feelings

Reading the book had evoked a range of strong thoughts, feelings, and views amongst colleagues. On the one hand, some had been profoundly moved when they read the book years ago and had adopted aspects of the philosophy into their life and considered the book to be life-changing. On the other hand, some colleagues felt uncomfortable and even troubled by aspects of the book and considered it to be materialistic, money orientated, commercially focused, ‘Hollywood’ and even dangerous. On balance, if one was to look beyond the writing and delivery style to the core messages, there was much enthusiasm and agreement.

Core messages illustrated

Core messages of the book

Book Club members felt comfortable with the following core messages in the book which corresponded with aspects of our Solution Focused Hypnotherapy training:
 
1. Thoughts can affect our feelings which can affect our actions which can affect aspects of our life.
2. So, to some degree therefore, ‘Thoughts Become Things’ (a key quote in the book).
3. We can change our thoughts.
4. ‘Energy flows where attention goes’ – so if we change our thoughts we change other things in our lives.
5. ‘What you resist persists’ (words by Carl Jung and quoted in the book) meaning that seeking change through resistance is usually unsuccessful.
6. Is the Universe Friendly? – a question quoted in the book, originally posed by Albert Einstein, to which the answer is most certainly and reassuringly, ‘Yes.’

Was David Newton influenced by the Book?

David Newton developed the Solution Focused Hypnotherapy programme adopted and taught by CPHT Hypnotherapy training schools. This is the training programme that my colleagues below and I have been trained in.

Interestingly to us was the number of similarities between passages in the book and almost identical words and phrasing to some of our standard hypnotherapy language patterns, particularly one called Game Players Planet. These similarities were so evident that colleagues wondered if David Newton, in designing the original training course, had been influenced by the book himself, or similar writings.

What we liked about the book

There was much about the book that we liked. This included:
 
  • Sections about gratitude, the power of expectation and placebo, laughter as the best medicine
  • The sense of hope, optimism and control
  • The importance of focusing on what we do want, not on what we don’t want
  • The power of the substance of our dominant thoughts
  • That having more control over our thoughts is available to everyone.
  • Feelings and emotions are powerful signals (not something to be ignored).
  • Feelings are often more instructive and easier to define than thoughts – the book proposed that we ask ourselves, “how am I feeling?” to gauge how our thoughts are at a moment in time.
  • The book was nice to feel and touch.
  • Each chapter had really good summaries.
 
Many of the core messages correspond with aspects of modern neuroscience, quantum mechanics, some psychological traditions, the basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and aspects of some philosophies and religions.

The most difficult aspect of the book

The aspect that colleagues found the most difficult was the suggestion that we attract everything (yes everything!) into our lives through our dominant thoughts. All colleagues could imagine situations and people for whom this message could be significantly unhelpful, harmful, or even cruel.

For example, imagine what it might be like for a person who had recently been diagnosed with a life limiting illness, to read the book and interpret that they had attracted the illness into their lives through their thoughts. That it was they who were to blame. 

On reflection, I don’t believe the author intended any lack of care or compassion here but there is little explanation offered in the book about this, the most contentious part.

An explanation of the most difficult aspect

I would like to offer some examples which may put the notion that we attract everything into our lives, into a more acceptable frame.

What are the dominant thoughts which lead to war?

Right now (November 2023), across the world there are horrendous, harrowing wars being fought (for example in the Middle East and Ukraine) and huge levels of distress, anguish and difficulty are being experienced by our fellow human beings in these places. People who are totally innocent of the decision to go to war are being affected and thousands have lost their homes, their livelihoods and even their lives. The negative consequences of the decision to go to war are widespread and are affecting many people across the wider world. For those of us who are fortunate to live in relative peace and stability, these feel almost unbearable, inexplicable, needless events which could surely be better resolved through peace, reconciliation, compassion and understanding.  In relation to the ideas in the book, is it not true that the dominant thoughts that war is the solution, held by those in powerful positions, were the precursors and the drivers of these wars and the suffering? Was this not also true of Adolf Hitler and any others who through the power of their thoughts and word, created harm on a global scale? Many people will not have personally contributed to thoughts of war but if the dominant thoughts by powerful or enough people are to go to war, maybe it is inevitable that many others will be affected?

In the book Mother Teresa is quoted as saying that she would never attend an anti-war rally but would consider attending a peace rally.

What are our dominant thoughts about our environment?

We are all concerned about global warming and the devastating effect this is having on our world but what are the dominant thoughts about this across the world and in the news right now? Are they principally focused on conservation, nature, and repair or are the dominant news items about how much worse everything is getting, how to protect the price of oil-based fuels and how our regular car journeys are affected by traffic, the weather or road works? If the book has truth, then the substance of our dominant thoughts is not currently about saving the planet or ourselves.

What are the dominant thoughts we have when our lives are difficult?

For a more personal example, there is much in the medical and research literature about the effect of stress on our bodies, our health and even our life expectancy. This stress can come in many forms, for example our diet, lifestyle, levels of activity, work pressure, finance, relationships, medical problems, our home and living arrangements. It can also include how much choice and control we feel we have, our sense of agency and even our sense of being true to ourselves. All of these factors can contribute to our sense of stress and we all know that in times of stress our thoughts and feelings become concerned with problems. When these stressful factors are sustained they can have a very big impact on our health and wellbeing. Although many people across the world have significant limitations to their choices, reflecting on the possibility of the Law of Attraction and our personal experience, would we say that things improved in our life when our thinking changed? 

Healing journeys all involve changing thoughts

Reflecting further on my experience of helping people using Hypnotherapy, it is always the case that people who get better change their thoughts and changing thoughts is a critical part of the healing journey. Whether or not, those thoughts can affect the wider world, I would not like to say, but it seems very clear to me that when people change their thoughts, they change their inner world and the world around them.

What we didn't like so much

Some colleagues didn’t like the title, The Secret, because of negative connotations around secrecy.  There was felt to be too little focus on the action part of change. In our experience as therapists, yes people do need to change their thinking, but they also need to take action, change their behaviour and get things done. We also felt that the example of changed used in the book focused on material wealth, possessions, money, parking spaces, finding a feather and other insipid stories. The exception to this was the story of Morris Goodman (page 136) who was a pilot involved in a terrible airplane crash and who was paralysed and deemed unlikely by doctors to walk, move or engage in life in any normal way again. In the book he describes how he only had the power of his thoughts and he used them to heal himself. Much to the surprise of medical professionals he walked out of the hospital some months later carrying his own bags and has since been called The Miracle Man. 
 
Another aspect of the book that members couldn’t agree with was the notion that you can think everything right, cure everything with thought or think yourself thin irrespective of food choices and biochemistry.
 
Book Club members did agree that as the book progresses it becomes less material, softer, starts to have more soul and focus on outward good as well as good for the individual.
 
We also wondered if the ideas in the book would have been received more openly if written in a different, less materialistic style, for example if written by David Hamilton.

The book and our hypnotherapy practice

The book and our Solution Focused Hypnotherapy practice share a lot in common. For example we often help our clients:
 
  • Reimagine what they want in life (not what they don’t want)
  • Recognise what’s already good in their lives
  • Recognise their strengths
  • Understand that their thinking affects other aspects of our lives
  • Start the process of change by taking small steps

There are lots of aspects of the book that could be used positively and enhance our hypnotherapy practice. This includes the use of metaphors which are used extensively and suggestively in hypnotherapy either in the talking part of sessions and / or in the hypnosis. The Law of Attraction itself could be viewed as a metaphor. Other metaphors used in the book include:

 
  • Us as transmitters, transmitting out what we think, want and feel
  • Us as magnets, attracting things to us
  • The Universe as a Genie and responding to our thoughts like in the story of the Genie and the Lamp by saying “your wish is my command”
  • Our life as mirrors to our thinking
  • Paddling upstream (against what we need and want) or paddling downstream, going with the flow of what we want and need
  • Driving a car at night: i.e. having a vision of where we want to go but focusing on the part of the road we can see in the headlights. Thus, we get to our destination, without having to know the whole way.
 
Other aspects that are or could be used in our hypnotherapy practice with clients include:
 
  • Gratitude practice
  • Vision Boards – pictorial views of how the person would like their life to be
  • Secret Shifters – a set of things people can use to change their mood, feelings and thoughts
  • The notion of ‘Inspired Action’– action that feels joyful, effortless, not like work
  • The use of empowering mantras that could be used within language patterns or by clients on their own
  • Mentally rehearsing the day ahead in our mind, at the start of the day, in terms of how we want to feel, think and what we want to do
  • Reviewing the day in our mind at the end of the day and replaying events as we would want to think, feel and behave next time

The book contains a range of lovely quotes ranging from Buddha, Dr Martin Luther King to Henry Ford and includes references to other interesting writers on the subject which include Prentice Mulford who lived in the 1800s.

The book and our own lives

Colleagues identified aspects of the book that they wanted to use in their own lives:
 
  • Continuing to adopt the philosophy of the Law of Attraction.
  • Moving away from having a competitive outlook. In the book it was suggested that this is counterproductive to attracting abundance in our lives (I gain + you lose = I lose)
  • Deciding to no longer indulge in negative thinking and negative talking about others. In the book it was suggested that negative thinking about others = negative impacts on ourselves.

Ultimate quotes

Ultimately the main themes in the book can be summed up by these two quotes by Prentice Mulford (1870) (p denotes page):

‘When you say to yourself, I am going to have a pleasant visit or a pleasant journey, you are literally sending elements and forces ahead of you to make your visit or journey pleasant. When you are in a bad humor, fearful or apprehensive of something unpleasant, you are sending unseen agencies ahead of you which will make some kind of unpleasantness. Our thoughts, or in other words, our state of mind, is ever at work, fixing up things good or bad in advance’. Prentice Mulford (p66)

‘Let us remember as far as we can that every unpleasant thought is a bad thing literally put into the body’ (p133)

Other quotes to sum up the themes in the book

Other quotes relating to the main themes include the following: 

‘As above, so below. As within, so without.’ – The Emerald Table, c 3000BC (cover page)

‘Every thought of yours is a real thing – a force.’ – Prentice Mulford. (p4)

‘The Law of Attraction responds to thoughts, no matter what they are.’ (p7)

‘You become what you think about most.’ ‘You attract what you think about most.’ (p8)

‘Your life right now is a reflection of your past thoughts.’ (p9)

‘If you see it in the mind, you’re going to hold it in your hand.’ (p9)

‘Thoughts become things.’– Mike Dooley (p9)

‘Most people are thinking of what they don’t want and they’re wondering why it shows up again and again.’ – John Assaraf (p12) 

‘There is a ‘don’t want’ epidemic.’ – John Assaraf (p12)

‘The Law of Attraction doesn’t care whether you perceive something to be good or bad, whether you do or don’t want it, it just responds to thoughts.’ – Bob Dyle (p12)

‘Any time your thoughts are flowing, the Law of Attraction is working.’ – Lisa Nichols (p16)

‘The emotions are an incredible gift that we have to let us know what we are thinking.’ – Bob Doyle (p30)

‘It is impossible to feel bad and at the same time have good thoughts.’ (p31)

‘Begin right now to feel healthy, prosperous, the love that’s surrounding you.’ – Michael Bernard Beckwith (p35)

‘Make a list of Secret Shifters to have up your sleeve. By Secret Shifters I mean things that can change your feelings in a snap. It might be beautiful memories, future events, funny moments, nature, a person you love, your favourite music. Then if you find yourself angry or frustrated or not feeling good, turn to your Secret Shifters list and focus on one of them.’ (p37)

‘Love is the greatest emotion, the highest frequency you can emit.’ (p36)

‘Life is so easy, life is so good. All good things come to me.’ – A mantra (p41)

‘I am receiving now, I am receiving all the good in my life now.’ – Mantra about receiving (p53)

‘Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.’ – Dr Martin Luther King Jr. (p57)

‘You are a spiritual being. You are an energy field operating in a larger energy field.’ (p158)

‘Everything is connected.’ (p162)

Overall

Overall the general consensus was that this is a very interesting, thought provoking and controversial book. Please do add any other thoughts or reflections whether you attended book club or have read this yourself. Thank you for reading this. Take good care.
Andy

Additional Thanks

Additional thanks to Jennifer Bailey, aka Windfarm Mermaid, for proofreading and help with editing. Very much appreciated.

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