Mental understanding and The Secret

In applying The Secret, should I try to understand ‘how’ I can accomplish my goal? When is thinking a bar to accomplishment?

Mental consciousness has the two attributes – the power to understand and the power to will. In mind, the capacity to know and the will to act are separate and can work in isolation from each other. The Secret emphasizes the importance of mental will. It does not insist that we know how to achieve the goal we set for ourselves. It even suggests that we may be better off not exercising our minds on the question of ‘how can I accomplish it?’ But it does insist that we make a firm unshakeable decision of the will to achieve it.

Some critics object that people who accomplish do not simply wish for things. They argue that, understanding how to accomplish is as important as willing to accomplish. Successful people formulate clear plans as to how they can achieve their goals. This is certainly most often the case and is a practice advocated by many self-help programs, such as The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, which urge practitioners to translate their goals into detailed plans of action.

Is visualizing the how necessary?

How can we reconcile this view with what is spoken of The Secret? Is understanding a help or a bar to accomplishment? This dilemma can be resolved by the following principle: Wherever we have the capacity to mentally formulate a means of achieving the goal, visualizing the means adds conviction and power to the mental formation.

The experience of Jack Canfield supports this view. Having decided that he wanted to raise his income from $8000 to $100,000, he tried to imagine some conceivable way in which that might be possible and came up with the idea that it could be achieved if his book were written about in National Enquirer. A month later a free-lance reporter who writes for the Enquirer approached him. Canfield used his mental imagination to supplement and reinforce his mental will.

The only question is whether the visualization of ‘how’ is always essential and always beneficial. Experience confirms that it is not. Those in whom the physical mind is prominently developed, usually have difficulty imagining how to achieve a goal that is very far removed from present realities. There is a proverbial story of a man who got lost while driving in rural upstate New York and stopped to ask a farmer for directions to his destination. The farmer replied, “There is no way to get there from here!” That is often the understanding of the physical mind. If so, it is better not to listen to it!

A person earning $8000 a year may be able to realistically envision $18,000 but will feel the effort to formulate a means of earning $80,000 is pure fantasy. In such cases the inability to imagine realistic possibilities or the personal sense of smallness become a bar to higher accomplishment. Countless stories can be cited of people who fail to take advantage of magnificent opportunities that are offered to them, just because they cannot imagine themselves achieving at a much higher level.

There are also many stories of people who accomplished tremendous results because they were determined to achieve, even though they had no idea how that achievement would be possible when they started out. Sabeer Bhatia traveled from India to Silicon Valley in the mid 1990s as a young software engineer with an aspiration to earn millions. After a few years working for others and hearing stories of so many people becoming millionaires in the computer industry, he decided that he must achieve that goal himself within a short time. He and a friend came up with the idea of Hotmail and sold it to Microsoft a few years later for $200 million. He knew what he wanted to achieve and willed it powerfully. Only later did he discover the means to achieve it.

To plan or not to plan?

According to The Secret, the capacity to conceive of the ‘how’ is not essential for accomplishment. But it certainly can help. The story of how Fred Smith created Federal Express and grew it to become a Fortune 500 company in record time confirms this view. Smith started out with both a clear idea and a clear plan for how to achieve it. While doing his MBA, he conceived of the idea of establishing a courier business that would deliver packages across the USA overnight in comparison to the three to five day delivery offered by UPS and the US Postal Service. His strategy was to establish a hub system at Memphis so that flights coming from all major cities could reach the hub before 2 am, unload their parcels for resorting, reload with items bound for their return destination and land back home early morning in time for delivery during the day. His objective and his strategy were inseparable aspects of the plan he executed and the results he achieved. Today FedEx is a $32 billion company! Planning works.

In 1961 when President Kennedy announced the goal of the US space program was to land a man on the moon and bring him back again by 1970, the technology had not yet been invented that could accomplish it. Reaching the moon was not an insurmountable object, but bringing him back again from the moon’s surface presented serious challenges. Yet America achieved that goal -- six months ahead of Kennedy’s deadline.

Faith is more powerful than knowledge

When France, Belgium and Netherlands collapsed under the onslaught of the German army in 1940, Britain was left virtually alone to fight the Axis powers. A month after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, the Germans commenced the intense day-light bombing of England in what became known as the Battle of Britain. Churchill delivered his stirring proclamation to the enemies of Britain and to the world:

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”

Probably no one in Britain or anywhere else on earth could honestly say that they knew how Britain could stand up alone and survive the German bombardment, let along win the war. Yet when Churchill spoke, few could doubt that he was absolutely determined to keep his word. He refused even to consider the possibility of defeat. He may not have known how, but he surely was determined to win at any cost. Churchill knew the essence of The Secret:

“You create your own universe as you go along.”

When Churchill delivered his stirring speech in June of 1940, he was so determined to win the war that he literally felt as if he had already won it. He communicated that sensation to those who listened to him on the radio and they felt exhilarated. Churchill was a born hero, descendant of the First Duke of Marlborough who led the British forces in their historic victory over the French in the Battle of Blenheim. During his life he constantly sought out dangerous adventures without the slightest concern for his own safety. When confronted by the Nazi invasion, he did not think about the outcome. To him surrender was inconceivable. His intense aspiration and faith created the result in the subtle plane and it later became a reality.

Placebo Effect

There are other situations in which a person powerfully wills for a result but has absolutely no way of conceiving how to achieve it. A cancer patient who is told by his physician that the disease is incurable cannot be expected to work out a solution in his mind, but his mental will to be cured may still be very strong and effective, if it is not interfered with. In such instances, trying to imagine the ‘how’ can limit the power of the mental will and reduce its effectiveness.

The New York Times carried a story on the power of placebos that clearly supports this view. In 1957 a patient named Wright was found to have orange-size tumors in his abdomen and was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Wright told his physician, Dr. West, about a horse serum named Krebiozen, which reportedly had been effective in treating serious cases of this type. The skeptical physician reluctantly agreed to administer the serum and was shocked to find that in three days Wright’s tumors melted away. Two months later Wright read medical reports that Krebiozen was ineffective. He suffered an immediate relapse. Recognizing the power of the patient’s mental understanding, Dr. West told Wright he was going to administer a super version of Krebiozen. Actually he injected Wright with water. Again the tumors miraculously disappeared. Wright remained in perfect health, until he read again that Krebiozen was ineffective. He died shortly thereafter.

This is a clear instance in which it would have been better for the patient to simply believe he can be cured and not activate his understanding to confirm what the medical tests already shown to be true. The Times concludes: “Doctors who know this story dismiss it as one of those strange tales that medicine cannot explain. The idea that a patient's beliefs can make a fatal disease go away is too bizarre.” Rationality requires that we accept the empirical evidence and try to understand what made it possible.

Is it necessary to know how to accomplish something in order to accomplish it? There is a principle behind the The Secret’s ambivalence on this question. If you are capable of envisioning the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’, so much the better. If you are not, don’t let your lack of imagination dampen the height and intensity of your aspiration. There is always a way to achieve any goal. Even if we do not know how, the universe does.

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