I’ve started writing this piece many times but stopped myself for fear of making myself unpopular among my tribe. But when deciding on what to write about money for the Declaration of You blog tour, mystical beliefs in business reared its ugly head again. And so, I write, aware that many of you may keenly disagree with me.

I love a bit of mystical thinking. With a Bachelors of Religious Studies and a keen interest in psychology and existentialism, I’ve held plenty of mystical beliefs and had inexplicable experiences in my time – things that I’m reluctant to detail online in case you think me batty (we can’t have that).

But when it comes to money and business, I see no place for mysticism. Intuition, yes, creativity – absolutely! – but not mysticism. Mystical belief in business is increasingly popular in the form of ‘The Law of Attraction’ (LOA) – a belief that our thinking will create our reality as the universe listens and responds to us. This is hugely popular, not just among woo woo types, but business coaches, financial advisors and otherwise ‘straight people’.

The Law of Attraction and positive thinking

The LOA is not just positive thinking, though it does incorporate this. Thinking positively is good for you, your business, and everyone around you. There is an old sales adage that selling is the transfer of enthusiasm in the emotional belief of the product, from the person doing the selling to the person being sold to. Enthusiasm in the value of your product is essential for effective selling.

Where positive thinking brings opportunities (much like the LOA adherents claim) is that people generally want to be around positive people. Positive people are far more likely to be offered jobs, given pay rises and sought after but positivity is not the silver bullet – there is a wealth of powerful negative people as well as a rainbow of poor and powerless positive people. Positive people may smile more in dire circumstances but they won’t grow wealthy through smiles alone.

Funny how LOA adherents who are the most wealthy combine positive self-talk and affirmations with more proletarian tasks such as strategic networking, blogging, growing their email list, advertising and public relations.

The Law of Attraction and self-belief

To advocate successfully for your wants and needs, whether with your boss, your clients and prospects, or your children, parents, partner and friends, you need to value these wants and needs. And self-confidence oscillates. We need to repeatedly build ourselves up and this may be done through tools such as positive self-talk and affirmations, which the LOA advocates.

However, self-belief alone won’t naturally bring our deepest wants and desires to fruition. Any ‘talent’ show or reality TV program has its fair share of confident people with little talent. Conversely, I hazard a guess that you can easily name one highly talented friend devoid of confidence, not to mention many more wildly-talented high profile people – such as Vincent Van Gogh, Winston Churchill, Stephen Fry or comedian Tony Hancock – who suffered repeated and sometimes-protracted periods of low self-esteem, self-loathing or depression. Self-belief enables people to talk themselves into jobs, clients and relationships, but it doesn’t help them maintain these.

Self-belief is fantastic for taking advantage of opportunities, but it can also be delusional. I used to repeatedly tell people that I was an exceptionally good driver while speeding around bends, until I realised that in my 15-year driving career, I’ve had multiple car and motorcycle accidents, including one written-off car. So perhaps I’m not an exceptional driver, I just enjoy driving.

If you’re looking for self-belief to help you succeed in business, you have several options – you can do things that scare you, thereby strengthening your confidence muscle, you can pretend to be confident when it matters, or you can pursue the role of technician and align yourself with talented managers and entrepreneurs, finding and sticking with people who will advocate on your behalf.

The Law of Attraction and envisioning

LOA adherents believe that we need to envision our monetary success and aspiring lifestyle in minute detail if we are to attract it. But this is a truism that any sportsperson knows. A footballer doesn’t just look at the ball at their feet – they look to where they want the ball to land and envisage the feeling of kicking it there.

Much hazy thinking, shifting courses and distractions will bring mediocre business development. When we are sure of what we want, we are far more likely to get it because we know what we’re aiming for. When I seek out a killer parking spot, I don’t start at the furthest reaches from my destination – I head directly to the best spot available and circle out from there. Of course I tend to find far better parking spots than the more cautious parker because I’ve envisaged – and pursued – my best case scenario.

The Law of Attraction and negativity

Conversely to how success results from positive thinking, LOA adherents believe that negative occurrences are also the result of your special attracting powers. So if your business is limping, your mortgage payments are overdue or your boss refuses you a raise then, dang! You’ve attracted that.

Yet history is replete with evil doings of powerful people who never get their comeuppance. Kings leading rampaging armies in medieval times may have died of heart attacks, but before that they enjoyed rich food, grand monuments built by slaves, and the favours of loose (indentured?) women.

Bad things happen to good people every day. Anyone who has lived any time has suffered some misfortune or disaster. Seeking mystical meaning to this, while typical and totally understandable, is a prescription for the madhouse. A complex web of interrelated circumstances reaps a tragedy. While this complex web offers no solace, to assign misfortune as a result of misaligned attraction is not only ignorant, it can often be cruel.

Further, the circumstances into which you are born are massively influential on the path your life takes and the amount you earn. Those born in countries such as Chad in Africa are far less likely than those born in the States to have a gorgeous beach-side mansion in which to run their socially-conscious, massively successful and impactful business while spending quality time with their 2.3 kids supported by their loving partner.

Louise Hay, grand dame of New Age thinking, says “The more gratitude you have, the more goodies you get”, like African children need only be grateful for their polluted well 15 kilometres away for benevolent aid agencies to grant them a new clean well closer to home.

To suggest that a whole nation of people unfortunate enough to be born in a war-torn or repressive country attracted this to themselves is not only simplistic, it’s insulting. Those blessed by fortuitous circumstances of birth can still make a hash of their life through a bad attitude, amongst other things, while others can rise up and beats the odds. But these are called ‘odds’ for a reason. We all love a good story about someone overcoming adversity to achieve great things. It’ definitely possible. But it’s not common.

In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness, he shows how we are hard-wired to feel insecure with the amount of money we have. This is compounded when self-employed and unsure of our month-to-month income. Strangely, wealthy LOA adherents tend to focus on metrics such as marketing return on investment, conversion rates, and key performance indicators, while advising their clients that slow or stagnant progress means they are just not attracting accurately enough.

Making your own success

Making money – and increasing your income – has to do with a hundred different factors including your education and the opportunities afforded to you in your early life, how risk-adverse you and your parents are, how lucrative your chosen career path is (and the one after that and the one after that), your creative ability to reframe your work experience and skills to be relevant to your potential employees or clients, your business model, your curiosity to keep learning and your ability to apply those lessons and experience to diverse situations. Yes, positive thinking, self-belief and envisioning are useful, but they are not the sole domain of the Law of Attraction, nor are they enough.

To translate positive thinking and self-belief into dollars requires sweat equity and tenacity. Increasing your income requires skills such as recognising opportunities, seeking wise counsel, recognising and managing your weaknesses effectively, having difficult conversations, and surrounding yourself with talented people with complementary skills. There is enough to do without spending time on vision boards or affirmations and enough to enjoy and be grateful for without the erroneous and insultingly simple belief that we attract every tiny thing to us.