Some unprepared clients are embracing the secret as an answer to their prayers.

    If you haven't at least heard of The Secret by now-much less read the book or watched the DVD-then you're spending too much time in the office. Oprah Winfrey has touted the book by Australian writer Rhonda Byrne on her daytime talk show, and The Secret has occupied the No. 1 hardcover advice spot on The New York Times best-seller list for more than 38 weeks as of this writing.
Here's a quick synopsis for the uninformed: The Secret goes back many centuries and has been known by many famous people, from Aristotle to Einstein, as well as modern-day "gurus" like Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul), Bob Proctor (LifeSuccess Productions) and Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God).

The basis of the secret is the "Law of Attraction," which states that whatever is going on in your mind, you're attracting to yourself. Therefore, think thoughts of abundance and wealth and let no contradictory thoughts in and you can have anything you want. For example, saying to yourself, "I feel really bad about all of this debt I've got," will just get you more debt, or saying, "I can't handle all this work," will just produce more work than you can handle.

In the other hand, thinking about checks appearing in your mailbox instead of bills will bring money. In the DVD, a boy thinks about a new bicycle and it shows up on his porch the next day. Well, almost. It's not enough to just think about what you want (and not think about what you don't want); you must do two other things: feel and visualize the thing of your desire, and do so with great passion. Wait a minute ... how do you feel a new car or house? Simple-go test-drive that car or look at that model house. The triumvirate of passionately thinking, feeling and visualizing is the key to using the Law of Attraction to your advantage. The message is: "Ask, believe and receive."
Do you need to do anything else according to The Secret? No, and therein lies the potential problem for your clients. It's precisely the wrong message to the wrong people at the wrong time.

Think about it. Many baby boomers grew up in the '60s exploring all manner of mystical thought systems. The boomer generation is largely responsible for the current widespread popularity of alternative healing practices like acupuncture and Reiki. It's an open-minded generation. And that's a good thing, except for the fact that there's a thin line between being open-minded and being gullible.
So a thinking person has to question The Secret. But how straight will some boomers be thinking when they pounce on The Secret as a means of capturing the wealth they failed to accumulate during their working lives?

"I don't believe the universe hands you a darn thing except opportunity, while The Secret is about getting stuff by wishful thinking," says Susan Schreiner of Schreiner Financial Solutions in La Mesa, Calif. She relates the story of a friend who, after watching The Secret, unexpectedly quit her well-paying job with excellent benefits to go into real estate. "I'm fairly blunt with my friends and had been extremely vocal for years about the coming real estate crash. Thus, I had tried to talk her out of becoming a realtor."

Of course, says Schreiner, their local real estate market died soon after-right around the time her friend was finding the real estate business to be "corrupt and greed-filled," so much so the friend no longer wanted to engage in that profession. At the same time, her personal and financial life suffered further tragedy, bringing her the opposite of what she'd wished for.

"I was floored by how two people could watch the exact same program and come out with such different messages," says Schreiner. I heard, 'Believe in yourself and watch for opportunity.' She heard, 'Believe in the universe and everything will be delivered to you easily, just as you deserve.' This is a dangerous message for the growing percentage of our population who believe wealth should be handed to them and they should not have to work, struggle or live below their means to earn it."

What would promoters of The Secret say upon hearing this story? I believe, after both reading the book and watching the DVD, they'd probably say the friend made the mistake of thinking about those negative things she thereupon attracted to herself.
Michael Horwitz, Ph.D., CFP, a former therapist and now the owner of Life Strategies Financial Planning in Austin, Texas, says, "The premise of The Secret seems to be a New Age variant of The Power of Positive Thinking [by Norman Vincent Peale] or Émile Coué's autosuggestion, 'Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better.' The problem I have with all of these techniques or philosophies, besides the fact that they usually don't work as advertised, is that they encourage a 'blame the victim' mentality where the poor, sick or unsuccessful are perceived as responsible for their own plight due to 'negative thinking.'" In other words, says Horwitz, The Secret's message implies you can't blame family background, unlucky life circumstances or societal neglect if you suffer hardships, and don't expect society or its members to take any responsibility either.

Yet, even when boomers do take responsibility for their future, their plans lack realism. Lee Eisenberg, author of the best-selling The Number: What Do You Need For the Rest of Your Life and What Will It Cost? (Free Press, December 2006) about boomers' failure to plan to have enough, says, "Over and over I hear from advisors that many clients grossly underestimate how much it will take to realize their vision of the kind of retirement they dream about, or would even settle for. When you subtract a couple of hundred thousand dollars that should be set aside for health care alone, a person used to living 'comfortably' will be skating on thin ice with 'just' $500,000, or somewhat north of that. Sadly, being 'a millionaire' simply ain't what it used to be. When we were young, to be a millionaire was the stuff of daydreams. Now, given longer lives, even moderate inflation (for now), and our acquired taste for 'lifestyle,' even a million doesn't go very far, although it retains a pleasant echo."  In other words, many boomers are already delusional about what it will cost to support their futures even before they hear about The Secret, which can only make matters worse.

Advisor Sean Monohan, a partner at Certified Financial Strategies of Dallas, certainly has had experience with those kinds of clients. "I continually have prospective boomer clients that have saved a few hundred thousand dollars ($200K-$300K) come in for some retirement planning advice, expecting to retire in five years on their current lifestyle," Monohan says. "All are shocked when I let them know they will either need to work longer (well into their 60s), reduce their lifestyle significantly, or a combination of both. It can be challenging to get many of them to address the issue in practical terms, such as reviewing their budgets to save more, reassess their retirement lifestyle, or decide to work five to ten more years."

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