Myth Busters, Neuroscience Edition: Does The Law Of Attraction Actually Work?
The law of attraction is a universal law that says setting positive intentions can help you manifest your dreams and bring your goals into reality. It sounds pretty enticing—but is it too good to be true?
Neuroscientist and author of The Source Tara Swart, Ph.D., says that based on what we now understand about the brain, this spiritual law actually checks out. Here's her take on how the law of attraction works from a scientific perspective and how you can use it to manifest your deepest desires and grandest goals.
Your brain on intention.
According to Swart, intention is everything. Deciding what you really want to achieve is the first step to actually manifesting anything. "Sometimes people approach the law of attraction a bit vaguely," she tells mbg, "but it's really important to pinpoint the thing(s) you would like in your life.
When we do this, she explains, it "primes" the brain to understand that this thing you want is important, and it's time to focus on it more. Once your intention is set, "it sets your brain off on three neurological systems," she says, "which are selective filtering, selective attention, and value tagging." Here's a quick description of each one:
Given the constant news and notifications we're dealing with these days, there's no question our brains have a lot to filter through. And as Swart notes, the brain does this in a very short-term way. "If you're looking for something longer term like a home, a career, a relationship, a family," she says, "if that's not really relevant to your next week or month, the brain could filter it out." But by consciously setting your intention every day and holding that intention in your mind, "it prevents the brain from filtering it out."
Once your brain is set on your intention, you may find yourself noticing more opportunities and synchronicities that are aligned with what you want. That's because once your brain is set on a particular intention, it starts to pay more attention to the things that could help bring it to life.
And lastly, there's value tagging, which, according to Swart, is the brain's way of taking the things you've put your attention on and "tagging" them in order of importance. "There are two halves to this," she says. "One is logical, things like 'I need to earn this much money to pay my bills, and my rent, and put food on the table.' And then there's the emotional half, which is, 'These are the things I really want in my life. This is what makes me happy and brings me joy.'"
This is where people can struggle a bit, she says, because the brain is geared for survival. "It's much more worried about getting rid of things that might hurt you than it is about looking for those big long-term rewards," she notes.
Priming the brain to look out for the good as well as the bad takes practice. "To force your brain to not always go down that negative pathway and to focus more on taking healthy risks," Swart says, you can start by practicing gratitude. "Replacing negative thoughts or anxieties or insecurities with positive affirmations or mantras is another way of cultivating abundance in your brain," she adds.
Moving into manifestation.
Once you've aligned your brain with your goals, you'll have cultivated something Swart calls "magnetic desire." She says this happens when "your emotions are really aligned to this thing you want"—something that "fires up your brain with positive emotions that keep you abundant and keep you motivated," she adds.
Once your magnetic desire kicks in, you might find yourself beginning to take more actions, large or small, to call in your new reality. To help motivate you through this more active part of the manifesting process, Swart highly recommends starting an action board. Another iteration of a vision board, your action board can help remind you to take, well, action on the opportunities that your brain has now been primed to notice.
"However small," she adds, "it's about doing something every day to move toward those goals, like networking, or dating. It's about acting and keeping with what you put on your board."
This is an important reminder that manifesting and the law of attraction can work—but not necessarily overnight. Achieving your goals takes consistent work, practice, and a dash of luck, and some factors will always be out of our control.
"Be patient," Swart says. "Understand there are some things you can control, and you can make those things become real. That starts a cumulative effect of other things falling into place."
If you hold an intention in mind, give it your attention, and do at least one thing every day to move toward it, in time, it might just come true—and it'll feel even sweeter because you'll know you manifested it for yourself.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.