Go Tell Alice: The Truth About Magic Lists
Martha Beck on getting what you want from the universe, and the story that inspired her.
BY: Martha Beck from O, The Oprah Magazine, February 2008
Beliefnet Feature from Oprah.com
Was it coincidence or magic? Alice Gorman wrote 100 things she wanted in a man and
buried the list in a closet. And then, oddly enough, a man who matched the list almost exactly strolled into her life. Seriously, people, how did that happen? Martha Beck,O
's life coach, reads Alice's story "The Love List" and explains why it workedæ Okay, fess up—at some point you've had your own magic list, haven't you? I just can't believe Alice and I are the only people who've written down everything we want in a mate—or a home, or a job, or whatever. In fact, reading Alice's story makes me want to create more lists of my own—I'm not even sure of the topic, but I'll think of something. This activity is irresistible for any life coach (definition: "someone who makes people write lists of everything they want").
The only problem with magic lists is that their efficacy is, um, patchy. For every person whose boyfriend fits 98 percent of her criteria, there are dozens of others who find Mr. Right smoking drain cleaner in the basement and maintaining a web identity named Daisy Hotrocks. Nevertheless, I believe Alice's story because I've seen many other magic list cases just as astonishing. Walk a mile in my life-coaching loafers and you'll start believing in freaking leprechauns.
So what's the scoop? Is list-making mere perceptual bias, or can thinking actually attract things in physical reality? My answer—yes, and yes. In other words, there are conditions under which I've seen lists work like the charms they're meant to be, and others where they don't work at all. Knowing the difference between a power list and its powerless twin may be your key to living a fairy tale like Alice's.
What Magic Lists Aren't
I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but there's considerable evidence that—brace yourself—not all our thoughts come true. If thinking were absolute power, every plane carrying an aviophobe would crash, and every lottery ticket would win. Humans are often afflicted by things they aren't thinking about (I, for one, don't believe AIDS babies lie around brooding about immune disorder). And although we've all read about celebrities who wrote themselves prescient checks for millions of dollars when they were just starting out, plenty of people write such checks without ever accumulating enough to finance their own funerals.
In contrast to Alice's story, consider this real-life snippet from a post on the Internet:Okay, I'm tired of beating around the bush. I'm a beautiful (spectacularly beautiful) 25-year-old girl. … I'm looking to get married to a guy who makes at least half a million a year. … I know a woman [who is] married to an investment banker and lives in Tribeca, and she's not as pretty as I am. … So what is she doing right? How do I get to her level?
Despite the brevity and clarity of this woman's mate-attraction list (money, money, and, oh, yeah, money), she hasn't succeeded in hooking up with a single customer…I mean, suitor. If magic lists work, how can this be? I don't claim to have the conclusive answer, but after watching hundreds of lives unfold, I'm going to venture a hypothesis.
What Magic Lists Are
The power or powerlessness of your magic list depends on the level of awareness from which you write it. Picture your inner life as three concentric spheres. Call the outermost ring the Shallows. This is the part of you that's focused only on the physical world and the power to control it.
Life in the Shallows
When you're operating purely from the Shallows, you see yourself as isolated and separate. Your behavior consists of running from things you dread and grasping onto things you desire. The wisdom traditions of every culture advise us that this is neither psychologically fulfilling nor metaphysically powerful. No matter what you accumulate, you'll always risk losing it, never get deep inner peace from it (remember King Midas?), and ultimately have to part with it.
The magic lists people make in the Shallows reflect their obsession with stuff—getting it, keeping it. In my experience, they work like lead balloons. The Spectacularly Beautiful Girl's list is a case in point. Her gold-digging will repel most men, and even if she snags a millionaire, she'll experience only tentative, impermanent contentment. To put it in her own blunt terms, she won't be a Spectacularly Beautiful Girl forever.