The law of attraction: how you can avoid its dark side

The law of attraction

A lot of massively successful business people, Oprah included, attribute their success to something called the law of attraction. According to the law, your mind determines your reality—if you radiate positive energy, you’ll see fantastic results. If you focus on what you fear, those fears will come true. This mind power concept appeals to many entrepreneurs, but there’s a dark side to it, one that Carla, a business coach, fell into.

The end of negativity

A few years ago, Carla, a marketing executive friend of mine, told me she had quit her job to found a life coaching business. With great enthusiasm she described the future of her career, which included a book, speaking engagements across the country, and yearly retreats with hundreds attending. She was absolutely certain it would all come true. In fact, she could feel it like it was already happening. She told me she’d stopped letting doubts and negativity into her mind. This new approach to life was inspired by The Secret, which a friend had introduced her to. The Secret is a book, as well as a film, that had recently re-popularized the concept of the law of attraction—an ancient concept that has seen many incarnations over the last hundred years or so, probably most notably Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

An ancient law

The appeal of the law of attraction for an entrepreneur like Carla makes total sense. Building a business means creating something that doesn’t exist yet. And we’re not talking about creating something simple like a sandcastle. To build any successful business, you have to create a colossal amount from scratch. You need great ideas, services to sell, marketing materials, clients willing to pay you. There are so many questions. Will your clients like what you do? Will they refer you? Will a competitor try to steal your clients? You don’t have the answers to those or the hundreds of other questions that swirl in your head.

A storm of unanswered questions

To venture into a storm of unanswered questions takes a ton of courage. Not everyone is willing to do it, especially when the stakes are so high. So, when you’re heading into the vast unknown, it can be comforting to believe that you can actually know ahead of time that the answers will be the ones you want…so long as you truly believe in those answers, and never waver from your positive, affirmative thoughts. In this model of the world, you’re in charge. You’re in total control. All you have to do is exert mastery over your mind. That’s possible, isn’t it?

The sound of crickets

Carla and I stayed in touch occasionally as she tried to build her business. I saw her go through what almost every single entrepreneur experiences—things taking longer, people letting you down, something big going wrong, the sound of crickets when you’re expecting the phone to ring off the hook. And through all this, Carla would continue to bubble forth with positivity. But something had been going wrong. The things she envisioned, that she saw so clearly, weren’t coming true. And at some point, the dark side of the law began to rear its ugly head.

The law’s ugly head

Carla and I got together around this time. She looked exhausted but was still trying to put on a brave face. Reluctantly and with obvious guilt Carla began to tell me the various challenges she was facing. Her biggest client had run into financial trouble and had to cancel her business. She was having trouble finding new clients. Her book kept getting rejected by publishers and agents. She’d only managed to secure a couple of small speaking gigs. She’d had to tap into her life savings to keep going and she didn’t know how much longer she could last.

That’s when the dark side sprang forth… Carla looked at me and said, full of shame, that she had brought all the troubles upon herself. She had attracted it all.

All your fault

I advised Carla not to go down the self-recrimination road. But she couldn’t help herself—the law had led her there. If you believe that you create your reality through your thoughts, then if you’re not happy with your reality, you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame. If you want the good side of the law, you end up taking the dark side too.

I continued to try to steer Carla away from the downward spiral, but ran up against a terrible foe—the fact that Carla hadn’t been able to completely get rid of negative thoughts. They would just creep up on her. For example, several times she had found herself worrying that her biggest client would go under. She’d beat herself up for that negativity, reminding herself that expressing a fear attracted it into her life. And when that client did cancel their business, Carla knew she’d brought it upon herself—and upon her client. A guilt that haunted her.

The slippery slope

The slippery slope Carla was plunging down was something I’d seen many times with proponents of the law of attraction. It’s a problem that’s virtually inevitable, because negative thoughts are part of being human. Everyone gets them, no matter how much mastery over your mind you have.

An unfortunate paradox of the law of attraction is that it almost always gives negative thoughts more power than they otherwise would have. When you’re terrified that any little doubt you experience is drawing doom toward you, you can’t help but fear that negative thought, and then you fear your fear…and so on and so on into the kind of dark place Carla found herself.

Carla eventually asked me a question she hadn’t yet—whether I believed in the law or not. I told her I believed that thoughts are more powerful than is commonly accepted, then added that what I knew for certain was that—for many people—the law of attraction leads to dark places, as it had for her.

Not good for business

One major problem with that dark place is that you’re in a state of overwhelming emotions, which makes it hard to deal with all the questions you face running your business. Should you give up on that prospect? Take on a partner? Dig into your savings? Develop a new service? Fold the business and try something else? Massive decisions like this weigh on you every day, and if you’re beating yourself up, you tend not to make the best choices.

“But whether or not you feel bad about thinking them,” Carla said, “don’t the negative thoughts themselves make it hard to make the right choice too?”

“Negativity actually has a good side,” I said, before giving her the following example about the time I woke up in the middle of the night panicking that something was going to go wrong with a conference the small company I ran at the time was organizing. Instead of trying to bury the negative thought as some kind of guarantee that something bad would happen at the conference, I used the worry to spring into action. I got out of bed and, fuelled by dread, scoured the project plan for the conference. In the end I discovered that the conference materials were being shipped to the wrong address, and set about fixing it.

A brilliant insight

Carla considered my story for a moment before adding the brilliant insight that perhaps my desire to have the conference succeed attracted the negative thoughts that inspired the necessary fix. Seeing things in this way made her realize she could have reacted differently to the fear that her biggest client would go under. Instead of getting wrapped up in more negativity she could have focused on preparing her business to absorb the loss. The insight that she could use her negative thoughts to motivate positive action was a new beginning for Carla.

Over the next couple of years, she began to make great strides in her coaching business, winning some great clients and speaking engagements. She still wasn’t quite where she wanted to be, but she didn’t let herself get dragged down into guilt and self-recrimination. Because of that, she felt more positive than ever and attributed the success she was experiencing to staying clear headed and trying to be as rational as possible for every decision she made. I should add that she still believed she could attract success, she just decided to take the good half of the law, and drop the bad half.

The big takeaway: The law of attraction is a wonderful thing if it helps you continuously throw positive energy into building your business. But if it makes you fear your negative thoughts so much that you get swamped with guilt, then it’s bringing greater negativity into your life—the opposite of what you’re hoping for. If you like the good side of the law, by all means, keep it—just avoid the dark side like Carla learned to do.

If you want to share your own experiences with the law of attraction, please let us know in the comments section below, or shoot me an email at donald (@) freshbooks (dot) com.

Author’s note: this post is based on a business owner I have coached. I’ve changed her name and some telling details.

For other stories like this step into The Cowper Files.

Donald Cowper is a Small Business Writer at FreshBooks. He’s a successful entrepreneur, an experienced coach and the coauthor of two bestselling business books—Mega-Selling and The 8 Best Practices of High-Performing Salespeople. He is also the coauthor of Breaking the Time Barrier, the popular book on how to charge what you’re really worth.

More great ideas to grow your business

Discover the truth behind the confidence of wildly successful people.

Share this article
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn
  • Julia Borgini

    Great post Donald, filled with good reminders for us small-business owners. A friend of mine kept telling me about the law of attraction, but I always thought it was a bunch of bunk…until I started noticing it in my own work. Suddenly I was making connections that were previously closed off to me. People started reaching out to me, and the business started to roll in.

    Hocus pocus or not, the law of attraction and positivity seems to work. Keep at it everyone!

    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Julia, thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m thrilled to hear about your success. So many people have seen those kinds of results when they change their mindset…. but you hit on the key lesson – to keep at it — to use it to keep you fired up not bring you down.

      • Valerie Bey

        I think a lot of people don’t realize the power of thoughts and affirmations; you do have to give it your all and believe in yourself and possibilities to be successful. I have interacted with so many people who give up too easily, they believe they “can’t” before even starting and label it “being realistic.”

        My whole life changed when I changed the way I think. I truly believe that worrying abut things is like praying for what you don’t want to happen.

        • Donald_FreshBooks

          Great point Valerie about the label “being realistic.” You have to be unrealistic if you want to change your reality.

          • Ash

            Yes, the problem of ‘fearing the fear’ was the biggest issue i had in life and caused a lot of anxiety.Other trouble i used to face with using LOA is that i want everything that i like. And as a result, i got into a situation where i have no focus. Mind is so scattered wanting this, that and everything i find attractive. Another drawback, it has made a lot of us lazy. We have lost the ability to actually work or act upon an idea. And all of us know, in the end of the day we all need to take action to live life. Third, we try to control every situation and bring it in our favor. Truth is, this is harder than just dealing with what comes on the way. I had read a self improvement book which advises us to change our attitude towards people and situations. I really find that way of living life much easier. Reason being, changing attitude means tackling the situations with the right attitude that u train yourself to develop rather than trying to alter the situation in your favor. This actually makes us powerful and help us deal with any kind of situation that we encounter in life. I guess, if we practice and develop the ‘attitude thing’ they talk about, that’s a much better and easier way of life. In short, i believe it’ll be good to use LOA to keep us focused on our goals and aid the process while we act upon our goals rather than using it to do our job for us in every silly life circumstance.

          • Donald_FreshBooks

            Ash, great advice – and thanks for adding your personal experience! I think you’re spot on with the concept of changing attitudes. We can – hopefully – control and manage those, which, as you say, is empowering.

  • Steve Lettau


  • Steve Lettau

    Excellent post! As I read your post I began to think how this lesson applies to so many other aspects of our life from family relationships to health problems.

    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Hi Steve, quite true. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Steve Lettau

    Excellent post! As I read your post I began to think how this lesson applies to so many other aspects of our life from family relationships to health problems.

  • all

    hello guys,
    If you don’t read a book called Law of attraction Aka law of feeling, believe me you know nothing about law of attraction, this book is written by Eastern author, but the book is awesome.

    I think his website : law of feeling com

  • Amy Byrd Thompson

    Finally, someone with a right mind on using the law of attraction and being human. It is not magic, it is science, but some people make it seem so powerful that it frightens them. Yin and Yang, cause and effect, paranoia (lol), and a host of other things tells us that in order for there to be a positive there must also be a negative. Keep things in perspective folks. Nice post, best I have seen!

    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Hi Amy. Good point about Yin and Yang. Thanks for the insights!

  • @Ekat_Ra

    The problem with the law of attraction (and the way it’s presented by Secret) is that it focuses solely on one aspect of human nature. Without putting much around this concept, people end up denying everything else and assuming they can make things happen just by having positive thoughts.

    I don’t even like the term “law of attraction” because we human beings are not magnets – we are much more complex. I think it’s better to present it as the law of creation and include all aspects of human mind.

    Re: doubts and fears. They are important. It’s like an alarm system in the building. If there is a fire in the building, we can’t turn it off and pretend nothing is happening. Like you described in your personal story, if you doubt something in your business, you’d better to pay attention to it and do something to fit it.

    Thank you, Donald, for tackling this topic. For a while I wanted to write a blog post about it because the law of attraction, the way it’s presented by Secret, misleads people and creates chaos.

    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Ekaterina – I love what you’ve written here. I agree that what makes humans special is the ability to create something out of nothing – which, as you say, involves much more than just the ability to think. The ability to act is equally important. Thanks for adding your insights to the conversation!

      • JMT

        Donald – Are you being facetious with all your positive comments to every posting? Shit happens, deal with it. And don’t be so damn gullible to fall the next Religion and any other Con game.

  • Monica Ramos

    Great write up on using negative thoughts to motivate positive action. This is something many of us who live the law of attraction struggle with and I love your insightful spin on it. Thanks! I will definitely be sharing this with my followers.

    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Hi Monica,
      Thanks for letting me know! Greatly appreciated.
      Keep up the positive action :)

  • WorstY

    Donald Cowper…. Why is still on this site as the date is 2/2013? and….Learn how to write please.

  • visitorxyz

    This article is an interesting read. I agree with some ideas in it and may not agree with others.

    The author of this article wrote: “I should add that she still believed she could attract success, she just decided to take the good half of the law, and drop the bad half. ”

    I am afraid this is the illusion created by this “law of attraction” hype. The good and the bad all come together as one package called the “human experience”.

    If those we know as prophets (ex. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad), the chosen ones, have been through these feelings, emotions and experiences, how could an ordinary human being escape them?

    It is so difficult nowadays to find an education system where students are taught how to handle and learn from failure when it comes. We are all educated to believe that success is the only outcome of hard work and good education. We are conditioned to expect only success and that there is nothing to learn from failure as a shameful condition.

    Both “good and bad halves” are extraordinary opportunities to learn from and prepare for the next stages of our lives. This is the good whole side of our human experience.


    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Hi Visitorxyz
      Thanks for your insightful comments. I completely agree that the good and bad halves are part of the human experience – and that both are great teachers. In a sense, the point of the article is simply to make sure you draw good from the bad – rather than let it take you down. In other words, how you respond to tough events is key.

      • Just be

        I like what Visitorxyz said a lot. This fuzzy ‘law’ that resurface every so many years in a new guise is hi-jacking all that is good about humanity and the hard work done whilst blaming you if things go wrong. Seems whatever you do, it will have your mind in a stranglehold once you buy into it.

        Better to be streetwise, keep your eyes open, work hard, work through the negatives and stay the course.

        • Donald_FreshBooks

          “work through the negatives” … well said, thanks!

  • Sam

    Thank you for writing this! I used to be totally into loa until the GFC and when my previously successful business started to fail. It took years until it finally crashed, but in those years (and afterwards) I would be continually told the financial crisis was ‘all in my head’ and ‘what are you thinking about, because look what you are attracting’!! I knew it was totally rubbish and I couldn’t possible have created the worst global financial crisis in 70 years (how egotistical!!), but I do remember feeling extremely alone as my entrepreneur friends vanished. So now as I rebuild, smarter, wiser, more compassionate, I fully embrace all human emotions. We have emotions for a reason, we have gut feelings for reasons. I don’t see anything wrong with feeling anger, sadness, frustration. Sure, it’s great if we are happy, but its not possible to be 100% ‘positive’ all of the time. I don’t even like the term ‘negative’ thoughts, as anger can be galvanising, sadness can be beautiful and reflective and I can’t see importance life lessons being learned without all these feelings happening… Who wants happiness at the expense of being a wise and compassionate person?!

    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Hi Sam… thank you so much for stepping in here with your personal story and wonderful insights – so eloquently expressed. It’s so true that we’re better off accepting and embracing the full range of human emotions. I’m wishing you the greatest success as you rebuild! All the best!

  • Viva_Astronzo

    I had a client who managed a retail mall. He read The Secret and became seduced by the LOA. He baked up a gooey, sugary treat and had some initial success selling it at local fairs. On blind faith and the LOA, he went out and rented a warehouse for baking, bought baking and packaging equipment and hired staff.

    All went well until the major account he had landed took four times longer to pay than he expected – that’s when he “borrowed” money (lots of money) from his employer’s bank account. The employer ran an audit around this time, he was exposed, charged, convicted and sent to prison. That was the last I heard of him and I don’t know what happened to his wife and three children.

    I remember him telling me early in the affair about his revelation and the positive thoughts and energy that ran through him. He even described a few situations where he was able to influence strangers with his new personality. To me it looked like nothing more than an enthusiastic person using his powers of persuasion to influence others.

    I think the secret about The Secret is that someone found a clever way to persuade needy people to make the author rich.

    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Wow! That’s one helluva story. A good example of how some people justify and cloak their questionable behavior in the name of some philosophy (however legit that philosophy is or isn’t).

  • berna

    Thank you for posting this on the web, because it is so relatable (to me specifically :)) because at some point my excitement about the law of attraction reared its negative head also, it was fear of the negative just as you explained perfectly, so much so that i developed anxiety and depression from it. I have swam out of the storm and reached the shore just recently, and just reading this experience of yours has just amazed me because its so so very true.Its put the events of my life into greater perspective for me. The law is amazing and true in expressing an amazing spiritual truth of our world, it’s just the hands it makes it to will depend on the effect. We have to keep learning if we are interested, the more knowledge we acquire, the more persistent we become the greater control over the mind we may possess, and that, that is something very special. True, and great joy is always within us, always it never EVER leaves. My love to all, and thanks again for your wise words :)

    • Donald_FreshBooks

      Hi Berna, thanks for sharing your personal experience with the law…. I’m happy to hear that you’ve reached the shore!

  • madethatway

    I don’t think the LoA is at fault (and what an unfortunate name for the process, too, I might add).

    I think the fault lies in a lack of understanding. If people could understand the real mechanics behind the ‘LoA’, they might have a better grasp of what’s going on in their lives and be better prepared.

    It’s about the subconscious mind – not a book or a movie, which is fanciful media fluff for the masses, ultimately designed to make someone else incredibly wealthy, but doesn’t discuss the real mechanics behind it.

    When faced with ‘negative thoughts’, understand that it’s a natural subconscious reaction ‘bucking’ against change.

    After all, our subconscious minds keep us safe and keep our bodies functioning (in a nutshell) – and it doesn’t always welcome change, particularly when it’s so used doing and manifesting things and situations in our lives the way it’s always been told to by us – whether we were ever aware of it or not.

    Yes, sometimes it’s good to go over plans that appear to be failing in case it’s our subconscious minds trying to alert us to something we may have missed, but in a large majority of situations, that’s not always true.

    In the majority of instances, it’s resistence to change itself; sometimes, the bigger the (consciously) desired change, the more (subconscious) resistence. The subconscious mind is perceiving a ‘threat’ to our ‘safety’ and/or the ‘safe’ little world that we’ve let it cocoon ourselves within for many years.

    The easiest way to help our subconscious minds, I believe, it to reassure it, not suddenly make wild demands and requests that are far outside of it’s ‘comfort zone’ without explaining to it the ‘whys’ and letting it know that, “it’s ok now for….” or “it’s ok now to….”.

    Sound simplistic, yes, but who said the whole process needs to be complicated?