Lyman Reed, long-time blogger and equally long-time student of the subject of personal development, kicks off a discussion on a personal development classic.
June 28, 2012: Back in 2010, my friend and self-professed reformed personal development junkie Lyman Reed kicked off a dialogue between us on his blog, titled at the time Personal Development in the Real World. Lyman has gone through phases with his blogging (I think I’ve gone through, oh, maybe a dozen or so) and this version of his blog (along with the kick-off article) can only be found after a bit of searching through Archive.org. With Lyman’s permission, I’ve reposted the article here, backdating it to October 5, 2010, his original publication date.
Take it away, Lyman.
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The other day, my friend Daniel Brenton emailed me the following question on The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles (yes, I got his permission before posting the question):
I’m starting to read The Science of Getting Rich. You’ve gone through a lot of changes lately — what do you think of this material now? Is this “real world?”
After being flooded with memories of the past few years of thinking that Wallace’s word was as close to scripture as one could get without actually being in an official holy book, I responded (unedited, except for formatting):
Thanks, my friend… blog post ideas are a-flowin’ because of this question!
While there is some good in TSOGR, most of it is just plain bunk in my opinion. Just off the top of my head, here are three reasons:
1. Wallace Wattles was actually a financial failure during his life. A person could argue that he’s famous now, but that really doesn’t do much for him since he’s gone. I’d really prefer to get my financial advice from someone who is (or was) a bit more successful in the arena he’s teaching.
2. One could use the argument that riches aren’t just about money – except that Wattles writes right at the beginning of this book that it’s exactly what his book is about.
3. He did get one thing right – we do all come from the same stuff. It’s called hydrogen. What he got wrong is that it does have a form, and it really doesn’t care much what I think.
His advice to keep your desires in front of you was spot on, though, as far as I can tell. But it has nothing to do with the metaphysics. It’s just the way our brains work – we tend to take action toward those things we give attention to, and therefore have a better shot of achieving goals we keep in our heads.
I will have to read the book again before critiquing it further, but I would say this – a better book with real science of getting rich (the math kind of science) is “The Richest Man in Babylon.”
Thanks again, Daniel. When I clean this up and post it, do you want me to say you asked this and link back to you? I’d be happy to, or I can just do the “A reader asked me the other day…”
You’re the best,
I’ve spent the past few days contemplating both the question and the response I gave.
Was Wallace Wattles a Financial Success?
When I first started looking for some real evidence to back up the idea I had that Wattles was a financial failure, I found it nearly impossible to find any solid evidence one way or the other. The majority of information about him on the Internet is from either people who are selling his books (or a course based on his books), or from people who are true believers in the material, regardless of the actual life story of its creator.
I’ve realized that my initial claim of “financial failure” may have been wrong. The best I could find to back that up came from an article published in 1998 by Connie L. Schmidt, “The Wrath of the Secretrons.” While talking about how the blockbuster movie The Secret was based on The Science of Getting Rich, she states:
“I think it worthy of note that Wattles, who died at a relatively young age, did not die rich. Perhaps he failed to do the math.”
I could find no other information to back up that claim.
On the other side of the coin, there’s a letter that was written by his daughter, Florence Wattles, to the editor of a magazine that Wattles wrote for. In it, she says that he was cursed with poverty for most of his life, but in his last 3 years he made lots of money and had good health. The letter is also referenced on the Wallace Wattles Wikipedia page.
So with the scant evidence that I’ve been able to come up with, who really knows what Wally’s financial situation was like? And even if he did spend the majority of his life in poverty, if the last three years showed marked financial improvement, is it possible that his methods worked?
But I do think that the most important question is this:
Why is there so little empirical evidence that his methods for getting rich actually worked for him? For someone to write a book teaching how to get rich, you would think that there would be a mountain of evidence that he was rich prior to writing the book, and yet all we have is the testimony of a family member that he was financially successful.
Circular Financial Success
While I think that my second point (“Rich can mean many things…”) is self explanatory, let’s consider the possibility that Wattles really meant what he said (that it’s for people who need cash, and need it now), and that he was able to achieve that himself.
Let’s say that Wattles was a financial success in the last three years of his life, as referenced by the letter. How did he become that way?
Since there is no mention of him ever being anything but a writer, we can only assume that he did so through his writing.
Which leads us to the conclusion that he would have become a financial success by selling people information on how to become rich, healthy, and great.
Holy Crap! Wattles was a personal development blogger!
Was Wattles on to something, shared it with others, and then became successful because of that?
Maybe … or maybe he was a charlatan. Maybe he simply developed the ability to sell hope.
At best, mistaken in his ideas. At worst, he took advantage of people for personal gain. We will never know his personal motivations, and because of this, I will not judge him on that point.
Hydrogen Don’t Care
To cover my third point, we have to switch from “does it work?” to “how does it work?”
Normally, from a purely practical standpoint, I’d say “Who cares? If it works, use it!”
Except for the fact that it doesn’t for most people. Actually, it doesn’t for anybody – what works are the principles of goal setting, persistence, and excellence. All of these can be found in Wattle’s “Certain Way”, but the idea that original substance is malleable to our thoughts alone is pure hogwash.
It’s our actions, fueled by our emotions and guided by our thoughts, that produce results. There is no verifiable scientific evidence that our thoughts and emotions alone affect anything by our own physiology.
I suspect that those have had success with books like The Science of Getting Rich or movies like The Secret either 1.) would have been just as successful without the metaphysical fluffiness surrounding them, or 2.) would have been just as successful simply because of pure random chance.
Yes… that horrible little phrase that people are so afraid of – random chance.
Just because you happened to read a book on the Law of Attraction and started thinking about getting a raise at work, then ended up getting one, doesn’t mean that it was the Law of Attraction.
And just because you are four years old, happen to be born in Pakistan, and now your home has been destroyed by a flood doesn’t mean that anything you thought about caused this to happen.
Unfortunately, many people take things like “The Science of Getting Rich” and use them as excuses not to do anything about their situations – they think that all they have to do is “impress their thoughts on the Universe” and then all they want will come to them.
Worse, they decide that they have no responsibility for their fellow human beings… their idea of personal responsibility extends to events that are outside of our control.
Finally, they forget about the part (which Wattles does mention in The Science of Getting Rich) where they have to take action in order to achieve their dreams.
So, is The Science of Getting Rich real world personal development?
I’d say no. While it does contain elements of it (nothing spreads a lie better than when it contains elements of the truth), there is simply too much in it that is either unnecessary, or presented without evidence, or dangerous, or all of these combined. I understand why people believe in ideas like those found in Wattles’ work – I was once there myself. But I know now that you don’t need faith in a universe that is malleable to your thoughts in order to succeed.
If there’s any “faith” you need, it only has to be faith in yourself.
OK, have at me! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I’d also like to pass it back to Daniel, and hear what he thinks of book now that he’s read it.
Update 10/07/2010 – Well, looks like Daniel told me! Check out Is “The Science of Getting Rich” Real World Personal Development? – Part 2.
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Copyright © 2010, by Lyman Reed. All Rights Reserved.