Getting What You Want: The Science Behind the Law of Attraction and Setting Intentions

Can your thoughts manifest reality? That’s the premise of the Law of Attraction, an ancient concept given a modern makeover in the 2006 film "The Secret." According to the Law of Attraction, it’s possible to realize any goal by setting an intention and supporting it with visualization and positive thinking. Advocates of the Law of Attraction maintain that it’s possible to align mind and body with the Universe to get anything you want.

Mainstream science isn’t so sure about that – but recent research provides insight into the relationship between setting an intention in the mind and achieving practical results in the "real world." And during unprecedented and uncertain times, such as COVID-19, getting the results you want, is even more meaningful. So, living your life in a more mindful way, with the practice of intention in play, may allow you to live the life of your dreams.

Recent discoveries within the worlds of psychology and neuroscience actually reveal how activities like visualization, meditation, journaling, and making a vision board can help you stay focused and manifest your goals. There are many pathways to achieving the success you desire, but before we dive in, let’s review the Law of Attraction and the practice of setting intentions.

What Is the Law of Attraction?

The Law of Attraction, as it’s known today, has its roots in motivational quotations and writings from people ranging from Aristotle and Michelangelo to modern-day productivity gurus such as Napoleon Hill, author of the famous "Think and Grow Rich," as well as Tony Robbins. It’s also reflected in the common-sense words of many parents and grandparents: "you can do anything if you set your mind to it."

Today, the Law of Attraction takes various forms and can include up to seven different "laws." But all versions include some basic concepts

Like-energy attracts like-energy; you draw the same kind of energy you send
By focusing intently on what you want, you can manifest it
To manifest something, you need to align with the Universe and expect that the thing will manifest in your life
You must visualize the thing you want and act as if it’s already a part of your reality
Setting a clear intention primes the body and brain to manifest that intention in reality

The Law of Attraction is open to interpretation, though. Some practitioners say that you must simply trust the Universe to provide the thing you want once an intention is set. Taking action or making plans and preparations undermine that trust, so it’s better to set the intention and wait for the Universe to respond.

Others say that it’s essential to support an intention by taking action and responding to messages that point toward that goal. That helps with visualizing the desired outcome and "tells" the Universe that you’re co-creating with it to manifest something new.

Advocates of the Law of Attraction frequently point out that the Law is supported by a diverse group of scientific principles including quantum physics, the theory of relativity, and neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to develop new neural pathways in response to new stimuli. Experts in these fields say that the Law of Attraction [is a pseudoscience]( that combines elements of all these disciplines.

Igniting Power of Intention

Dr. Joe Dispenza, is a well-known educator and researcher who studies the laws of intention. His research delves into the intersection of the latest findings from the fields of neuroscience, epigenetics, and quantum physics potential for greatness and unlimited abilities within the human body and mind.

Dr. Dispenza writes in one of his numerous blog posts, "to create something out of nothing, we need to match a clear intention with an elevated emotion. But that’s just the beginning. Next, we need to remain in the energy of that creation—day in and day out. Then, we surrender the how of how our creation shows up. This means we’re not only trusting a greater mind is organizing our creation in a way that’s right for us, but we allow it to unfold in a new and different way than what we had previously planned or anticipated."

The Science of Intention: If You Think It, Can You Do It?

According to research from the fields of psychology and neurobiology, the basic tenets of the Law of Attraction – that "like reflects like" and an intention fixed in the mindcan manifest in the physical world – may actually be reflected in the brain’s complex pathways related to decision making and reward.

The idea that thinking or acting a certain way brings similar results is a key to modifying human behavior in situations of all kinds. Multiple experiments across different disciplines have shown that believing you can do something makes it more likely that you will because you’ll take the actions that will open doors.

The opposite is also true – self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence makes it more likely that you’ll fail because you won’t try as hard or pass up potential opportunities.

The brain’s filtering and decision-making functions play a key role in what we get from intent (which incorporates belief) and result. The Reticular Activating System, or RAS, is a part of the brainstem that’s responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. But it also influences the processing of sensory stimuli and regulating attention. It acts like a filter that determines what information is passed to the conscious mind from the sensory systems and the subconscious mind. In that way, information "signals" can be processed by the prefrontal cortex’s executive functions.

Consciously setting an intention tells the RAS that certain information is high-focus and deserves priority. As information related to that intention comes in, it also gets heightened attention.

For a simple example, if you’ve just bought a certain model of car, you might find that suddenly you’re seeing many cars of that model everywhere. They’ve always been there, but because of your heightened focus, your brain now takes notice of them. That can also help to explain the incidences of synchronicity.

New neuroscience research also reveals that the brain is a highly plastic organ, capable of laying down new neural pathways and abandoning ones that aren’t being used.

Repeated exposure to a particular kind of input can strengthen certain pathways, which helps to explain how people can regain functioning after brain trauma such as stroke – and why traumatic experiences can trigger intense responses well after the original event.

The brain’s natural neuroplasticity also helps with setting an intention. Psychologists point out that the RAS can be "retrained" with repetition, so that the brain learns to pay attention to specific input and builds stronger neural pathways around that input. In that way, strategies such as declaring an intention every day, writing it down, or reinforcing it in other ways helps to orient the brain toward making the intention a priority.

Once that happens, it’s over to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decisions, learning, and reward. When someone takes action to support an intention, and it turns out well, reward pathways are activated, and the individual learns that this kind of action produces a positive outcome. That creates motivation to take more action, which leads to "manifesting" the desired goal.

Intention Plus Action, Plus Heart Emotion Equals Manifestation

From his research, Dr. Dispenza notes the importance of, "Embracing the elevated emotions of your future creation before the experience happens, so your heart will produce a strong magnetic field that will draw your future to you. When you learn how to open your heart and tune in to the feelings of your future, the longer you stay in heart coherence, the more you draw your new future to you." In other words, matching your intention with elevated emotion matters.

Behind the Law of Attraction lie the basic principles of goal setting advocated by coaches, motivational speakers, and successful people in all walks of life. Making them work begins with stating a clear intention.
Here are a few strategies for finding the clarity and focus to determine what your true intention is.

Journaling is a time-tested way to clarify thoughts and explore what you really think and feel.

Drawing and doodling are variants that can also calm the mind and produce key insights. Doing these things regularly also helps to keep your intention front and center in your mind.

Meditation can help to reduce mental chatter and create a calm environment for insights to arise, and daily meditating on an intention can help to "train" the brain to focus on it.

For many people, cannabis can help to create a calm and focused mood that allows for new insight and focused thinking, especially if it’s high in CBD. But for some, the euphoria and relaxation of THC-rich cannabis products can also help with intention setting and visualization.

Make a vision or action board containing images and quotes about your goal can help you clarify your intention, visualize the outcome and figure out the steps to get there.

It’s been said that if you can dream it, you can do it. Whether it’s called the Law of Attraction or simply "setting your mind" to something, research reveals that focused thinking really can lead to manifesting – with some effort along the way.

To listen to Dr. Joe Dispenza speak on his research into the laws of intention, listen to The Expanded podcast


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