Have you noticed that everyone is talking about the Law of Attraction these days? The Law of Attraction is the idea that whatever you focus on (good or bad) will be attracted to you like a magnet. So, if you think about rolling around in a large pile of money (à la Scrooge McDuck), money will be attracted to you. If you focus on scarcity then continued money problems await. Can this be true? Is there really such thing as a “universal law of energy”?

Maybe? I’m not so sure.

I have, on the other hand, experienced some very strong luck or good fortune in my day. Receiving exactly what I wanted. Manifesting opportunities “out of the blue.” Serendipity, as it were. 

Here are a few examples:

  • There I am, badly in need of a pair of new tights because mine have a run. Oh wait! There’s a store with a “tights on sale!” sign in the window!
  • Oh, how I wish I could see Jerry Seinfeld. Look! There’s a Groupon to see him for half price next week!
  • I wish I had a few minutes to rest. What’s this? They’re cancelling the meeting? Wahoo!

Now, the law of attraction could seem to be implicated in each of these. It’s so poetic that I find it sort of irresistible to think of these experiences as examples of the law of attraction. I do know, though, that there’s also a psychological explanation for each of these. At the core of the psychological explanation is one word: priming.

Priming is what happens when you introduce something to your brain.  Without getting into the exact neurobiology of it all, your brain likes to repeat itself. When you think about something, you activate a network of neurons. Your brain really, really likes repetition (it is the process of learning, as a matter of fact) and now that you’ve primed it, your brain is HOT to see it again. And in order for it to get what it wants (repetition) it will commence scanning your environment for more opportunities to activate that network. 

Think about the last time you learned a new word. I recently learned the meaning of the word “anathema.” People would sometimes say, “X or Y is anathema to education in the United States” and I would nod sagely, but have no idea what they were talking about. Was it good? Was it bad? I had no idea. So I looked it up.

Anathema (n): a person or thing detested or loathed.

Now all those comments made sense! I replayed the times I had heard it, thought through what they meant, and felt much clearer. 

Through those thoughts, I activated the heck out of the “anathema” network.  

Then suddenly, the word anathema was everywhere! Everyone was saying it! Rachel Maddow said it on her show the other day, for crying out loud!  Was the use of the word anathema actually on the rise? No, I’m sure it wasn’t. In fact, I bet people were saying anathema all over town, but it just passed me by. So, what was  “on the rise” was my brain’s desire to re-activate that network; to notice the word and draw my attention to it.  

In essence, my brain had been PRIMED.

Priming is like magic. It works in the implicit memory system (aka, not your conscious memory) so you don’t have to work at it!  Just spend some time thinking in very specific terms about something and your brain will be scanning your environment without your active involvement!  

This is great news because it means that we can hack our priming tendency and bring on the luck of the Irish whenever we want it! You create your own luck!

Here’s how to do it!

1. Introduce the idea to your brain

Let me take you back to the very beginning of my business. I was trying to make progress on a book about change, and it was making me CRAZY. I didn’t know if people would understand it, I didn’t know if I was making any sense, and I kept obsessing about teeny tiny details but had no way to make a decision. I finally hit on the (super obvious, in hindsight) idea of talking to people about it. But who?

Now priming doesn’t work on vague thoughts. You have to tell you brain exactly what you want it to scan the environment for! “I want to talk to someone about stuff” does NOT prime your brain.

To get the details I needed,  I sat down and did some visioning and journaling.

  • Who exactly did I want to help with my ideas?
  • Where might they hang out?
  • What might they be struggling with right now?

Through that process I got clear on what I was hoping for – I was looking for a place where I could help people in the city learn about change and actually make some progress. Then one day while surfing the internet, I came across the PERFECT place: The Brooklyn Brainery, a workshop place in my old Brooklyn neighborhood that offers “accessible, community-driven, crowdsourced education.” I love all those things!

Now, normally, I would say “Oh, that’s cool” and then sail right past it, but because my brain was on the lookout for opportunities to speak, this time I stopped. I emailed them suggesting that I offer workshops and they agreed immediately. They offered me a slot for the very next month and the rest is history!!   

Notice that priming doesn’t CREATE luck or the opportunity, it simply increases your likelihood to notice the opportunities you desire. Priming is what heightens your awareness of the opportunities that are all around you, all the time.  Magic.

2. Introduce everyone else to the idea

Your brain is not the only brain you can prime! If you tell everybody you know all about how and why you want something, you’ll be priming THEM! Then, it’s not just your brain roaming around searching out opportunities – theirs are too! When they find something cool, they are going to let you know!

Think of it like this – let’s say someone you really, really admire (Seth Godin? Brene Brown?) casually mentions that they are desperately looking for teal socks with bananas on them. They are dying to give those socks to their child, but suddenly, they can’t find them anywhere. Tell the truth – won’t you be looking for those socks? Of course, you will!

Well, your friends feel that way about you. So do people you meet who think you are interesting or cool! If you tell these people that you are desperately seeking something, they’re going to want to help. This willingness, plus your specific and repeated priming of their brain may very well lead to the break you need!

Here’s an example: My goal for 2018 is to be on 28 stages….and I tell EVERYONE.

  • I go to networking events specifically to tell people and I schedule follow up calls to tell them more about it.
  • I tell people at the Y while I’m working out.
  • I talk it up in mastermind and accountability groups I’m in.

Basically, I’m out there priming every brain I can find.  And, of the 28 stages I’m aiming at, I currently have 12 scheduled! We’re only a few months in, so that feels pretty good!

By the way, I understand that sometimes it can be really scary to tell other people what you want to do.

The head trash kicks in: “Who am I to want this?” and “What if it doesn’t work out? Then everyone will know!” and maybe most subversively, “If I keep quiet, it may still work out.” That kind of thinking (though completely understandable) will severely limit the number of brains on your priming team! If you are a little afraid, and you can find the courage, start small!

Pick just two people and prime them.

See what happens and tell me how it goes!

3. Make your own Luck

Now priming definitely isn’t the ONLY tool you need! If you make a vision board and then sit on it, taking no further steps, and ignoring the opportunities you come across, the psychological effects of priming will wear off quickly. It won’t be long before you’re right back to mindlessly missing opportunities again!

In order to keep yourself and your network primed you have to be doing the work. When I do a speaking engagement, I’m on the horn re-priming everyone. Telling people that I did it, telling them that I loved it,  telling them that people loved my talk (which they totally do). 

Doing the work and then re-priming people does two things. First, it provides the repetition necessary for your brain to re-activate that implicit memory scanning. Second, it changes the narrative for your priming team (i.e., those you’ve primed to help you on your journey). Suddenly, instead of an underdog story (which is attractive to some, but not most), it’s a success story! Almost everyone loves to be part of a success story!   

The law of attraction, manifestation, visualization, whatever you like to call it is only part of the process of reaching your goal. An important part, absolutely, but still only a step in the right direction. Once you have primed your brain, it is up to you to get out there and do the work to make it happen!

Want some help? Join us in the Great Work Community!

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.