The recent (and perhaps transient) popularity of “The Secret,” the almost “underground” self-help DVD that has become the latest rage of “Oprah” and “Ellen” in recent weeks, has been the topic of water-cooler conversations all over the country and certainly in therapist’s offices like mine.
“The Secret” is a full-length “inspirational documentary” collection of self-help messages that encourages its enthusiasts to use the “Law of Attraction” by focusing and concentrating on happy accomplishments and achievements as a precursor to attaining them. While some deride this as yet another superficial pop-psychology fad, these ideas do have a legitimate application and usefulness when they are taken in the context of considering and appreciating how powerfully our thoughts can affect our feelings and behavior, which is the cornerstone of “cognitive-behavioral therapy.”
For gay men, having a robust mental health and high quality of life could mean incorporating some of “The Secret’s” tenets. Because we grow up with antigay/heterosexist messages from birth of “not being good enough,” our adult minds need to examine these negative messages with critical thinking when we grow up in order to challenge these notions, and then realize they are merely formed of bigotry and ignorance of human sexuality. To make “The Secret” work for you, or similar models that have been developed by inspirational authors in the past including New Age author Louise Hay, legendary cognitive-behavioral therapist Aaron Beck, MD, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Jack Canfield, and many other inspirational “gurus,” you must start with noticing how your thoughts are very powerful influences on your daily experiences. If you are often criticizing yourself, saying in frustration, “Oh, I’m such a dork!”, your unconscious mind subtly listens to that and believes it, causing you to do more of the same self-sabotaging behavior. If you substitute another thought, perhaps not “I’m such a dork”, but perhaps, “I made a mistake with this. Next time I’ll do it better and I’ll enjoy my success then,” you also send a powerful message to your unconscious mind, the “genie within,” who is eager to comply to make your wish its command. As the example in the DVD illustrates in its vignette about the gay man, carrying strong, assertive, perhaps even “defiant” notions and holding pride in being gay goes a long way in helping gay men achieve their potential by fighting injustice and recognizing their unique worth.
While “The Secret” discusses quantum physics and the power of our thoughts within and upon the universe, and while these theories could be correct and powerful, therapists work by helping people make these concepts more specific by encouraging clients to identify weekly goals and then use their time in therapy to evaluate how they achieved them, or how to overcome the obstacles to achieving them. Many conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse recovery, contain a huge component that involves understanding our feelings and behaviors, and the thoughts (“cognitions”) that immediately precede them. This idea has social implications, as well. If we go out to a bar and we think that no one wants to talk to us, chances are no one will. If we think that we can make someone else feel good by being friendly and outgoing to them, perhaps rescuing them from a night of intimidation and isolation, they will likely experience us as kind and interesting and be more than ready to talk to us. These two concepts — being aware of the thoughts you carry around, and then using thought substitution to replace our negative thoughts with more positive ones, we just might find consistently improved outcomes in the way we feel and the way we experience others. Now, that’s a Secret worth telling!
5 Tips for Gay Men to Apply “The Secret” in Daily Life
1. Decide what you really want for yourself now. Is it to lose weight? Get a new job? Buy a new car? Resolve a long-standing conflict? Complete a project in your community? Start your day by taking 5 minutes in the morning to sit quietly with your eyes closed and visualize yourself doing that very thing – in great detail – using all the senses of what you see, hear, touch, smell, and feel. Then, go about your day by focusing on being grateful for all the joyful things in your day – look around and see how many things you can count that you are grateful for, and watch how they grow over time by doing this consistently.
2. Use positive affirmations and repeat them throughout your day. Start with the present tense, “I am.” Then, fill in the blank with an adverb, an action, a quantification, and a specific deadline: “I am joyfully celebrating doing 30 minutes of cardio exercise every other day, and losing 15 pounds by Noon on Sunday, April 8, 2007” (Just in time for White Party Tea Dance!). Write these down on your PDA’s To-Do list, a 3×5 card in your pocket, or as a screen-saver on your laptop.
3. Be a part of the change you want to see for our community. Use the affirmation, “I am proudly defiant of any anti-gay messages in the media, and attract only loving, accepting, and respectful people in my life.”
4. Let go of the social pressure to treat others with the “attitude” that reflects social insecurity in our community. Trust in the knowledge that all the people you interact with – even saying hello to that shy guy at the bar checking you out — can only result in a positive experience for all.
5. Visualize your perfect health – the way you move, feel, look, act – with a body that responds with pain-free, strong, and vibrant energy for all you need to do today.