Jul 3, 2007

How to Make Millions of Dollars By Drawing Pictures Even Though You're Very Bad at Art

I received a couple of email queries about my earlier post "Writing Down Your Goals". I had explained that it's mainly about impressing your goals onto your unconscious mind. And I had said that thereafter your goals will start coming true, even if you don't consciously know how to make them start coming true.

Some readers wanted to understand more about how this works. As I'm a little pressed for time, I'll just share with you Scott Adam's take on this. Scott is the creator of the tremendously well-known cartoon strip Dilbert. He is also a long-time practitioner of "thought affects reality" theories (his earliest accounts of his "thought adventures" go back to the time when he was nine years old).

I don't agree with every single point which Scott makes in his article below, but by and large, I agree with the "big picture" of his explanation:


Several years ago, in the closing pages of my otherwise humorous book titled The Dilbert Future, I told a weird little tale of how I used a technique called affirmations in my attempts to achieve a number of unlikely goals. Since then, I’ve received more questions on that topic than on anything else I’ve ever written. So I know this will pin the needle on the blog comments.

The idea behind affirmations is that you simply write down your goals 15 times a day and somehow, as if by magic, coincidences start to build until you achieve your objective against all odds.

An affirmation is a simple sentence such as “I Scott Adams will become a syndicated cartoonist.” (That’s one I actually used.)

Prior to my Dilbert success, I used affirmations on a string of hugely unlikely goals that all materialized in ways that seemed miraculous. Some of the successes you can explain away by assuming I’m hugely talented and incredibly sexy, and therefore it is no surprise that I accomplished my goals despite seemingly long odds. I won’t debate that interpretation because I like the way it sounds.

But some of my goals involved neither hard work nor skill of any kind. I succeeded with those too, against all odds. Those are harder to explain, at least for me, since the most common explanation is that they are a delusion. I found my experience with affirmations fascinating and puzzling, and so I wrote about it.

At this point, allow me to correct a mistake I made the first time that I described my experience with affirmations. If you only hear the objective facts, it sounds as if I believe in some sort of voodoo or magic. That’s not the case. While I do think there is something wonderful and inexplicable about affirmations, I have no reason to conclude it is any more than a pleasant hallucination. But if it is a hallucination, it’s a totally cool one. When I have flying dreams, I know they aren’t real, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of them. And so it might be the same with affirmations. Affirmations might be nothing more than a wonderful illusion that you can control your own luck.

Skeptics have suggested – and reasonably so – that this is a classic case of selective memory. Perhaps I tried affirmations a bunch of times and only remember the times it seemed to work. That’s exactly what I would assume if someone told me the stories I’ve told others. But working against this theory is the fact that affirmations leave a substantial paper trail. It would be hard to forget writing something 15 times a day for six months. And if it turns out that this is what happened to me, it’s fascinating still, because it says a lot about how the mind works.

My best guess about what really happens when you use affirmations is that several normal phenomena come together to create what seems abnormal. I’ll describe a few theories of what might be behind affirmations. Maybe there are more.

There’s a book called The Luck Factor, in which researcher Richard Wiseman describes studying people who considered themselves lucky, to see if they had any special powers along the lines of ESP. It turns out that they don’t. But he did discover that people who expect luck have a more powerful ability to notice opportunities in their environment. Optimistic people’s field of perception is literally greater. And the best part is he discovered that when you train people to expect luck, their field of perception increases accordingly. I think part of the mystery of affirmations has to do with the fact that it improves your ability to notice an opportunity. And when you do, it seems like a lucky coincidence. In my case, about half of my seemingly miraculous results with affirmations could be traced back to my noticing something important.

I’m not sure if optimism is what inspires a person to go through the effort of writing affirmations, or if the affirmations cause the optimism. But in either case you would expect that people who are writing affirmations would more readily notice opportunities than the average non-optimist.

I also wonder if affirmations are one way in which the subconscious (if such a thing exists) communicates with the rational part of your brain. Writing affirmations takes effort. Perhaps your subconscious only allows you to spend that much time on goals that it feels you have a chance of obtaining even if your rational mind does not. For example, my rational mind didn’t believe I could become a syndicated cartoonist with no experience and virtually no artistic ability. But maybe some other part of my brain knew it was a realistic goal.

Viewed in this light, if you can write a goal 15 times a day for months, there’s a good chance that some part of your brain views the goal as achievable even if your rational mind doesn’t see how. Writing affirmations also helps you focus on your goal, moving them from wishful thinking to something in which you are willing to invest yourself. If you have ever managed people, you know that your staff’s level of commitment makes a huge difference to their success. Perhaps affirmations are a way to manage your own level of commitment. In effect, you are brainwashing yourself, and this might help you get through the tough patches that come with pursuing ambitious goals. When I started Dilbert, I didn’t take a day off for ten years. You only work that hard if you fully expect something good to come from it. I did.

My favorite explanation for the power of affirmations also has the least evidence to support it, i.e. none. The idea behind this explanation is that human brains don’t have the capacity to understand all the complexities of reality, and so our brains present us with highly simplified illusions that we treat as facts.

In this model, affirmations are a lever on some entirely natural chain of cause and affect, but not a chain that our brains are capable of comprehending. While this view is unlikely to be correct, it has the advantage of being totally cool to think about.

Since the publication of The Dilbert Future, I’ve received thousands of e-mails from people recounting their own experiences with affirmations. Most people seem to be amazed at how well they worked. I heard all kinds of stories of people changing careers, marrying the person of their dreams, making money, and starting businesses. I also heard stories from people who claimed affirmations didn’t work for them, but the failure stories were the minority. To be fair, the people who had success were more likely to get excited and write to me about it, so the most that I can conclude is that lots of people BELIEVE affirmations worked for them.

Since I know you are going to ask me a bundle of questions about affirmations, let me answer the ones I can anticipate:

1. If affirmations work, it’s probably because you are focusing on a goal. Therefore I doubt it matters exactly how you word the affirmation, or if it’s handwritten or typed, or if you keep them or throw them away, or if you stop for a few days and then continue. I won’t answer any other
questions about technique because I’d be guessing.

2. I’ve never heard of a “monkey paw” affect where you achieve your goal but something horrible happens to you to balance it out.

3. I’m not doing any affirmations at the moment, mostly because I already have everything I want except a Nobel Prize. And even that wouldn’t change my life much. But I do visualize all of my goals and I always expect good luck, so I probably get the benefits of affirmations – even if those are only psychological – without the effort.

4. I don’t know how long you should try affirmations before concluding that they don’t work for you. But trying it for less than six months probably doesn’t give it a chance.

5. Affirmations have not worked every time for me. But the few times they did not work, I must say I wasn’t fully invested in the objective. For example, there are a few cases where if I had achieved an objective it would have caused a lifestyle change that wasn’t entirely positive.

6. If you want to read more about affirmations, Google it. I don’t have any particular book to recommend.

I know from my experience describing this topic that fully half of you reading it just concluded that “the Dilbert guy believes in magic.” The truth is that I believe in cool things that haven’t yet been explained to my satisfaction.

So here’s a good test of your personality. If all of your friends told you that they win money on the slot machines whenever they stick their fingers in their own ears, would you try it? Or would you assume that since there is no obvious reason it could work, it’s not worth the effort?

Scott Adam has often written about "thought affects reality" theories. He had been doing so long before they became topical again due to the release of that controversial new video ("The Secret") that some of my readers have been mentioning.

Of course, the nature of these "thought affects reality" theories being what it is, Scott has often been heavily criticised for sharing his views and personal experiences. The funny thing is that some skeptical people actually believe that these theories are some kind of new contraption recently invented by modern-day crooks like Mr Wang.

Actually, thoughts have always been affecting reality, and in different ways, there have always been some people at any point in time who knew that. For example, as far as the 16th/17th century, for example, a famous, wise and very accomplished man already wrote:
"... the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832).
Time has put a vast distance between Goethe and Scott, but if you stop to think about it for a moment, you'll see that they are actually talking about the same thing.

In subsequent posts, I'll discuss Scott's comments in further detail. Gotta run now.

30 comments:

nuique said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Click Me :) said...

Mr Wang, you must be a big fan of The Secret which is based on the Law of Attraction.

http://thesecretreviews.blogspot.com/

persistently deluded said...

Of course thoughts affect reality. The question is, to what extent?

Is it all?

Showing 10000000 examples isn't going to help bolster the 2nd paragraph, as long as there's one piece of evidence/example shown that is able to legitimately contradict the claim.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I actually do not like "The Secret". It's very commercialised and it oversimplifies. My pet peeve is that it doesn't do justice to the inner workings of the theory.

But I do understand the constraints that Rhonda Byrne, the director of the documentary, faced. It is ultimately targeted at a mainstream audience and the show has to wrap up within a certain time.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"The question is, to what extent?"

The answer could take several possible forms, depending on what you're asking.

For example, if you are asking from a practical perspective (eg what you could do with your own life) -

my response would probably be along the lines of: "Why? Are you already hitting the limits? That's amazing."

There's a peculiar kind of insight/wisdom hidden in Scott Adam's last paragraph, where he writes:

"'So here’s a good test of your personality. If all of your friends told you that they win money on the slot machines whenever they stick their fingers in their own ears, would you try it? Or would you assume that since there is no obvious reason it could work, it’s not worth the effort?"

This is once again the Rosenthal paradox, presented with a different twist.

If the average school teacher were told: "Your task is to raise the IQ score of your students within 8 months";

a likely response would be:

"How? Is this really possible? Are there scientific studies which prove that IQ scores can be increased through classroom teaching? I have no idea how to do this. In fact, I think it's impossible. Anyway, I'm only trained to teach PSLE subjects."

But in the Rosenthal experiment, the teachers are not presented with any such challenges. All they are told is a lie - that certain students in their school are very, very bright.

The rest follows automatically. The teachers' false belief turns into reality. At the end of the experiment, the students falsely believed to be bright do indeed display significantly increased IQ scores, compared to the "control group" students.

Of course, the teachers cannot explain it. They do not even teach anything about "IQ scores" in class. They merely teach English, Art, Maths, Science etc.

You could look at the goal-writing exercise, described by Scott Adam and myself, as a way of installing something like the "false belief"
which the Rosenthal teachers had.

The possibilities are practically endless, because you could write down such a wide variety of goals. For example, you could write, say,:

"I earn $10,000 per month"

when in fact you earn only $2,500, and you have no idea how you're going to earn $10,000.

Or you could write:

"I am an internationally famous cartoonist, my cartoons are carried in 600 newspapers around the world and all my cartoon books are international bestsellers"

even though, by your own admission, you are lousy at art and you haven't yet sold even one cartoon to any newspaper in the world.

In effect, you'd just be like a Rosenthal teacher who has no conscious idea on how to raise students' IQ,

but would indeed be able to do it,

(and with no conscious effort!)

if tricked into believing that the relevant students are smart.

More later, on writing down your goals.

".... as long as there's one piece of evidence/example shown that is able to legitimately contradict the claim ..."

That is why I asked about the perspective from which you're asking your question.

Suppose you believed in this stuff, and you applied it, and thereafter you:

earned millions of dollars;
became an internationally famous cartoonist;
grew muscles just by thinking; transformed your classroom students into little geniuses; transformed your pet rats, dogs and cats into super-bright pets; switched easily from one profitable career (eg law) to an even more profitable career (eg investment banking);
transformed your blog in two short years to one of the most popular in your entire country;
raised brilliant kids of your own; created a very happy marriage; retired at forty in full financial security;
transformed yourself from a struggling underachiever into a successful professional with an MBA from Insead and next, going to Harvard;

etc etc (insert any kind of goal you like, it could be big or small)

... what does it matter if one day, someone says, "Oh I have found one piece of evidence/example shown that is able to legitimately contradict the claim ...".

From a purely practical perspective, I mean.

Arnold Schwarzennegger was about 18 years old when he wrote that he was going to Hollywood to make blockbuster movies and thereafter he would be the President of the United States.

Never mind the fact that he couldn't speak English then, had zero acting experience and wasn't even a US citizen. His first blockbuster movie was, fortunately, one where he didn't have to speak at all (he was the Terminator, in "Terminator").

Everything came true, except that he hasn't become President of the United States (he's only the governor of California).

Ling said...

In a conversation about NLP, a Christian friend of mine commented that the affirmation experience is not unlike the experience of praying to God and believing in God's power to help. I believe it is practised in different forms by many people who don't even realise that they are practising it.


Karen

Click Me said...

Yes Rhonda Byrne herself said it was deliberately tailored to suit the mainstream audience, hence the heavy emphasis on making money.

But no matter how it's packaged, it doesn't change the essence of its message which is what you have been preaching all this time: Thoughts affect reality.

Click Me said...

Karen, I think the differences are that if God doesn't believe you are deserving, he will not grant you the prayer. Also, you need to take some actual action.

Whereas for The Secret, it says that as long as you believe hard enough, you will receive. No action needed. :)

Mr Wang Says So said...

I have written several posts with some Buddhist perspectives on the "thought affects reality" theories. There is one more such post that I plan to write, in response to a Buddhist reader's question.

However in the future, I also plan to write a few posts from Christian perspectives. Stay tuned.

As for the necessity or otherwise of action, again I will elaborate in future. But in a nutshell, you will see that goals fall onto a certain spectrum.

At one end of the spectrum are the kind of goals which depend solely on your own actions.

At the other end of the spectrum are the kind of goals which depend on factors beyond your control (in the everyday, logical, "thoughts-do-NOT-affect-reality" sense of the word "control").

In practice, most goals fall somewhere in the middle. For example, whether you get promoted at work or not depends on some factors which are clearly within your control, eg:

- how hard you work;
- the standard of your work

but also on factors which are clearly not within your control:

- the number of promotions your company is willing to make each year

- the relative diligence and work standards of your other colleagues also competing for the promotion.

Mindhacking applications are relevant to both classes of factors. In other words, you use them to help modify your own behaviour; and also to influence those factors which are apparently beyond your control.

That's what Johann Wolfgang meant when he wrote:

" .... A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way ..."

Scott wrote about the same thing here, referring also to the two classes of factors:

"I used affirmations on a string of hugely unlikely goals that all materialized in ways that seemed miraculous. Some of the successes you can explain away by assuming I’m hugely talented and incredibly sexy, and therefore it is no surprise that I accomplished my goals despite seemingly long odds. I won’t debate that interpretation because I like the way it sounds.

But some of my goals involved neither hard work nor skill of any kind. I succeeded with those too, against all odds. Those are harder to explain, at least for me, since the most common explanation is that they are a delusion"

While I had put it thus, in an earlier post:

" ..... it's mainly about impressing your goals onto your unconscious mind ..... Thereafter your goals will start coming true, even if you don't consciously know how to make them start coming true."

Go on. Raise your own IQ. The Rosenthal teachers did it for their students without even knowing how. Why shouldn't you be able to raise your own.

hunguptodry said...

But some of my goals involved neither hard work nor skill of any kind. I succeeded with those too, against all odds.

the devil is in the details. care to share the nitty-gritty details?

hunguptodry said...

again i ask for details. especially interested in the numbers. to see if your conclusions are as statistically improbable as u believe.

1) how many goals did u write down?
2) presumable u kept writing down more and more goals over time.
3) how many goals did u write down per week?
4) how many of your goals came true per week?
5) how long does a goal typically take before it comes true?
6) did any of your goals fail to materialize?
7) did unexpected things happen in your life that u did not write down?
8) how many of such unexpected things happened per week?

i leave the questions for now.

i hope u don't think this too intrusive.

i'm afraid this is the nature of the scientific method. it will only get more intrusive.

Mr Wang Says So said...

They used to be available on Scott Adam's blog (he writes about all sorts of topics, actually - "thought affects reality" is at best 10% of his writing).

However, at any point in time, Scott only shows the past 3 months worth of blog entries.

As for my own details - well, as I said before, I don't see that much value in sharing them, because even if I did, people would just say

"it's a coincidence";

"it's confirmation bias at work";

"it's just because you're very talented / hardworking / lucky / clever, nothing to do with thoughts affecting reality"

Etc etc.

I do honestly feel I know better than that. Scott wrote:

"Skeptics have suggested – and reasonably so – that this is a classic case of selective memory. Perhaps I tried affirmations a bunch of times and only remember the times it seemed to work. That’s exactly what I would assume if someone told me the stories I’ve told others. But working against this theory is the fact that affirmations leave a substantial paper trail. It would be hard to forget writing something 15 times a day for six months."

... and like Scott, I also have a substantial paper trail (hard evidence, if you like) recording my mindhacking experiments as they happen; and then I compare them to actual results in my life. So I honestly do not believe that I am fooling myself.

The funniest thing is that when I was just getting started into all this stuff, I was really quite skeptical myself (like most of you).

So to test the theory I would deliberately set impossible goals for myself, and furthermore I would set them in very specific, measurable terms so that there is no room left for subjective views as to whether they had been attained or not.

Income is a good example. I would be earning $X per month, and then I would say, "I will double my annual income by __[date]__".

Then it would really double. And I would still be skeptical, so I would try it again, and say: "Now I will double my annual income again, by ___."

And once again it would happen.

So that, in brief, is the story of how I've become one of Singapore's top income earners my age

(that's something I've made my own objective attempts to verify, by checking with recruitment agencies and search firms for lawyers & investment bankers, as these are the two most lucrative professions according to the Straits Times).

Who knows, in another reality, the skeptics might be right, and all I am doing is successfully fool myself into consistently earning huge amounts of money. Just like the Rosenthal teachers were fooled into producing brilliant students. Well, even if that is the case, I don't mind.

It's like a placebo drug, yes? The patient has a medical problem, he is fooled into believing that a certain red pill will definitely cure it; he takes it, and indeed the medical problem is instantly cured. Yet the red pill was nothing more than Vitamin C.

The point is - the medical problem is cured. As the patient, that's what you really want, yes?

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Hi Mr. Wang,

Thanks for posting this interesting article for us to discuss!

Scott Adam has raised a number of good points that we can examine in detail.

He asserts that:

The idea behind affirmations is that you simply write down your goals 15 times a day and somehow, as if by magic, coincidences start to build until you achieve your objective against all odds.

Next, he observed that:

But some of my goals involved neither hard work nor skill of any kind. I succeeded with those too, against all odds. Those are harder to explain, at least for me, since the most common explanation is that they are a delusion. I found my experience with affirmations fascinating and puzzling, and so I wrote about it.

However, he then reveals that:

4. I don’t know how long you should try affirmations before concluding that they don’t work for you. But trying it for less than six months probably doesn’t give it a chance.

5. Affirmations have not worked every time for me. But the few times they did not work, I must say I wasn’t fully invested in the objective. For example, there are a few cases where if I had achieved an objective it would have caused a lifestyle change that wasn’t entirely positive.


This clearly shows that Mr. Adam cannot delink mental and physical hard work from his practice of affirmation.

In fact he is already aware that:

I’m not sure if optimism is what inspires a person to go through the effort of writing affirmations, or if the affirmations cause the optimism.

Thus there is no way to investigate the effects of affirmation alone, or to establish any clear cause-effect relationship.

To explain this in the simple terms, recall the "Stone Soup" (or "Nail Soup") story, where a vagabond tells a rich man that he has a stone which can produce an amazing soup.

When the rich man gives him a pot of boiling water, he plops the stone in and starts stirring.

"The soup is already superb but it will taste even better if you add some salt!"

The rich man adds salt. Then he says "this will taste even better with some radishes!"

The rich man adds radishes. "This will taste even better with chicken bones!"

...and so on.

If the stone cannot be delinked from other ingredients, you cannot tell if the stone adds any flavour at all.

Affirmation appears to work because people who want it to work are already very committed and hardworking.

In addition, there is confirmation bias because people who tried affirmation and didn't succeed are much less visible than the success stories.

Scott himself said that:

When I started Dilbert, I didn’t take a day off for ten years. You only work that hard if you fully expect something good to come from it. I did.

Will writing down your goals 15 times a day work if you don't also develop your career in more traditional strategies like hard work and networking?

Scott already knows the answer:

1. If affirmations work, it’s probably because you are focusing on a goal. Therefore I doubt it matters exactly how you word the affirmation, or if it’s handwritten or typed, or if you keep them or throw them away, or if you stop for a few days and then continue. I won’t answer any other
questions about technique because I’d be guessing.


He is absolutely right.

But I don't think there is any magic involved at all.

Affirmation can be a helpful way to help you organize your ideas, focus your energies and encourage yourself on the long, difficult road to success.

But if you only add the stone in your soup, the most likely outcome is a gritty aftertaste.

klim70 said...

good post heng liong.

The only thing one's thoughts can affect is one's efforts. And it's through effort, determination and lots of luck that one can achieve one's aims.

PZ said...

Heng Leong,

Excellent post!

PZ

Mr Wang Says So said...

Well, Lim, I have no intention to diss the importance of hard work. In my personal experience, however, it is hardly always a ncessary ingredient for success. In fact, as far as my career is concerned, I find myself working less and less while earning more and more.

To give you another example, I had mentioned in the comment section of another post that I had done Rosenthal experiments with a twist on my own children. I will now share one of these experiments.

I did a Rosenthal experiment in reverse. In the actual Rosenthal experiment, the teachers were lied to. In my experiment, my son was lied to.

When he first started attending preschool (Kinderland, nothing special), I told him a big lie. I told him, "I spoke to your teacher the other day. She says that you are the cleverest student in the entire class. She said that you are very good at ____, ____, ___ and _____. In fact, she said that she has never seen any other little boy as clever as you."

Approximately two months later, the preschool principal called my wife up and said that she would like to meet us for a special discussion.

At this discussion, she said that my son's teacher had observed my son and found him to be unusually intelligent. The son's teacher had then notified the principal, and the principal had then sat in for several lessons to observe my son.

Teacher and principal both concluded that this kid was unusually gifted. Principal then called my wife and I to recommend that my son be "promoted" one year earlier, to the class for older kids (K1). They said that my son was too far ahead of all the other students his age. The principal also made various inquiries to find out how my son could be sent for special psychological testing.

In my mind, hard work has nothing to do with this. I do not make my kids study at all. In fact they are mostly just playing and having fun.

It was basically just the Rosenthal effect at work. My son, having been tricked into believing that he was extremely clever, far beyond his peers,

had simply, literally transformed into

a kid who was really extremely clever, and really far beyond his peers.

There is nothing surprising about this. What happened with my son was quite a predictable result, if we consider the prior experiments done by Prof Robert Rosenthal.

The point I really want to make here is that about hard work. If my son had been unusually diligent, eg if he had come home and reviewed his kindergarten books and art and homework every day without fail, then we would say, "Hard work is the reason why he is far ahead of his peers."

But basically this was just not the case. He is playful at home, and he is playful in school. He is simply far ahead of his peers because of the Rosenthal effect.

Of course, if you are asking for watertight, double-blind standards that my account, explanation and interpretation of events is correct, I cannot provide it.

Thus skeptics may say that perhaps my kid is not that bright, he just happened to be in a class where all the other kids were stupid.

Or they may say that the teacher and principal were both mistaken in their assessment of the child.

Or they may say that my child was born with smart genes, and that his unusual brightness had nothing to do with his thoughts affecting reality as per Rosenthal.

Etc etc. There will always be room to disbelieve, for those who want to disbelieve.

Even if I replicated the experiment again, they would still disbelieve for the same reasons. I *am* replicating the experiment, this time for my younger daughter.

Same experiment, different school, different principal, different class, different teachers.

Once again, the principal took the initiative to suggest that my daughter be put into a class for older kids, as she is too far advanced compared to kids her own age. I did nothing to make this happen - I did not make my daughter study or work hard in any way, and I did not even suggest to the school that my daughter was unusually smart. I merely tricked my daughter into believing that she was unusually smart. The rest followed automatically.

As I said, those who disbelieve, will disbelieve. But to those parents with children, I say this - even if you're skeptical, what harm could there be, in trying Mr Wang's experiment on your child? None.

Mr Wang Says So said...

By the way, my son became so smart that I eventually took him out of Kinderland and let him bum around for a year, before finding another school.

He was very bored at Kinderland preschool. Kids were still learning "A, B, C" and how to recognise their own name, when he had already progressed to reading storybooks on his own.

Mr Wang Says So said...

And one more note to parents -

even if you do not wish to instil your child with positive self-beliefs

do NOT instil them with negative self-beliefs! This is one of the worst things you could ever do.

If you keep scolding your child, "You are stupid", "You are lazy", "you are naughty" or "you are useless",

and you and him start believing it,

these thoughts WILL become reality in BOTH your realities,

and he WILL transform into a stupid, lazy, naughty or useless person.

Sam said...

Scott Adams' affirmation method is similar to the autosuggestion process featured in the book Think and Grow Rich - which Napoleon Hill wrote in 1937 after interviewing some of the most successful people in America. Many people still attribute their success to the book. In fact, US presedential candidate Mitt Romney read the book before he founded Bain Capital. I discovered that from this article.

Henry Leong said...

I had two friends who are successful, attributed to the book 'Think and grow rich'.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Well, Lim, I have no intention to diss the importance of hard work. In my personal experience, however, it is hardly always a ncessary ingredient for success. In fact, as far as my career is concerned, I find myself working less and less while earning more and more.

Yes, that tends to happen in senior positions. :)

Aside from hard work, there is "smart" work. Networking, ability to spot useful opportunities and so on. None of these involve magic and all of them include an element of luck.

A colleague once told me: without working hard, you cannot learn how to work smart. You need to learn the ropes in order to discover the short cuts to success.

As I said, those who disbelieve, will disbelieve. But to those parents with children, I say this - even if you're skeptical, what harm could there be, in trying Mr Wang's experiment on your child? None.

It is an excellent practice to be encouraging to your children. Improved morale and self-confidence is very important to a person. But this sort of encouragement still has to be tied to reality.

Everyone has her/his innate talents, strengths and weaknesses. Whether by nature or nurture, a child will be good at some skills and comparatively poorer at others.

You say you told a big lie to your son that he is the cleverest student in class. No doubt he is a smart kid to be promoted to a class for older kids. Your big lie has also boosted his self-confidence remarkably.

But as time goes by and he meets even smarter kids and much less encouraging people in the wider society, how long will this exuberance last?

You assert that there is no harm in telling this big white to your children.

I am not so certain. I would prefer not to lie.

Like you I will try to be encouraging, but I would prefer to let a child find out his/her own interests, strengths and weaknesses, in order to have a realistic view of the world.

This is such an interesting topic to discuss!

Lim Leng Hiong said...

good post heng liong.

The only thing one's thoughts can affect is one's efforts. And it's through effort, determination and lots of luck that one can achieve one's aims.


Thank you. Yes, an important thing to emphasize is that people who fail to reach their targets aren't necessary lazier or less determined. We should not double-punish people who fail despite their darndest efforts.

Heng Leong,

Excellent post!

PZ


Thank you. I've come here for a good discussion and Mr. Wang's blog is indeed a great place for fruitful conversation.

Kudos!

Henry Leong said...

Both my friends were not strong academically, maybe they had stronger faith, and stronger believe in the tips of the book.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Lim:

Aha, what you still don't see is that at a deeper level, reality is in flux, and what we take to be "true" is merely our own perception.

Some simple examples I have previously given is here. An excerpt:

"..... two NSFs, A and B, are platoon mates in the same SAF unit, P. They are of the same rank and the same vocation, and their meals, pay, training, living conditions etc are identical. A thinks that army life is quite fun, exciting and adventurous, and he thoroughly enjoys the friendship and camaraderie of being with his army buddies everyday - these are the best days of his life. B, on the other hand, is so depressed about army life that he is secretly comtemplating suicide.

In truth .... Life in SAF Unit P is neither good nor bad, until someone thinks it is. Nothing in the world actually is, until someone thinks it is. That is why Prince Siddharta, you see, was trying to tell you that reality is just one big illusion ...."

In other words, when A says: "I love army! The SAF is a wonderful place", he is not lying.

When B says: "I hate the SAF and I am going to kill myself," he is not lying either.

Each is merely stating a "truth" which he perceives in his own reality.

Once you realise that most beliefs are quite arbitrary, and you know how to influence your subconscious mid, you will gain the freedom to select your own beliefs.

If you have to do NS in SAF Unit P, and you had the ability to consciously select your beliefs, which would you choose?

"I love army! The SAF is a wonderful place"

or

"I hate the SAF and I am going to kill myself".

Up to you ..... To me the choice is obvious. But note: neither belief is inherently more "true" than the other.

Either way, whatever you believe simply becomes reality. For example, my son and daughter believed themselves to be the cleverest kids in their class, and so this became true. If A believes that the SAF is wonderful, then it is for him. If B believes that the SAF is hell, then it is for him.


-----

Like you I will try to be encouraging, but I would prefer to let a child find out his/her own interests, strengths and weaknesses, in order to have a realistic view of the world.

I also prefer to let children grow as unique individuals.

There is, however, no "realistic" view of the world. Or if you like, there are an infinite variety of "realistic" views from "sane", "logical" people, which are in conflict.

Eg atheists can be sane and logical, and so can the Pope.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Either way, whatever you believe simply becomes reality. For example, my son and daughter believed themselves to be the cleverest kids in their class, and so this became true. If A believes that the SAF is wonderful, then it is for him. If B believes that the SAF is hell, then it is for him.

This view is not only demonstrably false (there are many things you cannot do with your body no matter how much belief), it can be dangerous.

Your beliefs are only part of what happens to you, sometimes a very minor part indeed.

If you are claiming that people are suffering from hardships mainly (or *gasp* solely) because of their own beliefs, then this assertion blames the victims - a double punishment.

Then there can be no such thing as a accident - everyone is the direct cause of their own misfortune.

You should clarify what you mean.

There is, however, no "realistic" view of the world. Or if you like, there are an infinite variety of "realistic" views from "sane", "logical" people, which are in conflict.

I meant "realistic" the sense that you wouldn't use your weaknesses to fight with other people's strengths, no matter what kind of white lie was believed.

Hmm...

BTH said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karen said...

Clickme, I am probably running into possibly religious flames here, so let it be known first that I am a free thinker and is not against any religions. I am simply not religious, is all.

Having said that, what I was trying to suggest earlier is that, taking the action of praying out of its religious context, what the praying action does to one's mind can be quite similar to what affirmation does.

While it's true that God should logically not give anything to someone who is not deserving, we have to establish one thing first: We don't know what God thinks about whether the person is deserving or not. However, we can easily assume that anyone who prays for something believes that he/she deserves it somehow. With that in mind, I can imagine that when I pray to God and believe in God's power to help me, I will believe that whatever I prayed for will materialise because I will want to believe that God will believe that I am deserving because I believe in Him and I am a good person and I am not asking for anything out of this world.

I am focusing more on human nature here, independent of how God may function, because that, no one knows. This demonstration of human nature and how it works is what I am refering to when drawing it parallel to affirmation.

I personally have not read The Secret so am not in a position to comment. I do believe that for anything to happen, what follows logically is that something has to be done. But the truth is, not everyone knows exactly what has to be done in the first place to achieve their dreams. And I think what affirmation does is to in a way instill a belief system that a goal can be achieved even when you have no idea where to start. Following that, if you believe something is achievable, you naturally will try to seek ways to achieve it. What happens after is as Mr Wang has suggested, people simply notice more opportunities because they believe that they are there.

The main mechanics of affirmation, as I understand, is to first encourage someone to believe that something is possible and achievable. Because without belief, there will be no motivation to seek for it, and it will naturally never happen.

klimmer said...

Mr Wang,

I like your positive attitude, but I feel that your advice may in the long run cause more harm than good. Everyone has a unique situation and are blessed with different attributes, which requires unique decision making.

Your sampling so far has been positive samples. By that I mean you use examples of success. However, it's not enough to deduce that your theories work by looking only at the successful case studies. My younger brother and I too, were told that we were the smartest in the class. My teacher told me without prompting that I was one of the smartest kids she's taught etc etc. I never did well in school. My Mandarin was always D9.

I make more than a million bucks a year these days. However, the more successful I am, I realise more and more that luck and chance is a big factor in success. No amount of wishful thinking can increase one's chance of success as Lady Luck is a fickle mistress.

I think many successful people would just love to agree with you. It would appeal to ego to think that one's success is attributed to one's own efforts and thoughts. But it is not so. The road to success is littered with failure. Likewise, there are many people who have had good habits and life strategies who fell short of their goals. Many people die without realising their dreams, and its not for the lack of trying or wanting.

There's a good reason why I hate self help books. These guys have a vested interest and agenda to sell their books. Their book is also their resume, a platform for the next big CEO job. The books sells because it tells you what you want to hear. It's another example of affirmation bias. Anyway, Donald Trump can say having a bad comb over is pre-requisite for a successful tycoon and who's to gain say him?

Henry Leong said...

Mr Wang claimed had some elements of truth, one my classmate who is shortest in the class, he was a commando in NS, when I saw him some time later in our annual class gatherings, I was surprised that he had grown to among the tallest and fittest. It might due to his positive thinking.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Hi Klimmer:

Thank you for your comment. It raises many interesting points which in future I do intend to address in greater detail. For now, I'll just make the following response:

1. In its pure form, the "thoughts affect reality" (TAR) concept is amoral. It is neither good nor bad. It merely explains the relationship between thought & reality.

2. In other words, it does not tell you that you should think in any particular way. It merely tells you that your thoughts affect (create) your reality.

3. Where people may differ is the extent to which thought affects reality. As you can see, I take a fairly absolute view of this. Other people may say, for example, that your thoughts affects 80% of your reality, or 50%, or 30% or 5%.

4. That aside, the basic idea is that your thoughts are affecting your reality all the time, whether or not you do anything funny like meditation or hypnosis or positive thinking or whatever,

5. I can't see how TAR takes away any individuality from any individual. In fact, if TAR is correct, the consequence is that every individual is unique, because no one thinks exactly the same thoughts.

6. Assuming TAR is true, I have no particular prescription that people must use it to, say, become rich or become clever. It would be more accurate to say that people can use it to try to be, do or have anything they want (not necessarily just money or cleverness). What they want could be entirely mundane things, or highly bizarre things, basically anything.

7. For example, many decades ago, a class of eight-year-olds were asked to write an essay about their goals. Some kids wrote about wanting to become doctors, or firemen or whatever. One bizarre little boy wrote: "My goal is to visit the moon."

He didn't even say "I want to be an astronaut", because at that time the word "astronaut" did not exist yet. There were no such things as space rockets. Of course the teacher failed his essay.

Anyway, about 20+ years later, that strange little boy did go to the moon. In fact, Neil Armstrong was the first man ever to walk on the moon.

8. Finally, self-help and TAR is not a mandatory connection. As you know by now, many quantum physicists investigate the effect of consciousness on reality, but there is no hint of "self-help" in their research. Same applies to neuroscientists (whom I haven't written about yet, but I will).

In other areas which we wouldn't typically consider self-help, we also find examples of TAR at work. All religions, for example, have some concept of prayer, and prayer is probably one of the world's most ancient attempts to consciously utilise TAR.

I actually think that at some level, all of us, even the supposedly most "rational" and "logical" ones, believe in TAR. Look at enthusiastic soccer fans watching a live soccer match on TV - they shout advice to their favourite soccer players - "Run!" "Pass the ball!" "Yessss!" "Shoot, shoot!", as if their favourite soccer players, running on a pitch on the other side of the planet, could actually hear them. "Logically", such behaviour is insane.