The Problem with Positive Thinking

Because I am writing this column almost two months before it will show up in print, we can have ourselves a little scientific experiment. See, I just read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, a book designed to help me tap my hidden personal powers, and I’m going to think convincing thoughts in order to test once and for all whether the universe will rearrange itself according to my desires.

Trying to harness my thoughts is a daunting prospect. If I were to describe my typical mental process, I would say that it works like a machine I used back when I was a waitress at Embers: The Hokey. The Hokey is one of those manual rotary rug cleaners. It doesn’t employ suction. In fact, I’m not sure how it works—early waitresses are rumored to have thrown rocks at the first Hokeys, believing them to be the work of demons.

Stay with me. Say you had a three-year-old in your section. For an hour and a half, Harried Mama would keep asking for MORE CRACKERS. So you kept giving Harried Mama more crackers and she kept giving them to the three-year-old, who did not eat them, but instead crushed them in tiny fists, sprinkling them all over the carpet below the booster seat. After they would leave, you would get your Hokey. You pushed the Hokey over the crumbs, but it only picked up the big ones, leaving the cracker sand behind to be ground into cracker dust.

I have always been terribly afraid that my brain, like the Hokey, only picks up the big crumbs. Those morsels are then transferred to the bingo tumbler cage of my frontal lobe, which is hand-cranked by Agnes, who chooses random thoughts one by one and announces them loudly to my nervous system. But Agnes’s eyes aren’t so good anymore and that means sometimes I come home from the grocery store with buttermilk instead of milk and butter.

The Secret promises to push Agnes down a flight of stairs and turn my Hokey brain into a powerful Dyson, unfailingly sucking up whatever I aim my mind at. Real estate, riches, Rice-A-Roni, it doesn’t matter. It will all be mine if I can only harness my juju and THINK POSITIVELY.

I bought The Secret by accident, originally thinking that I was buying The Seacrest, a quickie autobiography for beach reading. (I wonder if Ryan Seacrest was in on The Secret a couple of years before everyone else, and that’s why he has his career.) God. See? This is the problem. I just spent the last half-hour thinking about Ryan Seacrest’s bitch strips. Does this mean I will manifest a spray-tanned face framed by blond-highlighted streaks?

If we could control our thoughts in the first place our lives would probably be much better. It’s not unimaginable that an average person could experience a ten percent increase in quality of life simply by daydreaming about positive things all day instead of brooding about negative ones. Under these circumstances, it will seem as if The Secret works, and those horrid self-help people will continue to fill their Olympic-sized swimming pools with the chicken soup of our souls.

I have a friend who keeps her house like a modern-day Fred Sanford, calling the mess “creative” rather than recognizing it for what it is—a reflection of stone-cold laziness. She is genuinely stupefied when her dates don’t want to see her again after she invites them over. Time and again she attributes these negative reactions to unassailable forces in the universe. Eventually, I suppose, she will attract someone who loves a little creative mess, or who is a pathological neat freak thrilled to clean up after her. But to me that seems more like waiting the situation out rather than actively conjuring something desirable.

I use this as an example because there is a significant portion of life we can’t control. Housecleaning is one of the parts we can. If my pal kept her house clean, she could invite somebody over and feel pretty secure that they were judging her on the basis of her personality rather than on the dirty dishes piled in the sink. The secret of The Secret is that it encourages thought rather than action. And that, my friends, is where the heart of all sin lies. And I mean that in a completely secular, universe-embracing way. But what the hell? I’ll try The Secret anyway.

If it works, I’ll let you know. If not in my next column, then on my TV show.

Writer, performer, and femme fatale Colleen Kruse can be reached at